Politics & Policy

Progressives, Take Note: Obamacare and Gun Control Did Not Propel You to Victory Last Night

McAuliffe speaks at a gun-control rally in Washington in September. (Mark Wilson/Getty)

Just a few short days ago, the Virginia state senate was run by Republicans, 21 to 19. Then, something remarkable happened. Hoping to spearhead a sweeping set of political and economic reforms, the state’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, issued a heartfelt plea to the electorate. Standing at a “make or a break moment for his progressive agenda,” McAuliffe conceded that he saw only one way of ensuring himself a “legislative legacy”: the ushering in of a Democratic majority. Only then, he explained, would he be able to work with much-beloved figures such as Michael Bloomberg and President Barack Obama to advance gun control, the expansion of Obamacare, and other popular policies. And should he fail? Well, then these proposals would be stopped in their tracks and the governor would be relegated to a mostly ceremonial role for the remainder of his tenure.

Yesterday evening, in a stunning testament to the potency and popularity of McAuliffe’s pitch, the makeup of the Senate . . . stayed exactly the same as it was before.

McAuliffe’s failure will come as a particular blow to the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, whose talent and enthusiasm for wasting vast sums of money in pursuit of the impossible remains second to none in scope. Aiming to demonstrate that the restriction of the Second Amendment can be a winning issue for the Left, Bloomberg dropped a cool $2.2 million into the race, the vast majority of which was spent to air a television commercial in which it was argued in earnest that those who are saddened by the cruelty of the deranged and the criminal are obliged to agree to the diminishment of their rights. Rather unsurprisingly, this ploy failed, despite its progenitors’ considerable financial advantage. Overall, Bloomberg’s groups spent more than $2 million trying to flip the two senate seats that seemed potentially competitive. The NRA — commonly presumed to represent a financial force — spent just 5 percent of that total. The white whale continues to elude.

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Medicaid expansion proved no more seductive. By now, Democrats had expected their all-out push for health-care reform to be yielding positive electoral dividends. Instead, it has continued to be a serious drag on the party’s fortunes. In Kentucky, the Republican candidate for governor won by a blowout margin — in part as a result of dissatisfaction with the changes that a more fully implemented Obamacare hath wrought. At the beginning of Election Day, outgoing Democratic governor Steve Beshear had predicted that his party would be so obviously helped by the reforms that any opposition to them would “pound the Republicans into dust”; by midnight, he was feasting on crow. In Virginia, voters wisely declined to make the same mistake that Kentucky has. Short of a stunning turnabout, this refusal will obtain until at least 2017, at which point the law may well have been changed beyond recognition. As president, Obama will never see his signature achievement extended fully into his back yard.

#share#If Virginia was indeed a “referendum” on the Democratic party’s priorities — designed in no small part to test the water ahead of next year’s presidential fight — it should have given progressives pause. It is one thing for a Clinton-friendly Democrat to beat a seriously compromised candidate such as Ken Cuccinelli, as McAuliffe did in 2012; but it is quite another for him to secure support for a broad-based leftward agenda.

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Virginia is now a “purple state,” and the Democratic party has a good shot of winning it next year, especially if turnout is high. But there is no reason to believe that gun control and Obamacare will be magically more popular when peddled by Hillary Clinton than they are when offered by Terry McAuliffe, particularly if Republicans nominate an attractive candidate of their own. As Ed Morrissey notes today on Hot Air, the combination of yesterday’s result and the near-upset in the 2014 Senate race have left many wondering whether Virginia is trending quite as blue as had previously been thought. “Governor McAuliffe threw everything he had into this,” Larry Sabato observed, “but came up short.”

Indeed he did, and not on the back of an issue-free or vapid fight, but after having tied a set of bright colors to his mast and sallied forth with gusto and panache. As I write, his good friend Hillary Clinton continues to play a similar game. She hopes, she explains without apology, to make gun control a “voting issue”; she intends, she promises, to “protect” Obamacare; she is, she concedes, not a “moderate” but a “progressive.” One wonders which side of the coin she saw last night, and where she will go from here.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer for National Review.

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