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New Jersey and Virginia: a tale of two elections

President Obama delivers remarks at a McAuliffe campaign event at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia on Sunday. Photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When voters in New Jersey and Virginia went to the polls in 2009, the question was what the results would mean for the White House, coming a year after the election of President Barack Obama. This time, the outcome of Tuesday’s contests in the Garden State and the Old Dominion are being watched for what they might say about the future of the Republican Party.

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Heading into Election Day, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appears to be cruising toward reelection, with the Republican leading his Democratic challenger Barbara Buono by a 64 percent to 31 percent margin in a Quinnipiac University poll released last week.

In Virginia, meanwhile, a Quinnipiac survey out Monday showed Democrat Terry McAuliffe running ahead of the state’s Republican attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, 46 percent to 40 percent. Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis received the support of eight percent of potential voters in the poll.

In 2008, Mr. Obama scored a 15-point victory in New Jersey and a seven-point spread in Virginia, only to see both of those states elect Republican governors — Christie and Bob McDonnell — the following year. Those GOP wins were followed by Scott Brown’s Massachusetts Senate special election triumph in early 2010 and the tea party tidal wave that swept many Republican lawmakers into office that November.

In winning reelection last year, the president took New Jersey by 17 points and edged Republican rival Mitt Romney by three points in Virginia.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz suggests the decisions to be rendered in those two states could serve to reframe the conversation among Republicans about the way forward for the party following the past two presidential election defeats:

Tuesday’s gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia will highlight both strains of Republican conservatism, with Christie representing one approach and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II — a tea party favorite and underdog in his race against Democratic businessman and fundraiser Terry McAuliffe — representing the other.

A loss by a tea party favorite in a swing state and a victory by Christie in a Democratic stronghold would probably set the terms for the next phase of the debate within the Republican Party about the way forward. If Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) has become the symbol of the GOP’s tea party wing, Christie is poised to become the anti-Cruz.

Christie was asked by Kelly O’Donnell of NBC News over the weekend if his expected victory would send a broader message to Republicans across the country.

“I’m not planning for it, I just think it’s inevitable,” Christie said. “I think you people look at elections, and they try to discern things from them about what they mean at that moment and what they mean for the future. And I think that what people are going to see is so unusual for what our party has created in the last couple of years that invariably people are going to draw lessons from it and I hope they do.”

Despite New Jersey’s strong blue tint in presidential campaigns, national Democrats have kept away from the gubernatorial contest, a sign of Christie’s strong advantage. Instead, they have soaked resources into Virginia, which has become a key battleground in the past two presidential cycles.

The president rallied McAuliffe supporters Sunday in voter-rich Northern Virginia, working to tie Cuccinelli to Republican lawmakers who he blamed for causing last month’s shutdown of the federal government.

“Lately, instead of rolling up their sleeves and working on the things that we can agree on together, you’ve seen an extreme faction of the Republican Party that has shown again and again and again that they’re willing to highjack the entire party — and the country and the economy — and grind progress to an absolute halt if they don’t get 100 percent of what they want,” Mr. Obama said.

The Democratic brigade in support of McAuliffe will continue Monday with Vice President Joe Biden, who will join the candidate at an event in Northern Virginia.

For his part, Cuccinelli will spend the final day of the campaign with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul.

Politico’s James Hohmann writes that Cuccinelli’s campaign is holding out hope for a win on Tuesday, especially if turnout is low, despite an “unmistakable stench of impending doom.” He writes:

In politics, it is generally not a good omen when a candidate’s supporters argue that he still has a chance of victory — if the opponent’s supporters neglect to vote.

But this was Virginia Republican Party Chairman Pat Mullins’s version of the power of positive thinking in an interview this weekend. The path for star-crossed GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, Mullins said, looks like this: “If turnout is in the 30s, the low 30s, we’re gonna win. If it gets higher up in Fairfax [in Democratic-leaning Northern Virginia], say like 40, it’s likely we won’t. I don’t think it’s going to hit 40 anywhere. I’m looking at 32.”

For context, 72 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in last year’s presidential election and 40 percent voted in the most recent governor’s race.

Kwame Holman reported on the Virginia contest last Friday. Watch that report here or below.


  • President Barack Obama will travel to Dallas Wednesday and speak about health care enrollment efforts.

  • Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said the health care exchange rollout has undermined Mr. Obama’s second term. Romney, known for implementing a similar health insurance program in Massachusetts, appeared on Meet the Press Sunday.

  • The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein scooped the backstory on how the federal staff and agencies bungled the health care exchange rollout.

  • The Washington Post profiles unhappy individuals whose health insurance policy payments will go up and who aren’t eligible for federal subsidies. And the New York Times outlines how millions of people may be eligible for minimum coverage that could be free to them because of subsidies.

  • The Republican National Committee is attacking 11 Democratic candidates on the Affordable Care Act through robocalls and Facebook posts. “President Obama and the Democrats said you could keep your healthcare plan under Obamacare” is the opening line on the calls.

  • Both Roll Call and BuzzFeed see GOP Rep. Jeff Denham of California taking a risk in backing immigration reform.

  • U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who is running for governor, says he’s gay and pitches his candidacy in a newspaper op-ed Monday.

  • Former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, now 90, was denied a voter ID card in Texas. He says he’ll try again with different documentation.

  • Becca Aaronson reports for the Texas Tribune about the clinics that will need to cancel abortion appointments following a court ruling allowing the state’s law to take effect. Several clinics aren’t able to operate at all, especially in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley. She told the NewsHour Friday that many living in those regions are immigrants on work visas, so women who will now need to drive hundreds of miles to the closest big cities for abortions may not be legally allowed to do so.

  • Former Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist has filed to run for the same office as a Democrat, according to the state’s Division of Elections, and is expected to make an announcement Monday.

  • A retired George W. Bush is happy and relaxed, painting and golfing in Texas, Peter Baker of the New York Times writes in his new book.

  • The National Republican Senatorial Committee has been urging individual campaigns and party organizations not to hire Jamestown Associates, a GOP advertising firm that’s targeted incumbents, Jonathan Martin reports.

  • Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., are lobbying colleagues over their competing proposals to crack down on sexual assault in the military.

  • State Rep. Martin Walsh and city councilor John Connolly face off in the Boston mayoral run-off this week, the first competitive race for the seat in decades. The Boston Globe reported on outside groups’ spending in the race. And WBUR outlines the candidates’ plans for arts and culture.

  • Roll Call’s Shira Center and Emily Cahn see Rahm Emanuel’s lasting influence on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

  • Organizing for Action, a spinoff of the president’s re-election campaign, is urging supporters to have a “talk” with family members about the Affordable Care Act.

  • Turns out Tim Kaine followed his predecessor Mark Warner and pranked the governor who replaced him.

  • Lisa Miller reports in New York Magazine on the after-effects of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting on the community.

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a Disney princess? Yes, please!

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  • Shields and Brooks read the tea leaves on the Virginia governor’s race. Mark cited Darwin, and David went with women’s suffrage. “Women have the vote. And the Republican Party doesn’t seem to be aware of that,” he said. Watch their discussion on this and last week’s other political issues here.

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  • In “Gwen’s Take” this week, Gwen Ifill writes about her interview with Mitch McConnell, and how the Minority Leader is striking a balance these days.

  • Reporter-producer Katelyn Polantz examines a Supreme Court case Monday on whether steelworkers should be paid for time spent changing into protective gear and the questions this raises about the start and end of the American workday.

  • Explore Amsterdam and what Anne Frank may have seen with this app.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.


Christina Bellantoni and Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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