US Politics

Purple Virginia

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By Stewart Shoemaker

Virginia most often earns the title of a “purple” state, it being an interesting admixture of extremely rural, sparsely populated, and reliably conservative districts in its central and western portions, with a dash of dark blue covering the densely populated, highly educated, and ultra-wealthy suburbs that line the outskirts of our nation’s capital.

Despite being home to an incumbent Republican governor and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia has trended to the left in recent major elections, including Obama’s notable victory in 2012. This leftward slide is largely explained by demographic shifts in Virginia’s population, and Terry McAuliffe simply surfed this demographic wave to victory in last Tuesday’s Gubernatorial race. For a more detailed analysis on this very issue see the Atlantic’s article on the matter here.

Beyond demographics, McAuliffe’s electoral chances benefitted from the nature of his opposition: Sodomy-hating Ken Cuccinelli and the Reverend E.W. Jackson, who once profoundly proclaimed that Obamacare is worse than chattel slavery and that gays are possessed by the devil. Such extreme candidates are not formidable opponents, no matter the demographic change, and yet McAuliffe could muster only a narrow victory over these two hardline conservatives.

This unconvincing victory begs the question: if a purple Virginia is rapidly transforming to blue, how could the race have been so close?

The answer, while not a refutation of the notion of a nearly-blue Virginia, still gives Democrats significant reasons to worry. McAuliffe, the former head of the DNC, is immensely unpopular, even among his fellow Democrats. His recently penned memoir paints the portrait of a man who nearly missed the birth of his first daughter to attend a Democratic fundraiser and who was kicked out of the labor unit during the birth of another child following a heated argument with the attending physician regarding Clinton’s healthcare plan. Had it not been for his somehow even less like-able opponents, McAuliffe would almost certainly be sitting at home in Fairfax County today, rather than heading to the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond.

Herein lies the main problem for Democrats in Virginia. McAuliffe, universally unlikable as he is, was the only candidate to enter the Democratic primary. On its face, this may not seem like a terribly troubling issue, given the changing demographics of the state, as I cited above. But reducing electoral politics to mere political demography would be a fool’s errand for the Democrats in Virginia.

Look no further than the Gubernatorial race in New Jersey for evidence of the failure of demographics to guarantee electoral victory. When an exceptional politician like Chris Christie steps into the mix, traditional political mantras fall by the wayside. Replace Cuccinelli with a gregarious, moderate Republican, and Virginia’s identity as a blue state quickly evaporates. For the Democratic party to cultivate and bolster its support in the Commonwealth, it must find better politicians to run for public office.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/05/07/in-virginia-terry-mcauliffe-s-memoir-comes-back-to-haunt-him.html

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US Politics

Christie’s Formidable One-Two Punch

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By Tom Elustondo

I was happy to see Chris Christie handily win the New Jersey gubernatorial race Tuesday night. In my view, Chris Christie provides precisely what the muddled and confused American political scene needs right now: straight talk.

People are beyond disgusted and frustrated with the incompetent do-nothing Congress and are looking for honest and direct leadership. The amount of fatigue that exists from hearing the liberal MSNBC line on one side and the conservative Fox News line on the other is extreme. Both sides talk past one another without actually engaging the issue or the other side. They screech snarky political platitudes that do nothing but pollute the public’s understanding of the issues. In the process they facilitate polarization of the electorate and decrease the potential for common understanding.

Chris Christie has proven time and time again that he is willing to stand by his positions and tell it like he sees it, rejecting the aforementioned political posturing. After Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey, Christie established himself as a strong defender of his state’s well-being, lobbying the federal government for billions of dollars in aid and actively participating in the clean-up and rebuilding processes. When Congress rejected a bill that would provide New Jersey with $60 billion in aid, Christie chastised his own party’s leadership stating that “There’s only one group to blame for the continued suffering. The House majority and their speaker, John Boehner.”[1] Furthermore, despite being governor of a Democratic-leaning state, Christie confronted the highly powerful and entrenched New Jersey teachers unions in 2010 upon assuming the governorship. Asking teachers to accept a pay freeze and to begin contributing to 1.5% of their salaries toward health care, Christie vigorously dismissed claims that he was endangering New Jersey’s public schools in direct and stinging speeches.[2] Christie was ultimately successful, displaying the value of toughness and straight talk.

However, straight talk is not enough to be a successful politician. Politics is a much more complicated art than that. An enormous degree of tact and savvy is involved in the process, what some people would call “playing politics.” Yet, as John F. Kennedy touches upon in Profiles in Courage, “playing politics” is inherent to the process of governance. Despite appearing slimy and uncouth, tit-for-tat deals, half-measures, and unsatisfying compromises are necessary and important to accomplish the difficult goal of governing. In a speech in front of supporters at the Jersey Shore last week, Christie touted bipartisanship and compromise as the key to solving not only Republicans’ recent election woes, but also to solving the dysfunction in Washington. He criticized Republicans for seeking 100% “purity” in candidates, saying that it elicits representatives who simply tell the voters what they want to hear. Also taking a shot at the federal level, Christie stated that “That’s why we have the political system we have in Washington now, because we have people who have become convinced that they have to be 100 percenters.”[3] The New Jersey governor’s emphasis on compromise and bipartisanship illustrates his appreciation of the tact involved in political success.

Christie’s strength is that he combines these two crucial traits, straight talk and political tact, but emphasizes straight talk to a greater degree than other politicians. Christie’s landslide reelection in New Jersey, a Democratic state, by a margin of 61% to 38% validates the legitimacy of his strategy.[4] Corroborating Christie’s attitude is the fact that Ken Cucinnelli, a Tea Party Republican “purist,” was defeated in the important Virginia gubernatorial race the same day as Christie’s victory. The path to the Republican Party’s salvation must include straight talk and political tact via compromise and bipartisanship. They should look to Chris Christie for pointers.

 

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