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A 'Blow to Conservatism'?: A Look at Tuesday's Elections for Governor in N.J. and Va. and What They May Indicate for the Future


“Sometimes you look at trends, sometimes you look at specific elections."

Virginia candidates for governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, talk during a forum at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. (AP)

Perhaps the only things as predictable as the results of Tuesday's gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey are what the media reactions to the outcomes will be.

That's the view of Rick Trader, host of the Conservative Commandos syndicated radio show in New Jersey, and others who anticipate a particular narrative from pundits.

“If Ken Cuccinelli loses and Chris Christie wins, which he will, the mantra you will hear from both the mainstream media and the mainstream Republican Party — the same mainstream Republican Party that sees Ted Cruz and Mike Lee as a threat to their power — will be that it was a blow to conservatism,” Trader told TheBlaze.

Virginia candidates for governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, talk during a forum at the University of Richmond. (AP)

Christie, a favorite among establishment Republicans, appears to be cruising to a re-election landslide over Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, has maintained a lead over conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli, a Tea Party favorite who gained national fame as the first state attorney general to litigate against Obamacare.

In recent years, one party has won both state governorships up for grabs the year following a presidential campaign. Notably in Virginia, the party in the White House has lost the governor's race every time since 1977. That's likely to change, said Geoff Skelley, associate editor of the Sabato Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“Virginia has a mixed record, since 2009 was an indicator,” Skelley told TheBlaze. “Given where we are now, with the shutdown, and all the focus on the Obamacare rollout, I don't think this election is an indicator on 2014.”

Still, Skelley expects the two elections will tie into a GOP national debate.

“I do think there is a lot of commentary among many Republicans after 2008 and 2012 that they didn't nominate a true conservative,” Skelley said. “In Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli fits the bill of a true conservative. They don't have the answer and might have to rethink that. But with the increasing roll that, say, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have in the Republican Party, I don't think the Cuccinelli loss will prompt a major shift inside the party.”

In the week leading up to the election, national figures from both parties came to Virginia. President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all stumped for McAuliffe, while Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus campaigned for Cuccinelli.

McAuliffe has reportedly outspent Cuccinelli 10-1 on campaign ads and has led in double digits, but two recent polls have shown the race tightening. A Quinnipiac University poll showed McAuliffe leading 45-41, with Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis getting 9 percent; an Emerson College poll found McAuliffe leading by just 2 points, 42-40 percent, with Jarvis at 13 percent. The RealClearPolitics average of polls shows McAuliffe leading by 5 points.

New Jersey is far less competitive, as Christie holds a commanding 24-point lead over Buono, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls. If Christie emerges as the only victorious Republican, it could bode well for him regarding the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Christie appears ready to romp to victory in New Jersey,” Skelley said. “He clearly has his eye on the Republican nomination for president. He will look like a winner. Winning twice in New Jersey, a blue state, will give him a lot to say about striking a different pose.”

But Christie will have a lot to explain to conservative voters in the GOP primary, said Trader, whose WNJC radio show airs in the Philadelphia-New Jersey market. Christie shares some responsibility for Obama's re-election, Trader said, praising and literally embracing the president after Superstorm Sandy.

And Christie's problems go beyond that, Trader said, pointing out that as governor, he's done nothing to stop New Jersey sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants, believes in man-made global warming, and wants to spend $100 million in state funds on wind farms.

Christie New Jersey gubernatorial candidates, Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democrat State Senator Barbara Buono, meet in governor's race debate at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. (AP)

Christie will definitely have challenges winning over conservatives, said Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

“Chris Christie will have to evolve to appeal to the base of primary voters,” Cardenas told TheBlaze. “In 2007-2008, Rudy Giuliani was a northeastern Republican candidate with very significant appeal. At the end of the day, he couldn't convince the base he warranted the nomination. But Tuesday could propel Governor Christie in the 2016 race.”

Cardenas also anticipates a certain narrative from pundits about a larger meaning from the race, but he doesn't buy it.

“Sometimes you look at trends, sometimes you look at specific elections,” Cardenas said. “New Jersey will continue to be a blue state. It just happens to be that Chris Christie has done a great job in appealing to a cross section of voters in the state. But the state House and state Senate will remain Democratic. So that's not a trend election. Ken Cuccinelli is besieged by headwinds in the state of questions surrounding the incumbent, and a Republican legislature that many conservatives disavow.”

Cardenas was referencing current Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican under federal investigation after his family accepted about $145,000 in gifts from a Virginia businessman. Meanwhile, McDonnell supported tax hikes in the state to pay for transportation improvements, which alienated some conservatives.

McAuliffe, on the other hand, has had to fend off ethics questions about his financial dealings with a heavily subsidized electric car company.

Trader still doubts the 2013 elections will foretell anything about future elections.

“I don't think 2013 will be a harbinger for 2014,” Trader said. “Low-information voters will just see that a popular Republican governor won again in one state and a Democrat beat a Republican in another. What is especially unpopular is Obamacare. I think you will see Republican victories in 2014, and hopefully conservative Republican victories.”


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