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McDonnell, the New Model for GOP Success as Republicans Win 2 of 3

5 years ago
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Virginia Republicans are known for parsing their words carefully. Whereas other organizations hold a yearly "retreat," Virginia Republicans hold a yearly "advance." Other campaigns have victory parties – Virginia Republicans held an "election night party," so as not to sound too presumptuous.

But there was little doubt there would be much celebration Tuesday night at the downtown Richmond Marriott, where hundreds of Republicans gathered. Even before the first precinct results had been reported, the air was thick with excitement and energy.

Bob McDonnell, as expected, easily won the gubernatorial election over Creigh Deeds. That, in and of itself, would be newsworthy considering that Barack Obama turned the Old Dominion blue last year – and just one year ago, TV pundits were declaring that a new paradigm had been set for Virginia.

Clearly, the pundits got ahead of themselves. But McDonnell wasn't the only Republican to win big. Republicans also won the lieutenant governor and attorney general posts. What is more, Democrats were shellacked in state legislative races in Virginia, too. In so doing, the Old Dominion gives Republicans reason to believe that President Obama's magic isn't transferable -- and that his coattails aren't even long enough to reach across the Potomac.

Republicans who are looking for a model would do well to look to McDonnell. He is unabashedly conservative, yet focused his race on issues such as transportation and the economy – issues that most Virginia voters would tell you are near and dear to them these days. It doesn't hurt that he's so telegenic or that he ran a smooth as butter campaign.

McDonnell didn't pander, but he didn't abandon his old friends, either. Pat Robertson, who has recently struggled with ill health, was spotted at the celebration. Robertson founded Regent University, for which McDonnell authored his controversial thesis. Robertson ventured out to see a former student succeed; after all, Tuesday was the culmination of his vision for starting the university.

Aside from Virginia's huge success, New Jersey should also give Republicans much to be proud of. Ousting an incumbent governor is tough, and Chris Christie did that tonight. The key to his success, though, belongs to the fact that independent voters chose not to throw their votes away. In some pre-election surveys, Chris Daggett, the independent candidate, was garnering as much as 20 percent of the vote. On Election night, however, he received just single digits, which meant the difference for the GOP: When non-aligned voters finally decided to choose between two candidates that had not exactly thrilled them, they were willing to cast their ballot for the candidate with the R after his name.

Sadly for Republicans, the loss in NY-23, where Conservative Party nominee Dough Hoffman was defeated, prevents Republicans from enjoying a clean sweep of the night's three big races. I wonder if -- just as Howard Dean turned off Iowa voters with all his out-of-state supporters trudging through the snow in 2004 -- some upstate out-of-state volunteers and TV ads flooding into their community may have alienated New Yorkers.

Nevertheless, conservatives don't view the loss as a rejection of their support of Hoffman over GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava. I'll leave it for another time to discuss how this impacts the grassroots-conservatives-vs.-Republican-establishment paradigm, but as RedState's Erick Erickson wrote of the race, "we have demonstrated to the GOP that it must not take conservatives for granted. The GOP spent $900,000.00 on a Republican who dropped out and endorsed the Democrat. Were we to combine Scozzafava and Hoffman's votes, Hoffman would have won."

Added Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List – one of the conservative groups working for Hoffman: "To be frank, this is a win for motivated conservative activists who are driven by issues and not party. Dede Scozzafava's advocacy of the extreme Obama agenda would have been a great loss for the GOP and all those who care about the values enshrined in its platform. The road to a GOP majority is not paved with taxpayer-funded abortion, same-sex marriage and government-run health care."

Instead, the loss in NY-23 deprived Republicans of a clear victory and gave liberals some obvious talking points. As Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas Tweeted, "Reminder: Democrats GAINED in the House tonight."

To be sure, two out of three ain't bad, but a hat trick would have been just the medicine Republicans were looking for. For now, they will have to settle with it being just a good night instead of a great one.

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