All politics is not local. So it’s no surprise that tea leaves are much in demand today as political prognosticators seek meaning -- and no small amount of affirmation -- in off-year election results in Virginia, New Jersey and elsewhere. The fate of the Tea Party, President Barack Obama’s health-care reform law, immigration reform, abortion rights and much more were all on the line yesterday. Or so we are told.
In Virginia, voters sent a clear message: Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli was too socially conservative and politically combative. Unless, of course, the hidden meaning of Cuccinelli’s surprisingly narrow loss to Democrat Terry McAuliffe was that the electorate is now in open revolt against Obamacare, which Cuccinelli focused on late in the campaign and almost rode to victory.
Or perhaps the election instead shows the abiding appeal of McAuliffe’s hardy pro-business perspective. Although he ran as a liberal -- with an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association, no less -- the victorious Democrat’s career and philosophy owe more to Phineas T. Barnum than to Franklin D. Roosevelt. But it wasn’t business that put McAuliffe over the top, it was minority voters; he won with only 36 percent of the white vote.
Hold those disparate thoughts while turning your attention to New Jersey, where Republican Governor Chris Christie won a landslide re-election in a notoriously blue state. The governor won a majority of Hispanic and 1-in-5 black votes, proving that ideological moderation, support for immigration reform and racial inclusiveness can succeed for Republicans.
Except that Christie is stylistically as Tea Party as they come -- combative, scolding, in your face and occasionally downright rude to his constituents. Oh, and the same voters who gave Christie a second term? They also ensured that Democrats retained control of both houses of the legislature and voted overwhelmingly to raise the state minimum wage and index it to inflation -- anathema to Republicans everywhere.
Elections matter for both the who and the why: Not only do voters choose an actual candidate, they do so for (presumably) identifiable reasons. So it is inevitable, and maybe even salutary, for the political class to try to divine some larger meaning in the hours and days after an election.
With all due apologies to Dr. Freud, however, sometimes a New Jersey gubernatorial election is just a New Jersey gubernatorial election. Same for Virginia. Moreover, American politics in 2013 is in high flux, with multiple currents coursing through its byways and new tributaries carving the landscape. In Virginia, voters opted for the better side of a bad choice. In New Jersey, they chose a politician who has made his resistance to national partisanship, national labels and national mindlessness the foundation of his national ambitions.
Presuming Christie ramps up an expected presidential run, it will be interesting to see how well his mismatched socks work in another time and place: 2016 in the land of matched (white) sets. All politics is not local. But much is.
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