Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Elections hint at problems for Dems

Democrats are still celebrating the victory of Terry McAuliffe over Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia, but the elections on Nov. 5 should ring alarm bells for the Democratic Party. Chris Christie’s resounding victory in New Jersey showed that Republicans can be competitive in blue states while McAuliffe’s margin in Virginia was much narrower than expected.

The McAuliffe campaign raised and spent far more than Cuccinelli. Politico reports that McAuliffe outraised Cuccinelli by almost $15 million. The funding disparity meant that Cuccinelli was not able to air campaign ads in the final two weeks of the campaign.

The Republican Party has been criticized for not providing support to Cuccinelli, but the Politico article points out that the Republican National Committee spent $3 million on the Cuccinelli campaign while the Republican Governor’s Association spent $8.3 million. Dick Morris points out that Republicans tried to aid Cuccinelli when the race became competitive in late October, but at that point it was too late to buy air time for ads.

A bigger problem than the lack of money from political groups was Cuccinelli’s lack of fundraising prowess. The Cuccinelli campaign raised only $11.7 million compared to McAuliffe’s $28 million. The Washington Post notes that businessmen who previously supported Republican Bob McDonnell backed McAuliffe this year, making it difficult for Cuccinelli to raise funds.

The bad news for Democrats is that the mountains of cash that McAuliffe spent barely eked out a victory, even with a Libertarian candidate drawing Cuccinelli voters by a margin of two to one. As previously reported by Examiner, McAuliffe’s double digit lead in mid-October had all but evaporated by the end of the month. The likely reason for McAuliffe’s difficulties was the steady stream of bad news relating to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Unless a dramatic change occurs over the next year, Obamacare may prove to be a drag on Democratic candidates in next year’s midterm elections.

Voter demographics in the Virginia race are also troubling for Democrats. Strategist and pollster Dick Morris points out that a major question in surveying the race was whether turnout would mirror 2012 or 2010. Exit polls show that turnout closely resembled the off-year election of 2010. The surge of minority Democrats that propelled Barack Obama to two election victories in Virginia did not materialize when he was not on the ballot in either 2010 or this week.

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post agrees. “A Republican looking at these numbers should feel disappointed by last night's election but hopeful about next year's,” he says, noting that the core demographics of Obama’s electoral success, women, minorities, and young voters, all decreased as a percentage of the electorate, as did the percentage of Virginia voters identifying as Democrats.

With Barack Obama off the ballot, his ability to get out the vote is considerably curtailed. Obama’s ability to rally voters may get worse as his approval rating drops with disappointment in Obamacare. A Gallup poll from Nov. 5 showed Obama’s approval rating at 39 percent, a historic low. If the makeup of voters in 2014 resembles the electorate in Virginia from this week, the Democrats may suffer a defeat similar to the 2010 Republican congressional landslide. Democratic hopes for winning control of the House are in jeopardy and with 20 Senate Democrats up for reelection Republican control of both houses of Congress is a very real possibility.

Chris Christie’s victory in New Jersey presents a different set of problems for Democrats. Although Christie is reviled by Tea Party Republicans as a “RINO,” the New Jersey governor has proven adept at reaching into traditional Democratic vote strongholds.

Exit polls from New Jersey show that Gov. Christie made deep inroads into Barack Obama’s core constituencies. Christie won women voters by 15 percent even though the Democratic candidate, Barbara Buono, was a woman. He also won Hispanic voters outright with 51 percent (compared to Buono’s 45 percent). Although Christie did not win the black vote, at 21 percent his percentage of the black vote was almost two-and-a-half times greater than Cuccinelli’s (eight percent).

Some Republicans would charge that Christie’s success is a result of abandoning traditional conservative principles. Christie claims to be a conservative and John Nichols wrote in The Nation that he is right. According to Nichols, Christie cultivates a moderate image to appeal to New Jersey’s voters, but his policies are in line with other Republican governors.

Nichols details how Christie has enacted Wisconsin-style “austerity” in New Jersey and clashed repeatedly with unions. He pulled the state out of a regional carbon emissions program, scaled back renewable energy targets, and vetoed a plan for early voting. Christie’s record on social issues is also conservative. He is pro-life and defunded Planned Parenthood from the New Jersey budget. He also vetoed New Jersey’s gay marriage law.

Christie’s conservative record is not perfect, however. As the L.A. Times pointed out on Nov. 5, Christie his support for in-state tuition for illegal aliens will trouble the right. He also dropped a state appeal to a New Jersey Supreme Court decision that allowed marriages to proceed and signed a bill banning gay conversion therapy. Christie also has a mixed record on gun control. Many Republicans will not easily forget or forgive Christie’s “bro-mance” with President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Nevertheless, a Gallup poll from June found that Christie is the most popular Republican politician. The poll found that Christie had approval ratings of greater than 50 percent with members of both parties as well as the public at large. No other Republican topped 50 percent outside the party. Even if Christie is not the Republican nominee in 2016, his success shows that Republicans can win in blue states without abandoning their principles.

Taken together, the two elections this week portend a difficult future for Democrats. President Obama’s legacy, the problem-ridden Affordable Care Act, could spell disaster for many Democratic candidates just as the president becomes unable to help them.

Originally published on Elections Examiner

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