The great thing about elections is that they have a definitive conclusion. People win. People lose. Even so, everyone has a different definition of what the results actually "mean."
Here's how I see it:
1. Demographics Matter
According to the exit polls, the electorate in Virginia in 2013 pretty much mirrored the electorate of 2012.
McAuliffe performed similarly to Obama among these demographic groups and won the state by 3 points. Obama carried it by 4 points. Some in the McAuliffe camp think that the electorate was probably whiter than the exit polls show, which would mean that McAuliffe did even better among white voters than Obama. But, at the end of the day, it shows that Republicans cannot win in these swing states by simply running up the score among white, male voters. It should also dissuade Republicans from thinking that 2008-2012 elections were just "Obama anomalies." The demographic changes going on in these states are real--and they aren't simply about having an African-American at the top of the ticket.
However, we also know that the battle for 2014 is taking place on territory that is much less favorable to Democrats than Virginia, like Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana and Montana.
2. The Establishment Beat Tea Party in AL; But It Wasn't a Fair Fight
With help from the GOP leadership in Washington and outside groups like the Chamber of Commerce, former state Sen. Bradley Byrne defeated his pro-government shutdown, anti-Speaker Boehner Republican opponent Dean Young in the special election run-off in Alabama's 1st Congressional District. However, while the cavalry came in to help Byrne, Young was on his own with no outside support or money.
The question for the Chamber and other establishment groups is whether they can win when matched up against stronger--and better funded--opponents in primaries in 2014.
3. Obamacare Will Continue to Plague Democrats in 2014, Regardless of Website Fixes
Did Obamacare tighten the Virginia race at the end? Republicans contend that it brought home many in their base who had been turned off by the government shutdown. Democrats, meanwhile, argue that their models always showed McAuliffe with a 2-4 point lead. It is also likely that in those suburban and exurban suburbs around DC, the issues of Obamacare and the government shutdown likely cancelled each other out. McAuliffe got an unexpected boost during the shutdown, but the disastrous Obamacare roll-out brought the race back to its natural resting place.
However, Democrats shouldn't be sanguine about the Obamacare factor in 2014. Not only is the president and the law more popular in Virginia than either is or will be in the red states where key battles for the House and Senate will be fought next year, but it's also more likely than not that Obamacare will be an anvil for Democrats in 2014. The website is not the real problem. The real problem is the fact that many people who currently have health care will be impacted negatively by the implementation of this new law. This shouldn't be all that surprising given the amount of disruption the new law is making to the current system, but you can forgive voters for being surprised since they were told by the president himself that if they liked their health care they could keep it.
Just as Republicans need to get beyond the "repeal" message, Democrats need to get over this idea that a website fix will fix their problems with Obamacare in 2014.
4. Haters Still Gonna Hate Chris Christie--but Will It Matter?
Regardless of Christie's prowess as a 2016er on paper, there will still be plenty of Republicans who will never trust him to be a true conservative. That said, it's not clear that will matter. Christie is not a Tea Partier, but he's certainly not as moderate as Rudy Giuliani and does not have to run away from his record in New Jersey like Mitt Romney had to distance himself from his Massachusetts past. His personality, not his policies, will be the bigger issue for Christie come 2015-16.
October 30, 2013Beating The Tea Party On Their Own Turf
October 23, 2013Healthcare.gov’s Problems Aren’t Just with the Uninsured
October 16, 2013Primary Colors: To Change Congress Start With The Primaries