With the dust still settling from Tuesday, the headlines coming from this off-year election will be meaningful for the next four years.
First, in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie (R) breezed to re-election which everyone expected. His acceptance speech was clearly a platform to launch an eventual Presidential run as it was aimed at a national audience. If you’d like to see what Christie’s eventual 2016 campaign theme will look like, watch his full speech here.
Next, in Virginia, the Governor’s race was far closer than almost any poll had predicted. Only a couple polls showed the race within 2 points which is how it will end up after all is counted and done. Clinton fundraising guru Terry McAuliffe (D) will occupy the Governor’s mansion for the next four years which is clearly a boon for Hillary Clinton should she decide to run in 2016. In the end, Ken Cuccinelli (R) made a strong closing argument and despite a lack of support from the Republican establishment, was able to close a gap as high as 17 points in some polls. Still, it wasn’t enough to keep Virginia’s Governor seat in the Republican column.
It closing days, it was discovered that the Libertarian candidate on the ballot in Virginia was aided almost entirely by a single Obama campaign bundler from Texas to act as a spoiler against Cuccinelli. Given the 55,000 vote difference between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, the 145,000 votes that went to Robert Sarvis (L) potentially could have swung this race to Cuccinelli. In the end, 52% of Virginia voted against McAuliffe but a 48% victory was enough to carry the day.
The race to watch will be the Virginia Attorney General race which is headed for a recount.
One more race on Tuesday that very few people have mentioned was a runoff primary for the First Congressional District in Alabama to fill the seat of a retiring incumbent. The district is heavily Republican and the winner of the runoff will most assuredly win the special election. However, the real battle in this race was between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment.
Report on the Alabama race from the New York Times:
It took a flood of campaign donations from the business community and the backing of a large part of the Republican establishment, but Bradley Byrne, a lawyer and former state senator, successfully fought off a Tea Party-supported rival on Tuesday to become the Republican candidate for a House special election here in coastal Alabama.
The runoff was the first of what is likely to be many battles to come over the direction of the party, and it proved, to the relief of many in the Republican leadership, that a strong showing by the establishment can win tough races. But it also underscored just how difficult and costly such victories may be going forward.
While Mr. Byrne disputed the story line of the party establishment versus the Tea Party, many in the business community and the Republican Party saw it as just that: the first big intraparty electoral battle since the government shutdown.
Last week, in the first of what promises to be a series of salvos against Tea Party candidates in Republican primaries, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and corporate donors from around the country weighed in heavily for Mr. Byrne. Large checks came in from Pfizer, Caterpillar, AT&T and the National Association of Home Builders; the chamber itself put nearly $200,000 into the race.
The same narrative was seen in Virginia where Ken Cuccinelli struggled to win any support from the GOP establishment given his Tea Party roots.
These races indicate a move by Republicans to cleanse the party of grassroots Tea Party activism and take back some of the control in primary races. Furthermore, when Cuccinelli won the party’s nomination at convention, the establishment did not rally to back him despite becoming the nominee.
What does this mean for 2014 and 2016? Will Tea Party candidates reconsider running if they know they might win a primary but be abandon in the general? What about grassroots activism within the GOP? What does it say that more establishment support went to Christie in New Jersey, a lock for re-election, than it did to Cuccinelli who was fighting the Clinton machine?