So this is an election post mortem.
It’s one of many.
But hopefully it’s interesting and insightful. If not, you get a full refund of what you’re paying for it.
Some people (and I’m going to single out Dan Balz at the Washington Post here because his piece is the most recent thing I read, but he’s hardly alone) are using the dual facts of a Chris Christie win and a Ken Cuccinelli loss to make the typical point that moderate Republicans win and conservative Republicans lose.
I think some of those analyses have been written for at least a week since they seem to miss the entire point of what happened last night.
Let’s dispense with Chris Christie first.
Chris Christie won because he has an extraordinary personal brand and has done great things for his state. His positions on social issues is probably the single least important thing about him in the minds of New Jersey voters.
(Late edit: Chris Christie, I’m told, is personally pro-life and has vetoed multiple Planned Parenthood funding bills in New Jersey. So let’s chalk up another strike for the moderate versus conservative narrative and another win for the “it’s how you talk about it” side).
In fact, it wouldn’t shock me if Chris Christie could have won this race by a wide margin simply by taking a page from Chevy Chase and saying “I’m Chris Christie, and she’s not.”
Attempting to learn any global lessons from the victories of incredibly personally popular figures is almost always a foolish endeavor.
Ken Cuccinelli Didn’t Lose Because of Abortion (alone)
If you believe the inside-the-beltway media (always a bad idea, by the way), you’d think that Cuccinelli’s abortion position was the only reason that he lost and that voters everywhere are rejecting pro-life candidates, or at least voters in swing states, or something.
As of this moment Mark Obenshain is winning in the Attorney General’s race. That’s subject to a recount and all of the usual shenanigans that surround recounts, of course. But it at least makes clear that a pro-life candidate can win in Virginia on election night (if not once the lawyers and operatives get involved).
Beyond that though, we’ve polled these issues in multiple states; focus grouped them among unmarried women, Independent women and all sorts of groups; and seen pro-life candidates win in purple states from coast to coast over the years.
Anyone, whether in the media or in politics, who says a pro-life candidate can’t win in a swing state is projecting their personal preference ahead of the facts. Period.
That being said, how a candidate talks about the issue is critically important and Cuccinelli made the same mistake many pro-life candidates make and talked about the issue like he was at church or in a meeting of like-minded activists rather than in a way that makes candidates seem levelheaded and sincere to swing voters.
Ken Cuccinelli didn’t lose because he was pro-life. But he was certainly hurt because he wasn’t good at communicating those beliefs in the right way to voters.
The Birth Control Issue Is Killing Us
While I’m convinced by data and experience that pro-life candidates can win in swing states, it’s becoming equally clear that we have handed Democrats an issue on a silver platter by arguing over birth-control, whether it’s government funding or mandates in Obamacare.
Unmarried women were 18% of the vote in this election and were the strongest group for McAuliffe with 67% voting for him. That’s down a bit from the 22% of the vote that unmarried women made up last year, but still a high participation rate for an off-year election.
Identifying and energizing this group was a key to the Obama win last year and it’s clear that Democratic campaigns are going to continue mobilizing them as a key part of winning coalitions in the future.
The issue that matters to these voters enough to spike their turnout and ensure their loyalty is the “war on women” theme that Republican campaigns ignore at their peril. And the failures that make us such easy targets for Democrats on our insistence on engaging in a debate on birth control and our inability to explain our pro-life principles in non-offensive terms.
Why Last Night Was Really Good News For Republicans
Lost in the rush by most in the media to impose their pre-conceived narrative of “conservatives bad, moderates good” on last night’s result is the fact that a close race in Virginia is hugely good news for Republicans.
Cuccinelli probably did as poorly as a Republican can do in terms of offering Democrats ammunition and in terms of fundraising and enabling a robust campaign. And he still came close winning the race.
Here are three numbers that matter the most in this race:
- Cuccinelli closed what was between a six and 12 point gap in all of the late polls to around two points by singularly focusing on Obamacare in the waning days of the race.
- Some will argue that the polls must have been wrong, despite several usually good pollsters all having agreed that McAuliffe was way ahead. I suppose that kind of wish-casting by Democrats can only help us, so I’ll let them have it.
- A majority of voters (53%) opposes Obamacare and this includes 41% who strongly oppose it.
- Opponents of Obamacare voted 81% for Cuccinelli.
- Voters were pretty much evenly split over whether they blame Obama (45%) or Republicans in Congress (48%) for the shutdown.
- These numbers in Virginia, home of many federal employees and much of which is dominated by the DC media are downright shocking.
We lost a battle last night, without a doubt. But don’t let anyone tell you we’re losing the war.
As much as some inside-the-beltway reporters and pundits would like to close their eyes and wish really, really, really hard that the nasty conservatives would just go away and stop disturbing their cocktail hours, that’s just not the real story here.
The real story is that the Democratic Party is going to have to continue to answer for an increasingly unpopular and massively impactful program that is their signature achievement of the decade.
All Republicans need to do is communicate a bit better and drop an issue that we thought would win us Catholics (and isn’t).
And as for that shut-down that was supposed to be so “toxic” for Republicans, if you can’t make that stick in the state with huge numbers of federal employees, you aren’t going to make it stick much of anywhere.
I know which side of this war I’m happy I’m on.