There were only a few elections Tuesday, but the results can say a few things about the current state of American politics. Here are five takeaways:
1) Politics is Local, Except When It Isn't
"All politics is local," Tip O'Neill, speaker of the House during the Reagan administration, was famous for saying. His point was that how an individual congressperson relates to the voters in their district is more important than what is going on nationally. Politicians are more important than political parties, in other words.
While O'Neill's maxim was likely more true in the 1980's than today, there are still cases where it applies. Tuesday's gubernatorial election in New Jersey is a good example. Chris Christie, a Republican, was able to easily win reelection in a strongly Democratic state even as his own party's brand is deeply diminished. New Jerseyites like their governor more than they dislike Republicans.
The Virginia governor's race, on the other hand, saw the opposite. The race swung back and forth depending upon the national fortunes of the Republican Party and President Barack Obama.
During the government shutdown in the first half of October, the Republican Party was taking a beating in the polls and so was its Virginia governor candidate, Ken Cuccinelli. After the shutdown ended, though, the press turned its attention to all the problems with the "Obamacare" rollout and Obama's misleading statements regarding his new health care law. When Obama's poll numbers took a dive, so did the poll numbers for the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe.
2) Democrat's "War on Women" Strategy is Still Working, So They'll Keep Using It
McAuliffe used the Obama 2012 campaign playbook. Millions of dollars were spent by the McAuliffe campaign on ads claiming, or implying, that Cuccinelli is anti-woman, much like Obama's team did against Mitt Romney. Some of those ads claimed that Cuccinelli wants to make birth-control illegal. The ads worked. Cuccinelli's support among single women dropped after the ads began.
Expect the "war on women" strategy to continue as long as it works. Similar ads will be used in next year's midterm elections.
3) The Marriage/Gender Gap is (Still) Significant
The media loves to talk about the gender gap (Republicans do better among men and Democrats do better among women). "Women voters play starring role in Va. governor's race," USA Today reported Tuesday.
What is more significant than the gender gap, though, is the marriage and gender gap. Cuccinelli won among married women by nine percentage points, 51 to 42 percent. McAuliffe, on the other hand, won by a much greater margin, 42 percentage points, among single women (67 to 25 percent).
A similar, but less extreme, pattern exists among men. Cuccinelli won among married men, 50 to 44 percent, and McAuliffe won among single men, 58 to 33 percent.
4) Chris Christie is a Presidential Frontrunner
It is difficult to overstate how impressive Christie's victory was. Republicans rarely win statewide in New Jersey, yet Christie received 63 percent of the vote. He also performed well among demographic groups that Republicans usually struggle with.
He won 51 percent of the Latino vote; 55 percent of young voters; and 57 percent of women voters, even though he had a female opponent, Barbara Buono. Plus, among black voters, with whom most Republicans are lucky to get 10 percent, Christie got 21 percent of the vote.
These numbers are enough to make any Republican strategist drool when they look ahead to the 2016 presidential race.
5) Virginia is Still a Swing State
Obama won Virginia twice and Democrats just won the governor's and lt. governor's race. This may lead some to conclude that Virginia is now a blue, or Democratic, state. (At the time of publication, it appears that the Republican candidate barely won the attorney general race by a couple of hundred votes.)
While Virginia may be becoming a blue state, it is not there yet. Cuccinelli only lost by 2.5 percentage points, 45.5 to 48 percent, or about 55,000 votes.
Cuccinelli kept the race close despite his many weaknesses: a third party candidate, libertarian Robert Sarvis, drew more votes away from Cuccinelli than McAuliffe; he was outspent (there were 10 McAuliffe TV ads for every Cuccinelli ad); and, both Republican and Democratic pundits agree, Cuccinelli ran a poor campaign. Under better circumstances, Republicans can still win a statewide election in Virginia.