If you’re looking for a definitive message out of Tuesday’s elections, you might want to wait another 12 months and Congress’s turn to face the music.
That vote will be a referendum on Obamacare, the federal government shutdown, plus whatever other fires Washington can start in the months ahead. Be it a good or bad night for incumbents, we’ll have a better fix on which party stands to benefit from America’s frustration with an unsavory status quo (a survey released earlier this month showing Congress less popular than hemorrhoids, jury duty and toenail fungus).
Moreover, the November 2014 vote is an opportunity for some sitting governors – Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and New Mexico’s Susana Martinez come to mind – to showcase themes that might factor into the next presidential race. It worked for George W. Bush in 1998, when his easy reelection as Texas’ governor fueled presidential speculation.
As for Campaign 2013, it was an off-year election with some offbeat results.
That would include:
1) Economically distressed Detroit, with an 84% African-American population, electing a non-black mayor. The last time that happened was in 1970, the same year that the Ford Pinto – “the little carefree car” with the exploding fuel tank – first rolled off the assembly lines (yes, I drove one in high school). Mayor-elect Mike Duggan, a former hospital executive with a “Mr. Fix-It” reputation, now gets a shot at fixing a Motor City that’s $18 billion in debt, two-fifths of its street lights out of service, three-fifths of its population long gone, and Chapter 9 bankruptcy looming on the horizon.
2) In Colorado, voters rejected union-backed Amendment 66, which guaranteed a minimum of 43% of the state’s tax revenues going to education (similar to California’s Proposition 98, which mandates that 40% of general-fund spending goes to education). Amendment 66 also included a $950 million income-tax increase for, among other things, early-childhood education, at-risk students and English-language learners. Apparently, changing the state income tax from a flat 4.63% rate to a two-tiered formula – a 5% tax for the first $75,000 of taxable income; 5.9% beyond that – was too much for Coloradans to digest. The measure lost by nearly a 2-1 margin.
3) In Texas, voters approved Proposition 5 allowing seniors to purchase homes using reverse mortgages – the Lone Star State being the lone holdout on reverse mortgages, according to a report by the Texas House of Representatives. Somewhere, mortgage pitchman and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson is smiling. On a sadder Texas-related note: say goodbye to the “eighth wonder of the world”, now that Houston voters have rejected a ballot initiative that would have renovated the fabled Astrodome.
Three other outcomes are worth noting. They are:
1) New York City as the Next Case for Big Government. The mayor-elect of America’s largest city, public advocate Bill De Blasio, ran on the promise of taxing the wealthy to launch universal pre-kindergarten and middle school after-school programs citywide. Class warfare paid off handsomely, as de Blasio wracked up historic numbers – the most sweeping victory in a mayor’s race since 1985, when Ed Koch was re-elected to a third term by a 68-point margin. At a time when Obamacare struggles to get online, the Big Apple is the left’s next big chance to show that big government can live up to its hype. The other question, now that their wages are about to be further garnished: how many New Yorkers are brushing up on Florida tax law?
2) Heavy Is the Man that Wears the Crown. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie goes to the front of the 2016 Republican presidential field – because the media say so, and the media just love a quasi-contrarian who talks bipartisanship and occasionally tilts at conservative windmills. A cautionary tale about Christie’s win: as sweeping as it was, it also lacked coattails. Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection in California in 2006, the Christie landslide benefitted from cult of personality (what other Republican could land this endorsement from Shaquille O’Neal?). Moving forward, Christie will have to find a way to gently extract his persona from a media narrative that has him as the moderate cure for what ails Republicans – not the best way to win over grassroots conservatives.
3) The GOP Remains Purple-plexed. On paper, Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe had no business running for the top job in the Old Dominion – not when his past businesses include an electric-car startup under SEC investigation. Then again, his Republican foe, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, had his own business problems. That, and one other flaw: he was the perfect foil for the same “Republican war on women” message that helped deliver Virginia twice to President Obama. Tuesday’s vote marked the first time since 1969 and Republican Linwood Holton that Virginia chose a governor from the same party that won the previous year’s presidential election. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the Deep South as beginning somewhere in the Carolinas.
4) In Light-Blue Virginia, Obamacare Had Voters Seeing Red. McAuliffe won his race by 2 points. But going into Election Night, Real Clear Politics’ polling average showed a 7-point advantage for the Democrat. So what happened? In 1989’s Virginia gubernatorial race, Democrat Doug Wilder, the commonwealth’s first black governor, led by roughly the same margin as McAuliffe going into Election Day, only to win by fewer than 7,000 votes (this would later be know as “the Wilder Effect”). But McAuliffe wasn’t crossing a racial divide. In early October, the Democrat caught a break: the shutdown of the federal government boomeranged against Cuccinelli in Northern Virginia, home to a large federal workforce. Later the same month, the pendulum swung the other way: Obamacare’s botched rollout sent voters flocking the GOP’s way. Cuccinelli probably didn’t sleep well Tuesday night knowing this came too late– nor did those red-state Democratic senators up for re-election in 2014 who’ll spend the next year praying that Obamacare doesn’t go entirely off the rails.
Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen