Republicans sweep Virginia races
It's hard to imagine a more satisfying election result than what we saw last night. All three Republican statewide candidates won by near-landslide proportions, exceeding my conservatively optimistic forecasts by at least ten percentage points. It was the first time that the GOP had swept the three statewide races in Virginia since 1997, when Jim Gilmore, John Hager, and Mark Earley were each elected. The Grand Old Party also gained about six seats in the Virginia House of Delegates (pending a possible recount), and won the governorship in New Jersey. Here are the preliminary, unofficial statewide results for the Old Dominion:
Congratulations to Governor-Elect Bob McDonnell, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, and Attorney General-Elect Ken Cuccinelli for their historic triumph!
In New Jersey, meanwhile, Republican Chris Christie (a moderate) defeated incumbent Democrat Governor Jon Corzine by a 49%-45% margin. President Obama had made several campaign appearances on behalf of Corzine, who was plagued by ethical problems. It all had little or no net effect, as Christie won in spite of a lackluster campaign. Of all the races, this one has the greatest potential significance for national politics.
To some extent, the voters in Virginia and New Jersey were expressing deep dissatisfaction with the Obama administration and its agenda, but we need to study the results more closely before making definitive judgments about that. In today's Washington Post, Dan Balz wrote that yesterday's elections "revealed cracks in the Obama 2008 faction and demonstrated that, at this point, Republicans have the more energized constituency heading into next year's midterm elections."
The result in New York's 23rd Congressional District was a disappointment, but it's hard to draw a clear-cut lesson from that bizarre three-way contest. Democrat Bill Owens beat Conservative Doug Hoffman by a 49%-46% margin, while "Republican" Dede Scozzafava (who withdrew and endorsed Owen on Sunday) received 5%. Does the loss of this seat, which has been in Republican hands since 1872, mean that the GOP is doomed to lose more ground in its traditional northeastern "homeland"? Not necessarily; it's really up to the political leaders to get their factions reunited. According to politico.com, "Owens ... seemed to benefit from voters' preference for pragmatism over ideology." If so, it's a stark contrast to the winning pragmatic approach adopted by Bob McDonnell. Hoffman may have been one of those off-putting right-wing ideologues, as some suggest, but it's hard for an outsider to know for sure. One clear consequence of that campaign is that Newt Gingrich made a huge blunder in endorsing Scozzafava. He was already on thin ice in some party circles for having taken strong stands on controversial issues, and this will severely damage his stature. Steve Bragaw, my former colleague at Sweet Briar College, pointed out the huge impact of Sarah Palin's use of Facebook for promoting Hoffman's candidacy. Such a thing would have been impossible before the era of New Media began.
Back in Virginia, voters decided that the House of Delegates is going to have six (6) more Republicans next year. Eight incumbent Democrats were defeated by Republican challengers, while one Republican incumbent was defeated by a Democratic challenger, and the 52nd District seat held by Jeff Frederick (who served as RPV Chairman until last April and did not run for reelection) was won by a Democrat as well. It is a welcome rebound after three consecutive elections in which the Republicans lost several seats.
Republican Victory Party
Delegate Steve Landes (25th District) and his colleague-to-be Dickie Bell (20th District) co-hosted a Victory Party at the Staunton Holiday Inn, complete with a catered buffet. Perhaps the most telling moment was when Emmett and Sharon Hanger entered the room and received a warm and hearty round of applause. Senator Hanger has been at odds with a number of party members in recent years, but it seems that the differences of opinion are narrowing, as a new spirit of unity and mutual understanding emerges. Hanger led the victory speeches, remarking what a great feeling it was, just like in the "good old days." Dickie Bell expressed humble gratitude to all for the honor that was bestowed upon him. I was happy that Delegate Landes took the time to thank all those who had worked so hard during the campaign, in particular Steve Kijak.
There was extensive press coverage, with television crews from WHSV-TV3 and WVIR Channel 29 as well as reporters from the News Leader (which focused on Dickie Bell) and the News Virginian (Bob Stuart, who focused on Steve Landes).
Augusta County Commissioner of Revenue Jean Shrewsbury was among the local GOP elected officials who were present, as well as Staunton City Sheriff Alex Caldwell, who easily withstood a challenge from Michael Painter. The three local Republican Party chairpersons -- Bill Shirley of Augusta County, Anne Taetzsch Fitzgerald of Staunton, and Chris Darden of Waynesboro -- were busy greeting the guests and keeping up with the elections returns. Many local Republican activists were there, including Steve Kijak, Carl Tate, Zannette Hahn, Al Katz, and others named in the photo captions below. There were also several sympathetic independent activists such as Mike Hodge of the Valley American and Richard Armstrong, a leader of the local "Tea Party" movement. Many of the Young Republicans from out of state who helped in the final phases of the campaign were there as well. What a great experience that must have been for them! On the down side, I heard some talk that the right-wing "grassroots" faction (a.k.a. "SWAC") may be planning to challenge some of the Republican incumbents at the local level. I guess we're not out of the woods just yet...