Governance matters more than elections
Mark Schmitt looks forward:
It's governance, not elections, that will matter. If Republican governors like Chris Christie in New Jersey, Robert McDonnell in Virginia, or others elected in 2008 or earlier are seen as successful governors, that's the path back to power for Republicans. The Republican surge in the 1990s owed far more to big-state Republican governors who were perceived as successful than to the congressional majority. Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, John Engler in Michigan, George Voinovich in Ohio, Christine Todd Whitman in New Jersey, Tom Ridge in Pennsylvania and others implanted in those swing-state voters a sense that Republicans could be responsible stewards of government, cutting taxes without cutting services. ("Perceived" is the key word; there were often colossal gimmicks involved.) When voters looked at Bush in 2000, they quite reasonably saw him as cut from the same cloth, and very different from the deeply unpopular Republicans of Congress. Governors present a face of the party as solving problems, not stirring conflict around social issues or obstructing progress on health care.
I'm not too worried about Christie being perceived as a big success. New Jersey ran out of gimmicks a long time ago, and I think the Christie administration will dissolve quickly in scandal. (The "deferred prosecution" racket he created as a U.S. attorney should have been a major issue in the campaign: He gave a company a deal under which they wouldn't be prosecuted if they endowed a chair at his alma mater, Seton Hall! Is that so hard to explain?) But McDonnell takes office on a foundation of eight years of responsible government by Warner and Tim Kaine. The state has one of the most resilient economies in the country (thanks, big government!), and it won't take much for him to be seen as a good governor who can also cut some taxes. Such success could make McDonnell a presidential candidate someday, or more likely a challenger for one of the two Senate seats, and it will potentially restore Virginians' comfort with the Republican Party. Those are the only national consequences of yesterday's gubernatorial elections.
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