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Virginia is for Democrats

Although the final election results are not in yet, it looks like the Democrats won all the marbles in Virginia yesterday. Virginia has five statewide elected offices and the Democrats will certainly control four of them, maybe all five. For a state that was the capital of the Confederacy and highly Republican for decades, this is an incredible change.

To start with, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, all-purpose fixer, and Friend of Bill, Terry McAuliffe, was elected governor of Virginia yesterday, albeit by a smaller margin (48% to 45%) than the polls had predicted. His victory was due to his running ahead of Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli among women, minorities, college graduates, and people with low or high incomes. Cuccinelli did best among white men, gun owners, pro-lifers, and people with middle incomes. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis got 7% of the vote, probably mostly as a protest against both candidates. This is the first time since 1973 that the party of the sitting President has won the Virginia governor's mansion. It is also the first time since Reconstruction that either party has held the office of governor for only one term.

McAuliffe has pledged to make major changes to the policies of his predecessor, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA). McAuliffe wants to expand Medicaid, make it easier to get abortions, and forbid discrimination against gays and lesbians, among other things.

His election also has national implications. McAuliffe is a very close personal friend of the Clintons, not just a political ally. If Hillary Clinton runs for President, he will pull out all stops to make sure she carries Virginia. There are 18 states plus D.C. that have gone Democratic in every presidential election since 1992. Together they have 242 electoral votes. Add in New Mexico, which Obama won by 15% in 2008 and 10% in 2012, and Virginia (which Obama also won twice), and the total is 260 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. In other words, if McAuliffe can deliver Virginia, the Republicans pretty much have to win all the other swing states, like Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida.

In the race for lieutenant governor, state senator Ralph Northam easily easily defeated E.W. Jackson, a fire-breathing preacher whose incendiary remarks doomed him from the start. Northam got 55.5% of the vote to Jackson's 44.5%. The state senate may end up split 20-20, depending on some upcoming special elections, in which case Northam will actually have a day job--breaking ties in the state senate, thus giving Democrats control of the body. Republicans control the lower chamber.

The attorney general's race is too close to call. Democrat Mark Herring, a state senator, is currently clinging to a 541-vote lead over Republican Mark Obenshain, also a state senator. Obenshain is a far-right clone of Cuccinelli and potentially a rising star in the Republican Party if he wins. If Herring's lead holds in the recount, the Democrats will control the governorship, the lieutenant governorship, the attorney general's office, and both Senate seats, as Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine are both Democrats.

Christie Wins Big in New Jersey

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) won his reelection race over state senator Barbara Buono in a romp, 61% to 38%. He won because he is perceived as a moderate but also because the national Democratic Party didn't help Buono at all, seeing her as a lost cause from day 1. Christie is almost certainly going to run for President in 2016 and his campaign victory this year is going to be both a help and a hindrance. It will help him because he will be able to claim that he can beat Democrats in blue states (but he won't mention that the national Democrats didn't bother to lift a finger for their candidate this year, something they will certainly do in 2016).

But Christie is going to be the Republican nominee in 2016 over Ted Cruz' dead body. And also over the dead bodies of Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and quite a few other Republicans who will violently oppose him in the Republican primaries, some of them as candidates and the others from the sidelines. Christie's sins (which he highlighted during this campaign) include support for expanding Medicaid, gun control and immigration reform, his lack of hatred of same-sex marriage, and his desire and proven abiliy to work with the devil (er, make that the Democrats) to get things done. He also believes in climate change, a real bugaboo for many conservatives. Finally, he doesn't mince words and if he thinks Ted Cruz is a wacko bird, he'll probably say it out loud more than once. This is not likely to endear him to the far right. All of these things are going to make for a lot of fireworks during the Republican primaries. It will be especially interesting because unlike that other "moderate," Mitt Romney, who ducked when arrows were sent in his general direction, for every incoming arrow aimed at Christie, there are going to be three outgoing arrows heading back to the source. The Republican civil war will be on full display starting with the first primary debate. The battle will be about purity vs. electability with Cuccinelli's defeat and Christie's victory as exhibit A.

Many observers first take on 2016 is that Christie could possibly win the general election (but see the above comments on electoral votes), but he can't win the nomination because the party base hates his (quite substantial) guts. His main chance is a repeat of 2012, in which half a dozen far-right candidates (e.g., Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Santorum, Perry, and Jindal) split the tea-party vote, letting Christie (backed by Wall Street--see below) win with a narrow plurality. But talk of 2016 is a bit premature. Remember, in politics, a week is a long time.

The Establishment Strikes Back

The runoff election in AL-01 for the Republican nomination to replace Jo Bonner, who resigned from the House to become vice chancellor of the University of Alabama, was held yesterday. It rapidly turned into a proxy fight between the business wing of the Republican Party and the tea-party wing. Business won. Attorney Bradley Byrne defeated a wealthy Christian conservative activist, Dean Young, 53% to 47%. Byrne will win the general election against a hapless Democrat on Dec. 17. This race, combined with Christie's win and Cuccinelli's loss, is going to lead to more business vs. tea party battles in the future, with groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce actively supporting and financing anti-tea-party candidates in the future. It won't be pretty.

Will Republicans learn anything from yesterday's results? Will they suddenly realize that running moderates means winning and running conservatives means losing? If this piece from Erick Erickson at RedState is any indication, the answer is definitely no. Conservatives see themselves as a movement to save America, not a wing of the Republican Party, and they spend as much effort attacking what they perceive as RINOs as attacking Democrats. Yesterday's results will be explained away as tactical defeats that can be fixed with slightly better PR.

De Blasio Crushes Lhota in New York City

Public advocate Bill De Blasio won a resounding victory over former deputy mayor Joe Lhota in the race to replace retiring New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. De Blasio got 73% of the vote to Lhota's 24%. This will be the first time a Democrat has been mayor of New York in 20 years. De Blasio is an unabashed liberal and will reverse many of Bloomberg's policies, which he sees as antiworker and antifamily. Currently in New York, the richest 1% of the population takes home 40% of the income. De Blasio intends to address this by raising taxes on the rich. De Blasio will have his hands full because after 20 years of Republican rule, Democrats have a lot of pent-up demands and city finances will not allow many of them to be fulfilled.

Many Referendums on the Ballot

Yesterday saw a plethora of ballot measures on a variety of topics. Last year, a bill to raise New Jersey's minimum wage to $8.25/hr was passed by the state legislature but vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie. Supporters of the increase got it put on the ballot and voters approved it yesterday. The city of SeaTac had a ballot measure asking voters whether they want to approve a $15/hr minimum wage, which, if approved, would be the highest in the country. It currently is ahead with 54% approving, but since all elections in Washington State are conducted by mail, there are many ballots yet to be counted.

Eleven rural, conservative counties in Northern Colorado sought to break away from the increasingly liberal state of Colorado and form a new state, North Colorado, but voters in five of the counties voted No. The measure is dead for the time being. Breakaway movements happen all the time, but the last time one succeeded was 1863, when the westernmost counties of Virginia broke with the rest of the state over slavery and formed the state of West Virginia.

The city of Portland, ME, voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana yesterday. However, possession of the drug still violates state and federal law, so the impact of this measure is far from clear.

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