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Wednesday Political Mix: Post-Vote Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Don't you love Election Day morning-afters?

The musings. The what-it-means. The grasping what-ifs.

The exit polls.

The blame.

If you're just catching up on last night's results, take a look at my colleague Mark Memmott's quick roundup that includes Republican Gov. Chris Christie's easy reelection in blue state New Jersey, and Democrat Terry McAuliffe's closer-than-expected gubernatorial win over Tea Party Republican Ken Cuccinelli in purple state Virginia.

On this particular morning after, the topic burning up the Twitters and dominating the parade of talking head panels centers on what the election means for the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.

Let's see what's out there.

Writing in The Week, conservative blogger Matt Lewis, like most analysts this morning, focuses on Cuccinelli's loss in Virginia to Clinton moneyman McAuliffe.

Lewis catalogues why he believes Cuccinelli, the state attorney general, lost. He includes on his list the party's nomination of firebrand Tea Party candidate E.W. Jackson as his running mate. Nominating a woman, Lewis argues, might have cut into the Democrats' advantage with a demographic McAuliffe won by nine points.

Here's Lewis: "Second guessing is always fraught with danger, but one can't help wondering how things might have played out if Cuccinelli's team had backed the candidacy of Susan Stimpson, the former chairman of the Stafford County Republican Party.

"Cuccinelli and Stimpson might have then essentially run as a ticket, traveling the state with Stimpson and the Republican Attorney General nominee. Might that have helped undermine some of the Democrats most lethal attacks — which essentially fit into the "war on women" rubric?"

Though Lewis cautions that there's a "danger in over-hyping the significance" of the Virginia race, he ends with this somewhat obvious observation, given that Barack Obama twice won Virginia, and the state now has an incoming Democratic governor, and two Democrats in the U.S. Senate:

"It ain't George Allen's Virginia any more."

Moving from cataloguing why Cuccinelli lost, let's see the narrative forming around why McAuliffe barely won — beyond the obvious: an enormous money advantage.

Here's James Hohmann's Politico piece that suggests that the Democrat was weighed down by the ongoing Obamacare rollout debacle and mixed feelings about the president, who campaigned in the state last Sunday.

Hohmann also wonders why McAuliffe won the women's vote by nine points, when a recent Washington Post poll suggested he enjoyed a 24-point advantage among women voters.

Here's his food for thought: "This raises questions about whether women are starting to tune out "war on women" messaging and whether apocalyptic suggestions that Cuccinelli would try to ban common forms of birth control were effective at driving women to the polls who might not typically vote in an off-year.

"Cuccinelli is a true-believer social conservative, who has spent his career battling abortion and trying to limit divorce. After avoiding social issues the first half of the year, he began defending himself and touting his anti-abortion bona fides in the final weeks as he tried to galvanize his base.

He says: "The margin will embolden both sides of the abortion issue to claim victories of sorts."

Fox News tells us more about exit polls in Virginia and the women's vote — including McAuliffe's domination among unmarried women.

--Women backed McAuliffe by a nine percentage-point margin. In 2009, women preferred Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell (who is also pro-life, but less conservative) by eight points.

--Unmarried women went for McAuliffe by a wide 67-25 percent margin.

On this morning, it also would serve us to look at what Americans outside the beltway are likely reading in the most-circulated newspaper in the nation, USAToday.

The editorial writers there suggest that the results "probably don't portend much about the 2014 elections, much less 2016.

But that they "do hold important lessons for the GOP if it wants to field competitive candidates in national and statewide elections."

Their prescription? "More Chris Christie, less Ken Cuccinelli."

They write: "A Republican candidate could have, and probably should have, won this year's Virginia governor race against a Democrat with shallow roots in the state, no previous experience in elective office and a host of unanswered questions about his business dealings.

"By the same token, Republicans could have faced stiff headwinds in their effort to hold on to the governorship in New Jersey, a state President Obama won last year by nearly 18 percentage points.

"An obvious one is to ditch state conventions that allow a small cadre of party activists to choose nominees. This year's nomination of Cuccinelli — and an even more extreme candidate for lieutenant governor — was the result of party activists in Virginia scrapping a primary in favor of a convention."

Also in USAToday, the opposite view, from Dr. Milton Wolf, a Tea Party Republican and Obama cousin who is challenging Kansas GOP Sen. Pat Roberts. Wolf's dissent echoes voices coming from that party's wing this morning:

Wolf: "Sadly, the surrender caucus of the GOP puts up more of a fight against conservatives in primaries than they do against disastrous bloated-government policies that come out of Washington. Imagine how much better our country would be if they fought for conservative principles in the halls of Congress instead of fighting against conservatives in elections.

"It's disheartening that every time a conservative Republican loses an election, the surrender caucus pounces. It's even more disheartening when the loss of an election in a purple state like Virginia is used by the moderates as an excuse for us to become moderates everywhere, even in bright red states like my home of Kansas."

We remind Wolf, however, that another Tea Party candidate challenger lost to a Republican backed by the business community in a closely watched Alabama primary.

John Sharp, writing from Mobile, Ala.,for, says that the race won by Bradley Byrne "became a contest of labels: Byrne as the 'establishment' Republican supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against [Dean] Young, the "Tea Party conservative" favorite who had the backing of popular Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore.

"But Byrne said he felt the characterizations of the two were not accurate.

"Every time they interviewed me, I would say they got it wrong," Byrne said. "This is about, in the minds of the voters of this congressional district, who is the most effective person to represent us in Washington. That's why the vote total is the way it is. They want (someone who will be) the most effective."

More from my colleague, Frank James.

Taking a break from election analysis:

*Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will be back on Capitol Hill today facing questions from the Democratic-controlled Senate Finance Committee about the problematic Obamacare rollout. Here's what she faces, from Alan Fram of the AP.

*And NPR's Nina Totenberg tells us about the public prayer case that will be heard today by Supreme Court justices.

She explains that after a 1983 high court ruling that allowed legislatures to begin sessions with non-proselytizing prayer, "dozens of other cases have tested the constitutionality of prayers at government venues other than legislative sessions, with often conflicting rulings in the lower courts. Wednesday's case could produce some guidelines for the future. It involves almost exclusively Christian prayers that took place at one town's board meetings in upstate New York."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.
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