I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict the following:
Virginia Governor: Terry McAuliffe wins by double-digits.
New Jersey Governor: Here, the only question is whether or not Chris Christie breaks 60% of the vote. I bet he does.
New York Mayor: Bill de Blasio elected in a landslide.
Charlotte Mayor: Patrick Cannon (D) elected Mayor. I have no clue what’s going on here, but I suspect the margin will be high single-digits or low-double digits. Peacock is the best possible candidate the Republicans could nominate, but I’ll be shocked if he wins. Charlotte is just too Democratic, and what Peacock really needed was a Mitchell nomination.
The large loss of a Tea Party-affiliated conservative and the landslide reelection of a moderate Republican will make for interesting optics on election night. It might actually be enough to give hardcore conservatives pause. Probably not, though.
Finally, some will point to Cuccinelli’s loss and say that Republicans are done in Virginia, and the Old Dominion is now a blue state. That’s not accurate, even though Republicans definitely have a problem there. First of all, gubernatorial elections are different, voters are less partisan and willing to give someone from the other side a chance, as long as they prove they are a competent executive. This is less true in recent years than in the past, but it still holds.
The truth is, a combination of factors have sunk Cuccinelli, including a scandal-plagued governor from the same party. Mostly, though, it boils down to being a far-right conservative unwilling to budge on contentious social issues. Early on, I thought Cuccinelli would moderate his stances, cast McAuliffe as a sleazy businessman, rely on the popularity of Bob McDonnell, and allow a friendlier off-year electorate to lift him to victory.
Needless to say, that hasn’t happened. Voters look at Cuccinelli and see someone more concerned with hot-button social issues than governing the state. The McAuliffe campaign has succeeded at making voters think of a Governor Cuccinelli as positively scary. Sleaziness wins over extremism any day. McAuliffe, it should be added, as run a better campaign than most expected he would, far better than his 2009 primary effort.
What brought us here? First, McDonnell has become tainted by a gifts scandal, making him far less of an asset than he would have been. Next, the Virginia Republican Party, in its infinite wisdom, nominated E.W. Jackson for the position of Lieutenant Governor. Jackson, while possibly serving to make Cuccinelli look more reasonable, is just another distraction. Finally, Cuccinelli has failed to moderate any of his social stances or rebut the charge that he’s too extreme for Virginia. The campaign has also been overwhelmed on the airwaves by McAuliffe’s warchest, so even if the campaign had a compelling message it would be difficult to hear.
But the final nail in the coffin came with the government shutdown. It reminds me almost of how the stock market crash ended John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, permanently ending any chance of a comeback. The shutdown was especially consequential in Virginia, which has a large number of government workers, and in Cuccinelli voters saw someone very similar to Republicans nationally – socially extreme, unwilling to compromise, and out of touch, so that now it looks like Terry McAuliffe will be the one to break the long tradition of Virginia opting for the party out of the White House in gubernatorial elections.
But the Virginia race has little, if any, implications for Virginia’s status going forward. Cuccinelli would be losing even in the Virginia of ten years ago, though the race would be much tighter. Beyond Cuccinelli’s loss, Virginia Republicans will probably lose a number of seats in the legislature, but their hold on that body is too strong for Democrats to win it back.
Winners on November 5th: Chris Christie. Terry McAuliffe. Moderate Republicans. Bill de Blasio. Liberals.
Losers: Ken Cuccinelli. The Tea Party. The Virginia Republican Party.
Of course, if Peacock wins, then the Mecklenburg County GOP is one of the biggest winners of the night. But that’s not probable. So beyond Charlotte, what does this all have to do with North Carolina? Just this: North Carolina is a more conservative state than Virginia. But even here, extreme social conservatism is on a short leash, especially statewide. Many Republicans, here and nationally, seem to want to see just how short it is.