Wednesday, November 6, 2013

PostElection: Winners

Even putting aside the bizarre idea that Republicans "won" Virginia because they didn't lose by as much as the polls was about as mixed an election day as possible, wasn't it?

* Democrats win! After all the two biggest pickups on the day were VA-Gov and NYC Mayor, both to the Democrats.

* Republicans win! Context matters. Yes, Republicans lost VA-Gov, but winning a landslide in New Jersey Governor is a big deal in a solidly Democratic state, more so than losing by a bit in a swing state.

* Mainstream conservatives win! Chris Christie massively outperforms GOP par in NJ-Gov, while Tea Party friendly Ken Cuccinelli slightly underperforms GOP par in VA-Gov. Meanwhile, the mainstream conservative beats the Tea Party candidate in AL-1.

* Tea Party wins! Yes, the conservative won in AL-1. But not by much, and with almost everything on his side except for the Tea Party/"establishment" split. If the big goal of Tea Party primary challenges is keeping Republicans in Congress terrified: mission accomplished.

* Liberals win! New York City is a big deal, and it now has a very liberal mayor. That's one new liberal who, today, has a major national platform.

The thing is: all of these are correct. Add into the mix mostly status-quo results in the NJ and VA legislature, and "muddle" looks like a reasonable assessment.

Standard warning: do not assume that yesterday's results even hint at anything about the 2014 general elections, let alone 2016. Ignore anything that even hints at it. These elections are important because of and to the extent to which New Jersey and Virginia state elections and the other elections contested yesterday are important. The main exception, I think, is the AL-1 GOP runoff, which certainly may have an effect on other elections.

Oh, and the other thing? At the end of the day, what matters in almost all of these cases is who won, not how it's interpreted. So if the press buys into some of these stories and not others, it's just not a big deal. Spin can matter, but usually reality matters a lot more.


  1. I'm not sure the NJ election results are as impressive as they seem. From a comment on a previous Plain Blog post:

    "The Democratic establishment in NJ ran a "B" list candidate (Buono) against Christie and failed to fund her, and in return the Republicans ran a "B" list candidate against Booker (Lonegan) and failed to fund him. It was kind of an implicit bargain between the two party organizations in NJ, that Democrats would not seriously contest the Governorship and Republicans would not seriously contest the Senate seat in 2013."

    1. I agree that that's basically what happened - but how does that make it less impressive? Surely one of the reasons that Democrats went for it was that they didn't think they could beat Christie. And another reason was that Christie had the political skills to make Democrats less than desperate to defeat him.

    2. Christie also played his cards right. By pulling a total 180 on his position (schedule special elections to coincide with nearby regular elections to save money), he got Booker off the ticket. Democrats didn't show up in NJ partially because they'd already voted for the guy they actually liked a few weeks earlier.

      Were Booker on yesterday's ballot, Christie's win would have been narrower. Still would have won. Still by a lot.

    3. Jonathan, I'm sure the Democrats figured it would be hard to beat Christie and the Republicans figured it would be hard to beat any Democrat running for the open senate seat. So that calculus went into the deal. But when people talk about how impressive Christie's electoral showing is, the assumption is that it's impressive because it reflects his inherent appeal to voters (or the inherent appeal of moderate Republicans generally), not that he was good at working a backroom deal that got Democrats to not seriously contest the election.

      There's been considerable press coverage of how appealing Christie is -- "Look, how great Christie does with women!" -- as a commentary on his 2016 prospects or the prospects of moderate Republicans generally (which I took to be your point in this post). No one is marveling at his skill at making backroom deals, especially when no mention is even made that such a deal took place.

    4. I think it also matters what one wants to accomplish, Couves. Having a fairly competent Republican governor that is willing to make deals and work with Democrats isn't such a bad deal for the Democratic leadership in NJ. Especially if they need to rein in some of their hard-core base, like the teachers' union. As long as Christie isn't trying to dismantle the school system (or destroy human rights), using him as the bad cop can get things done in the state that a Democratic Governor might not be able to accomplish.

      Christie is evidence that as long as Republicans are willing to govern and work with the other side, Democrats will pick their battles sparingly.

    5. "Christie is evidence that as long as Republicans are willing to govern and work with the other side, Democrats will pick their battles sparingly."

      Fair point, but that has nothing to do with his appeal to voters. I take it that this isn't what impresses you or Jonathan about Christie, but all of the other coverage I've seen has been about Christie's appeal to voters.

  2. Couves, I think you may be reading too much into this "deal." I think this is more likely a de facto outcome rather than an explicit negotiation. It's generally difficult to recruit strong candidates for a race that no one believes you're going to win. In this case, there were two "not going to win" races that happened to balance each other out. In other cases, you might have two Democrats or two Republicans who run essentially unopposed in their respective races. (Who even knows the name of the Democratic candidate in AL-1?)

    1. Scott, you could be right -- perhaps the "implicit bargain" anonymous refers to was not an actual bargain. But even if you're correct, what that says about Christie is that he was able to scare away serious opposition by his presumed strength at the polls. So we'd have to say that the outcome on Tuesday was largely a reflection of other people's estimation of his political strength, rather than itself a demonstration of his inherent appeal to blue state voters. And since this has mostly been used to comment on the 2016 Presidential election, it's worth pointing out that Democrats won't be deterred from making a full effort in that race (particularly for an open seat!).

  3. On the applicability of anything this election to 2014: At least according to WAPost, the Obama coalition showed up in Virginia. I haven't seen turnout numbers, but the failure of that coalition to show up generally in 2010 was important. So while VA may be a special case--all the money and attention and major party figures involved--it is at least a hopeful sign that the turnout problem won't be as bad in 2014.


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