For all the talk of the GOP brand being toxic due to the government shutdown Tuesday night’s results show that the GOP brand is fine, at least at the local level. While most of the media coverage focused on the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races less attention was paid to a host of down-ballot races in each state and for several important county seats in New York state. In many of these races the GOP did fine. Below are some examples.
Virginia Assembly: Terry McAuliffe’s victory in Virginia appeared to have minimal impact on state assembly elections. Republicans entered the night holding a 65-32 advantage in the 100 seat chamber. At the end of the night with several races to close to call (but mostly called today) Republicans actually enlarged their advantage to 67-33. How so? Republicans won a fair number of Obama districts based around or in Fairfax, Loundon and Prince William counties. All these counties McAuliffe won and it is even more surprising considering his margin of victory in Fairfax was almost north of 60%. In fact, 14 Republicans now occupy districts Obama won by 52% or more. Many of these assembly Republicans were new to the assembly, having been first elected in 2011 after redistricting, so they had not had much time to establish themselves. Indeed, the GOP incumbents who lost were older. The shutdown also made Democratic optimistic they could take these urban/suburban swing seats. Voters apparently differentiated between local Republicans and their statewide ticket, an excellent sign for the party to help keep its bench strong in the state.
New Jersey legislature: Many NJ Republicans have to be disappointed that Christie’s 20 point victory did not have more down-ballot coattails than winning a couple swing state assembly seats. Still, of the few state senate Republicans that represented Obama districts none won by less than double digits. Furthermore, the results in the state assembly are misleading as many Democratic seats were competitive and closer than the historic norm.
WA State Senate District 26: The background for this seat goes like this. The district’s former state senator, Derek Kilmer, ascended to take over the open Congressional seat of Norm Dicks. Governor Inslee replaced Kilmer with Nathan Schlicher. Republicans coalesced around Jan Angel. Angel actually beat out Schlicher by 9 points in the blanket primary but outside money poured into the race allowing Schlicher to establish himself as a psuedo-incumbent in the race. Still, Angel ran on a largely non-partisan education funding campaign while letting outside money punish Schlicher for being an outspoken liberal and friend of the unions. At last count Angel lead by over 3%. Due to the fact WA state has a mail in ballot system it could be awhile before the final results are known but Angel is likely to win the race. Entering Tuesday Republicans had a power-sharing agreement with a few conservative Democrats to control the upper chamber. A victory here ensures they keep it until at least 2014 and that the state GOP is as healthy and viable in the state as it was before the shutdown.
Nassua and Westchester County Executive seats, NY state: Both Nassau and Westchester County’s swings to the right in 2009 took many analysts by surprise. It took even more analysts by surprise Tuesday night that an outspoken socialy conservative incumbent for the Westchester, Robert Astorino, won by double digit margins. His counterpart in Nassau County did the same.
None of these examples say the GOP brand is untouched. The party has horrific favorable ratings and its efforts to court new voters seems to have stalled of late. Yet they may be saved in the short-term by the President’s incompetence and Obamacare’s woes. Obamacare is widely credited with making the Virginia race competitive towards the end and may have saved some vulnerable assembly members to boot.
For all the talk of the GOP being an old party its talent at the local level is diverse and able to survive in tough races. This ensures the next crop of candidates will be able to win tough races and perhaps better appeal to the middle. Either way, local results show the GOP brand is not as tarnished as some would have us believe.