Friday, November 06, 2009

A Republican Resurgence in Suburban America; Dems lose newfound hold on nation's suburbs

Tuesday's elections proved that the GOP is on a major comeback and the party is vibrant and alive. The results of the NY-23 congressional race notwithstanding (the drama that occurred with the nomination of a liberal Republican, the entry of a Conservative Party challenger, and the Republican suspending her campaign and endorsing the Democrat led to a narrow Democratic win a district that should revert back to the GOP in 2010), Republicans made incredible gains in Virginia and New Jersey.

To repeat The Washington Post headline, the GOP reclaimed Virginia: Bob McDonnell was elected Governor in a landslide with 59 percent of the vote--much higher than Democrat Tim Kaine's 52 percentage win in 2005 and Democrat Mark Warner's gubernatorial win in 2001 with 53 percent of the vote. The Republicans swept all three major statewide offices--Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General--only the 2nd time in the last 40 years one political party has swept all three offices in one election.

McDonnell won 90 percent of Virginia's counties (Deeds only won 10 counties), a major gain over former Governor Tim Kaine's (D) 2005 victory and completely flipped the counties of Northern Virginia to the Republicans after Obama solidly won them last November 2008 (the transformation of Northern Virginia in Tuesday's elections--both in the statewide races and the House of Delegate races--will be profiled in an upcoming blog posting).

Additionally, the GOP posted a net gain of at least 6 seats in the state's House of Delegates (with one race still pending due to a possible recount), increasing their 53-45 majority (8 seats) in the state legislature to a 59-39 majority (20 seats). Bob McDonnell, a native of northern Virginia's Fairfax County, also recaptured that critical Democratic-leaning stronghold and won big in Northern Virginia, the state's population base, which also threw out several incumbent Democratic state representatives.

In New Jersey, Independent Chris Daggett's double-digit support in pre-election polls failed to materialize and even though both sides expected a close margin with the possibility of recounts and court battles, Christie won by over 100,000 votes (4 percentage points) in a race that was not as close as predicted (Corzine supporters were stunned and questioning the numbers all night long). Christie's win over Corzine is all the more remarkable when you consider that the last Republican to win NJ's governorship, Christine Todd Whitman, won in 1993 by only 1 percent, so Christie's 49-45 percent win is extremely significant--Republicans don't win in NJ period, and when they do, it's extremely close. While Obama campaigned with Deeds in Virginia, the president capitalized on his image to a much greater degree in the NJ election, appearing with Corzine five times before the election and lending his top pollster to the campaign. The message to Democrats in 2010: Obama's support is not necessarily an asset and may be a net negative if his approval ratings continue to fall and the economy is still faltering.

The county-by-county comparisons in NJ in 2005 (when Corzine was first elected over Doug Forrester) and this year is striking. In 2005, Republican Doug Forrester only carried 8 out of New Jersey's 21 counties. In 2009, Republican Chris Christie carried a majority of Jersey counties--13 out of 21, posting a net gain of 5 "blue" counties previously won by Corzine, including the highly-populated, Democratic-leaning suburban county of Middlesex while increasing Republican margins in right-leaning Republican suburban counties of Monmouth and Ocean.

The critical story of the night was the Republican recapturing of the suburbs in races across the country. In Northern Virginia and New Jersey, Democratic-leaning suburbs turned red, but a Republican resurgence in the suburbs extended to GOP victories in other states.

Some other victories last night that may have been missed:
1. A special state senate election in Michigan resulting in a GOP pickup
2. Republicans won almost all seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (justices are elected there) and the suburban counties near Philly (Bucks, Montgomery, etc.) voted for the Republican candidates for the state supreme court, signalling a troubling trend for Arlen Specter in 2010--if Republican Pat Toomey improves Republican margins in the critical Philly suburbs, Arlen Specter has no hope of retaining his Senate seat.
3. GOP won back majority control of the Nassau County/Long Island NY county government after 10 years in the wilderness
4. Westchester County, an inner New York city suburb, elected a Republican to the county government over a longtime Democratic incumbent.

Overall, a great night for Republicans and proof that that despite the warnings of naysayers and pundits, the party is not dead or confined to the south. We can win the highly-educated, populated suburbs of the country (Northern Virginia), and we can win in the northeast and New England, in places like New Jersey and Long Island NY with the right candidates, a focus on local issues that matter to voters, and applying specific conservative policy solutions to voter concerns.