DEMOCRATS may be tempted to view Tuesday's elections as a sign of political ascendancy. They're whistling past the graveyard if they do so. The election results provide cause for Republican optimism.
In Virginia, Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe outspent GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli by nearly $15 million. Even most Republicans concede Cuccinelli was a flawed candidate who ran an unimpressive campaign. Just a few weeks ago, McAuliffe had a double-digit lead. Yet McAuliffe won by less than three percentage points. Obamacare is a major reason why. As the health law's problems grew, Cuccinelli made it central to his sales pitch.
Most Democrats, particularly incumbents in Republican-leaning states, won't enjoy all of McAuliffe's advantages in 2014, but they will share his Obamacare liabilities.
Chris Christie's overwhelming re-election in blue-state New Jersey should also worry Democrats and embolden Republicans. Christie governed as a conservative — an anti-abortion, tax-cut advocate who embraced battle with labor unions. His victory shows conservative candidates can appeal to an electorate that doesn't support the GOP by default.
In swing-state Colorado, voters overwhelmingly rejected liberal tax-and-spend solutions. A proposition to increase the state income tax to generate nearly $1 billion for schools was rejected by nearly 65 percent of voters. Conservatives also won important policy victories in Colorado races for local school board seats. In recent years, conservatives on the school board in Douglas County, Colo., have advanced some of the most ambitious education reform measures in the nation. The board ended collective bargaining, implemented teacher merit pay, added charter schools, funded textbooks for homeschooling and even supported vouchers.
This was remarkable since those actions occurred in a wealthy suburban school system that wasn't in crisis mode — basically, a counterpart of Edmond or Jenks in Oklahoma. The school board races got national attention; large sums were spent by outside groups on both sides. In the end, the conservative reformers won.
Taken as a whole, this week's elections suggest that many voters are receptive to conservative policy solutions to real-world problems, skeptical about liberal nostrums, and increasingly angry about Obamacare. The results also reinforce — again — the importance of fielding quality conservative candidates whose appeal extends beyond the most fervent members of their political base.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, says the election results augur well for Republican efforts to win control of both chambers of Congress next year — provided Republicans avoid self-inflicted wounds.
“If you are a Republican and you're looking at these elections, it looks like, ‘Hey, if we just don't do something really silly — like shut down the government or default on the debt — normal off-year politics will work,” Cole told The Oklahoman's editorial board this week. “The president could easily lose the Senate.”
Cole notes public displeasure with Obamacare will continue to grow, overshadowing the recent government shutdown, which hurt Republican prospects.
“The government shutdown — as tactically inept as it was — is hopefully a one-time event,” Cole said. “Obamacare is an unfolding reality that I think will have political consequences for Democrats moving forward.”
Republicans have a clear path to renewed political success. Here's hoping they have the discipline to seize the opportunity.