So, the Republicans took something of a spanking Tuesday night. Governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey were lost to the Democrats and a serious majority in the Virgina legislature was almost entirely lost. Democrats did well elsewhere in the country, too, but these two states are taking up all the oxygen in the coverage. It’s not that much of a story really but there are lessons in this election. Republicans are clearly on notice to restrain Trump (good luck) and to get something done but Tuesday’s news is not as bad as advertised.
In Virginia, governors are limited one term. Incumbent Terry McAuliffe has done well in his four years and if Virginia voters could have re-elected him, as they could have in any other state, they would have. Failing that, the natural thing to do was to vote for a similar democrat in the absence of any egregious political outrage by the incumbent which McAuliffe has managed to avoid. A Democrat was replaced by a Democrat. Virginia is trending blue. That’s the only story there. Republican Ed Gillespie actually did pretty well with 45% of the vote considering how Trumpy he decided to be.
In New Jersey, the incumbent governor, Republican Chris Christie, is literally the LEAST popular governor IN ANY STATE in the last TWENTY YEARS according to a Quinnipiac poll, 15% approval. New Jersey is a deep blue state with a deep blue legislature whose voters have it up to here with Chris Christie. No offense to the Republican candidate, Kim Guadagno, but the Democrats could have run a Maytag refrigerator for governor. New Jersey voters would have elected it knowing it would eat less and govern better than Chris Christie. And it would spend a lot more time in the state than he did. There was a lot of spite in the New Jersey vote. This was a pick up for the Democrats but a pick up that was absolutely, definitely always going to happen.
The real story is in the Virginia House of Delegates. Republicans lost at least 15 seats there to go from a 66-35 majority to a squeaker at 51-49 with four close elections going into recounts so the jury is still out on Republican control of the General Assembly’s lower house. Now, that’s a spanking. The Republican party needs to figure out what happened there before the real show, nation-wide mid-term elections next year where the House and maybe the Senate are in play. For one thing, it means Virginia has clearly weighted anchor and sailed away from the solid Republican South. They’re up around Pennsylvania now. Not hostile to conservatism but by no means an electoral sure thing for Republicans. A purple state, trending to light blue. It also means Republicans have to get something done. They need to govern if they want to win, nationally and in the states. They have to have something to run on. Vague claims of credit for how great the stock market is doing is not enough but things that directly matter to people, legislative accomplishments that they can point to and say, “We did that. We think it was good. Here’s why. Vote for us.” Maybe then they will.