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“Voting For Governor Is One Thing, For President, Another”: The Wrong Election Takeaways From Christie’s Win, Virginia, and More

The conventional wisdom on New Jersey: Huge Chris Christie win sets him up to steamroll his way to the Republican nomination in 2016, proving that a more mainstream conservative can win in a blue state. The conventional wisdom on Virginia: Ken Cuccinelli’s stinging loss in a purple state in an off-off-year election against Terry McAuliffe, a flawed Democratic candidate, shows not only that he was too extreme but also that Virginia is inching its way into the Democratic column. As the Times put it in its headline, “McAuliffe Win Points to Virginia Changes.”

Well, God invented conventional wisdom so people like me could beat it down. In New Jersey, Christie doesn’t emerge from his victory nearly as strong as he appears to. And the Virginia outcome isn’t really very strong for Democrats, especially down the ballot. No, I’m not buying into the right-wing spin that Cuccinelli’s narrow margin of defeat really represents some kind of loss for Obamacare. It does not. What I’m saying is something different. But let’s start with Joisey.

Barbara Buono, Christie’s Democratic opponent, volunteered for a suicide mission when she agreed to run against him. Surfing on an ocean of media hagiography, Christie seemed unbeatable just when it was time for Democrats to declare themselves. Buono couldn’t raise money, couldn’t attract much media, couldn’t get anyone to believe she could make it close, let alone win.

In such a circumstance, a lot of voters just mentally write that person off. Most people don’t care passionately about politics. Most people care…some. When they look at a race and see someone who looks as if she’s going to get clobbered, they just decide they’re not voting for her, in the same way they might decide they’re not going to let themselves get too invested in the idea of Rutgers knocking off Florida State in a fantasy matchup.

So Christie got a lot of those votes. He got high percentages from Latinos (around half) and blacks (21 percent). Does it mean he’d get them running for president? No way. Indeed, the exit poll result that showed Hillary Clinton beating him 48-44 demonstrated Christie’s national weakness, at least against her.  Think about it. On the night of his greatest triumph, a smashing 22-point win, exit poll respondents walked right out of the booth and said, “For president? Are you kidding me? Hillary all the way!”

About 2 million votes were cast Tuesday. We should perhaps be careful about reading too much into exit polls, but the results suggest that running for president against Clinton, Christie, who corralled nearly 1.25 million votes Tuesday, would give back about 370,000, or roughly 30 percent of them. That sounds about right to me.

People make different calculations voting statewide and nationally. Massachusetts voters, for example, have often elected Republican governors in recent times, but they would never let a Republican get within 20 points of winning the state in a presidential election. New York had a Republican governor in George Pataki not all that long ago; Connecticut had one just recently; Pennsylvania has one right now, and Michigan, and Wisconsin, and Maine, and New Mexico. Likewise, a few red states where Democrats haven’t been winning many presidential votes lately (Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia, Montana) have Democratic governors. News flash: People can distinguish between voting for a governor and voting for a president.

The Clinton exit-poll number, the 61 percent of Jersey voters who backed a minimum-wage hike that Christie had vetoed, and his basically nonexistent coattails suggest to me that he will have a hard time winning his own state in 2016, especially if he does a little pandering to the right between now and then, as he’ll surely have to. I don’t deny that he is a skillful politician. What I do deny is that a blowout gubernatorial win under these circumstances means much of anything about the presidency three years hence.

As for Virginia, I mostly come away from that race shocked that someone as divisive and reactionary as Cuccinelli could get 45.5 percent of the vote. His tally, combined with the Libertarian guy’s 6.6 percent, suggests that Virginia is still fairly red. I was also staggered that Cuccinelli beat McAuliffe among white women by 16 points. Surveys before the voting indicated that McAuliffe was much closer than that among white women.

Of course, a presidential-year electorate will be different. It will be younger, more black and brown, and so forth. I would think Clinton, if she were the nominee, could beat Christie there with a large enough “on-year” turnout. But if 46 percent of Virginia is willing to vote for that little reptile Cuccinelli, a die-hard caucus in that state is going to put up a fight. I don’t see McAuliffe’s win as the “bluing” of Virginia. That’s going to take one more presidential election, and it may well be that only Clinton can do it.

Finally, it’s lots of fun to watch the sparring between Republicans about why Cuccinelli lost. The establishment types say the party should have nominated someone more mainstream, while the Tea Partiers blame the establishment for abandoning Cuccinelli too soon. The truly enjoyable thing about this fight is that both arguments have enough of a grain of truth in them to keep the quarrel going on into next year. So let the Tea people keep launching their cannonade, and let the establishment overrate Christie. That’s about as good an ending as this election could have had.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 7, 2013

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Group Polarization Intensifies”: Only Hearing Praise Back Home, It’s Too Soon To Write Off The Tea Party

Don’t write the tea party’s obituary just yet. Despite historic victories over tea party extremism in Tuesday’s elections, we haven’t seen the last of tea partiers.

First, the good news. Effectiveness triumphed over extremism on Tuesday. Voters in New Jersey and Virginia elected governors who appeal to the great bipartisan middle by moving beyond partisanship to “get things done” for the people. In Virginia, even Republican leaders endorsed Democrat Terry McAuliffe because he demonstrated cooperation across the aisle, including helping to secure Democratic votes for a bipartisan state transportation bill. McAuliffe’s success in presenting himself as non-partisan is notable given that he once served as national chair of the Democratic party and recently flaunted his poor rating from the NRA.

Extremism lost out. In contrast to McAuliffe, Ken Cuccinelli focused on a divisive social agenda that was too extreme for purple state Virginia, where a full third of the voters are independents. He inflamed Latino opposition with comments that compared immigration policy to rodent extermination, and offended women by introducing legislation to make divorce more difficult and to confer “personhood” on fetuses, which experts say would have outlawed common forms of birth control, including the pill.

Cuccinelli also alienated purple state voters by pursuing an extremist social agenda as attorney general (leading the legal fight against the Affordable Care Act, investigating climate scientists, aggressively implementing anti-abortion regulations and pursuing sodomy laws). More than half of Virginia voters called Cuccinelli “too conservative” on most issues, while finding McAuliffe “just about right,” in a Washington Post poll. (Cuccinelli’s social agenda blinders prevent him from recognizing that his opposition to Obamacare didn’t help him narrow the vote gap in the days leading up to the election. His tea party allies are similarly blinded, as evidenced by our election night debate on The Kudlow Report; they remain enamored of their social agenda and don’t recognize it is divisive.)

The final straw may have been when tea party leader Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas came to Virginia to campaign for Cuccinelli. Cruz, the architect of the federal government shutdown, only served to remind Virginians of Cuccinelli’s adoration for the shutdown politics the tea party pursues – particularly damaging given how many Virginians’ livelihoods are tied to the federal government (32 percent of Virginian voters reported that their households were affected by the shutdown). Nevertheless, one cannot chalk up the Virginia results to the shutdown, since McAuliffe’s lead in the polls over Cuccinelli dates back to July, before the shutdown.

Like McAuliffe, New Jersey incumbent Republican Governor Chris Christie credibly made the case to voters that he is an effective, bipartisan leader. Christie won praise from blue state voters for his willingness to collaborate with President Obama on the cleanup after Hurricane Sandy and on an expansion of state Medicaid through Obamacare. Sure, he’s conservative (anti-choice, anti-gay marriage, anti-labor), but Christie appealed to voters as someone willing to set aside partisanship to get results – proving that a Republican can win a blue state if he prioritizes effectiveness across party lines and plays down his social agenda.

A third victory for the middle came in a special primary for an Alabama House seat, where the Republican establishment called in heavy guns and large corporate dollars to ensure mainstream Republican Bradley Byrne beat tea party radical Dean Young – proving that even conservative House districts can reject tea partiers, so long as the Republican establishment fights hard enough.

And in New York City, a populist liberal – Bill de Blasio – was heartily elected over his business-minded Republican opponent, although the real race, in this blue city, occurred during the Democratic primary.

Combine Tuesday’s losses with news of a Republican PAC to combat tea party primary candidates and national polls showing diminishing support for the tea party, and you might well think the tea party is facing a death knell. Especially when you add in the prediction by demographic pollsters that the tea party will eventually die out with the aging of its largely older supporters.

But, before you write that obituary, remember that many House Republicans who championed the government shutdown are hearing only praise back home. Given gerrymandering in 2010, most House Republicans now represent ideologically conservative districts. Only 17 Republicans represent districts that voted for President Obama in 2012. As social scientists have pointed out, group polarization only intensifies as group members reinforce each other’s views and hear fewer alternative views. And if they “live” in a conservative news bubble, then, as conservative journalist Robert Costa put it, “the conservative strategy of the moment, no matter how unrealistic it might be, catches fire.”

These House conservatives aren’t going anywhere, and they may well launch another shutdown and threaten debt default this winter. Nevertheless, Tuesday reminds us that extremism can be a liability on election day.


By: Carrie Wofford, U. S. News and World Report, November 7, 2013

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Tea Party | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Once Again, The Pundits Get It Wrong”: The Virginia Election Was A Big Win For Obamacare.

As the Affordable Care Act was about to go fully into effect last month, the New York Times ran a big front-page article highlighting the fact that millions of Americans would go uncovered by the law as a result of the Supreme Court decision making it possible for states to opt out of the expansion of Medicaid. Half of the states have made this choice, creating a confounding scenario in which middle-income people can qualify for subsidies to obtain private coverage but the neediest working poor, who were supposed to be covered by Medicaid, are getting no help at all.

“How can somebody in poverty not be eligible for subsidies?” an unemployed health care worker in Virginia asked through tears. The woman, who identified herself only as Robin L. because she does not want potential employers to know she is down on her luck, thought she had run into a computer problem when she went online Tuesday and learned she would not qualify.

At 55, she has high blood pressure, and she had been waiting for the law to take effect so she could get coverage. Before she lost her job and her house and had to move in with her brother in Virginia, she lived in Maryland, a state that is expanding Medicaid. “Would I go back there?” she asked. “It might involve me living in my car. I don’t know. I might consider it.”

Last night, the prospects for Robin L. and the estimated 400,000 Virginians who would be eligible under a Medicaid expansion brightened considerably. The gubernatorial election was won by Terry McAuliffe, who made the Medicaid expansion such a central part of his campaign that for a time he was even threatening to shut down the state government unless legislators included it in their budget. The expansion, which is now being studied by an ad hoc state panel, still faces big hurdles—the General Assembly remains firmly in Republican control, and the Koch brothers are spending heavily to pressure those Republican state legislators who dare to support the expansion. Still, the odds of the expansion happening are infinitely greater with McAuliffe in the Governor’s Mansion than with the fiercely anti-Obamacare Ken Cuccinelli.

So, the election was a clear win for Obamacare, right? Nope, say the pundits. The fact that Cuccinelli finished closer than recent polling suggested, they say, is a clear sign of strong public opposition to Obamacare, which Cuccinelli made a centerpiece of his campaign in the final days.


Virginia was the first swing state to hold an election after the Affordable Care Act website’s troublesome rollout, a controversy that has permeated national news coverage for weeks. Almost 30% of Virginia voters said health care was the most important issue in the race. While Democrat Terry McAuliffe narrowly beat out conservative Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, analysts credit a GOP focus on Obamacare for boosting Cuccinelli’s vote total. “This is what kept this race close,” CNN’s John King said Wednesday on “New Day.”

And Politico proclaimed: “Obamacare almost killed McAuliffe”:

Exit polls show a majority of voters—53 percent—opposed the law. Among them, 81 percent voted for Cuccinelli and 8 percent voted for Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis. McAuliffe won overwhelmingly among the 46 percent who support the health care overhaul.

Cuccinelli actually won independents by 9 percentage points, 47 percent to 38 percent, according to exit polls conducted for a group of media organizations. They made up about one-third of the electorate. “Obamacare helped close the gap,” said Richmond-based strategist Chris Jankowski, the president of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

I’m not sure when I last saw such a stark example of election spin and punditry floating away from the substantive reality of governing and its impact on actual people. There is no mention in these accounts of the greatly enhanced prospects for the Medicaid expansion in Virginia as a result of McAuliffe’s win. No, it’s all about the exit polls and what it might mean for Obama and the Democrats. But Obama’s not on the ballot again, ever, and the Democrats aren’t on it again for another year. Who knows what voters will think of Obamacare then—the troubles with the rollout will either have resolved by then or they will not have. All we know right now is that after a very rough patch for the law, the guy who ran strongly in support of it beat a guy who was strongly opposed to it, in the most purple state in the country. And as a result, hundreds of thousands of working poor may get health insurance coverage. How removed from the reality of these people’s lives does one have to be to chalk up such a result as a loss for Obamacare?


By: Alec MacGillis, The New Republic, November 6, 2013

November 7, 2013 Posted by | Media, Obamacare, Pundits | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Eugenics Forum”: If This Is What 2016 Is Going To Look Like, The GOP Is In Big Trouble

“In your lifetime, much of your potential — or lack thereof — can be known simply by swabbing the inside of your cheek,” Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said at Liberty University on Monday, during a rally for the Virginia GOP’s nominee for governor, Ken Cuccinelli. “Are we prepared to select out the imperfect among us?”

The senator was making an argument against abortion rights by conjuring eugenics, a pseudo-science of genetic improvement that resulted in sterilization laws across America in the 20th century. And he was possibly plagiarizing from Wikipedia to do it.

If Cuccinelli were leading in polls — even his own poll — appealing to the far right with abstruse arguments that have almost no appeal to swing voters probably wouldn’t be a very good idea with only eight days until the election.

But Paul — a Tea Party favorite — was in Virginia to shore up Cuccinelli’s support among libertarians currently trending to the Libertarian Party nominee Robert Sarvis, who refuses to identify as anti-abortion.

Until the government shutdown and polls that show him losing by as much as 17 percent, Cuccinelli had veered away from social issues, attempting to avoid pointing out that he opposes same-sex sex even as a majority of America accepts same-sex marriage. But at this point the Republican nominee is just trying to hold on to his base, hoping the electorate resembles 2010 much more than 2012.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton is crisscrossing the state with his old friend, Democratic nominee for governor Terry McAuliffe. And as he did when he barnstormed for President Obama in the final days before the last presidential election, Clinton was aiming right down the center.

“If we become ideological, then we’re blind to evidence,” the former president said on Sunday. “We can only hear people who already agree with us. We think we know everything right now, and we have nothing to learn from anybody.”

McAuliffe is definitely running a far more liberal campaign than his fellow Democrats, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA), who have recently won statewide elections in Virginia.

“Like the president, McAuliffe has endorsed gay marriage; universal background checks for gun purchases; an assault-weapons ban; a pathway to citizenship for immigrants here illegally; a mandate on employers offering health insurance to include free contraception coverage; and limits on carbon emissions from new coal-fired power plants,” The National Journal‘s Ron Brownstein reports, in a story examining how McAuliffe is winning as a “liberal Democrat” in purple Virginia. “He would also reverse the tight restrictions on abortion clinics championed by state Republicans led by Cuccinelli and outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell.”

The combination of these ideas moving into the mainstream along with the contrast to Cuccinelli’s fundamentalism has given the Democrat a chance to still position himself as a centrist.

While his tone can be harsh, Cuccinelli’s policies are generally in the mainstream of the GOP’s base, represented by 2016 frontrunners Paul, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and former senator Rick Santorum.

Even Governors Scott Walker (R-WI) and Chris Christie (R-NJ) have defunded Planned Parenthood in their states. Still, Christie’s willingness to literally embrace President Obama has positioned him as a “moderate” in the party. If he or former governor Jeb Bush were to win their party’s nomination in 2016, presenting the GOP with its third “moderate” candidate in a row, it’s not hard to imagine the Tea Party wing of the party losing patience and finding its own nominee that would draw voters away from the Republican nominee, as Sarvis seems to be siphoning from Cuccinelli. (Perhaps that third-party nominee could even be Senator Paul, who begins his first run for president by inheriting a grassroots network built up during his father’s two presidential campaigns.)

The next president of the United States will likely have to win in Virginia. And that person is not likely to be the person discussing eugenics a week before the election.


By: Jason Sattler, Featured Post, The National Memo, October 28, 2013

October 30, 2013 Posted by | Abortion, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Politics Of Division And Sexism”: The Republican War On Women Can Be Blocked At The Ballot Box

Question: How do you get politicians to pay attention to issues that matter to women?

Answer: Get them elected — or defeated.

A month from now, voters in two states will go to the polls to elect a governor. In Virginia, Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is facing Democrat Terry McAuliffe; and in New Jersey, Democratic State Senator Barbara Buono is running against Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

Both campaigns know they can’t win without strong support from women.

According to the National Journal:

In New Jersey and Virginia — the two states with gubernatorial elections this year — women made up more than half of the 2009 turnout (52 percent in Virginia and 53 percent in New Jersey), ensuring an intense competition for their votes in 2013. These battles will be closely watched as the national Republican Party seeks to boost its appeal to women and to lay a positive foundation for the 2014 midterm elections.

If the Republicans sweep the 2013 contests, you’ll be reading blog posts here and seeing pundits on TV saying that the GOP and the Tea Party have gained valuable momentum for 2014. That’s why the financiers of the Republican war on women are doubling down in Virginia and New Jersey today.

As I wrote in Politico back in June,

The anti-abortion rights group that calls itself the Susan B. Anthony List has announced plans to make this year’s statewide elections in Virginia a “template” for rolling out national strategies in 2014. It plans to spend $1.5 million to elect Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli governor and political gadfly E.W. Jackson lieutenant governor.Would Susan B. Anthony agree with Cuccinelli, who frequently attacks Planned Parenthood, charging that they have “an open willingness to participate in human trafficking?” Or that the “homosexual agenda … brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of their soul?”

Would Susan B. Anthony stand by Jackson, who called Planned Parenthood “more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was?”

I know about Susan B. Anthony. Susan B. Anthony is a hero of mine. This List is no Susan B. Anthony.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the race is between a tireless champion for women’s rights, Barbara Buono, and Chris Christie, the first anti-choice governor of New Jersey since Roe v. Wade

Chris Christie cut $7.5 million in funding for family planning service, and used his veto pen on marriage equality legislation, equal pay laws and a minimum wage increase while signing off on a record $1.57 billion in corporate tax cuts.

Like Barbara Buono, Terry McAuliffe is providing a clear contrast to a candidate with a record of attacks on women’s rights.

A New Republic article headlined “Ken Cuccinelli’s Record on Women’s Issues Is As Bad As Ever” says:

Cuccinelli does not support a rape and incest exception to abortion bans. He does not see the need for the state to fund Planned Parenthood — which provides services as wide-ranging as HIV testing, prenatal care, and adoption referrals for thousands of women living in the Commonwealth.He has supported legislation that would allow pharmacists to refuse to provide emergency contraception if it violates their conscience, and feels employers should be able to dictate whether the health insurance plans they offer cover contraception. He pushed legislation that would have banned third-trimester abortions in Virginia, even in emergencies that endangered the life of the mother.

Four years ago, he had the opportunity to help amend Virginia law in a way that would make sex with minors a more serious offense; he opted instead to defend the statute lawmakers were trying to replace, an unconstitutional state ban on sodomy. He is silent on whether he supports equal pay legislation.

Cuccinelli demanded that Virginia institute a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound law, which has rightly been characterized as state-sponsored rape, is a zealous proponent of TRAP laws designed to shutter abortion clinics, and even supported a law that would have criminalized later-term abortions including those necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life.

Ken Cuccinelli was one of only three state attorneys general to refuse to sign on to a bipartisan letter urging Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. His relentless focus on restricting women’s health care caused the Washington Post to call him “the most overtly partisan Attorney General in Virginia’s history.”

Elections matter in this country for a wide range of reasons. They codify our values and priorities as a society and help determine our future. They put the breaks on destructive policies and fuel the progress of urgently needed solutions.

My message to women in Virginia and New Jersey is that these elections are doubly important, because not only will they set the path that these two states will follow, but they will also deliver a verdict on the politics of division and sexism that Republicans think is a winning formula for 2014, 2016 and beyond.

Your vote is your voice. Use it!


By: Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization for Women; The Huffington post Blog, September 25, 2013

September 26, 2013 Posted by | War On Women, Women's Health, Womens Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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