By Wednesday night, Election Day 2013: The Foregone Conclusioning, will be over and you will be confronted with a fresh plate of piping hot media narratives. Here's a field guide to what the shiny-faced pundits will be talking about, as they extrapolate wildly from an amazingly teensy data set yanked from a handful of super-parochial elections that happened a year before the midterms and three years before the 2016 presidential race.
1. Chris Christie is the great hope of the GOP.
Underlying media logic in a nutshell: Man win thing. Maybe man win other, later thing?
You have heard, mayhap, of the great GOP "rebranding?" If so, you may have also heard, mayhap, that this has not gone so well, and that this fall's government shutdown michegas continued to demonstrate some deep-seated divisions about the future path of the GOP. Will Republicans opt to become more pragmatic, if not moderate, in their approach to governing, or will the future instead yield for the march of the pure-conservative hardliners? Chris Christie, who has managed to remain above all of the GOP's internecine fray and froth, and who's held to his own bespoke way of doing things, could settle the issue by just parlaying his big win in the New Jersey gubernatorial race and grafting his brand onto the GOP's 2016 efforts.
What Christie brings to the table is a win that's going to end up cutting across all sorts of demographic lines in ways that will make establishment Republicans salivate. He'll have won in a blue state, carrying a share of Democratic votes and a chunk of most of the traditional Democratic coalitions: women, African-Americans, Latinos. He'll be able to talk a good game about working with people of all parties, while maintaining his reputation for shouting down teachers and spiking the ambitions of labor unions. He's met with the requisite number of billionaires. And he's not a "moderate" by any means -- he's anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality, and famously doubtful that evolution is a thing. Will that be enough to win? Will it even be enough to avoid being tagged a "RINO." Here's Nate Cohn, with the counter:
Yet Christie might just be from a state that’s a notch too liberal and a notch too northeastern. It’s unclear how Christie’s Jersey Shore demeanor and temperament will play in Iowa or New Hampshire. His stance on gun control -- dictated by a state with one of the lowest rates of gun ownership in the country -- will be a real problem, especially since relative moderation and secularism already puts him at a serious disadvantage in the South and across the rural West and Midwest. And although the Republicans have a history of nominating relatively moderate, establishment-friendly Republicans, there is a long list of reasons to question whether that history augurs a Christie win in 2016. The party may decide, but the party has changed.
How hot and heavy will the talk be? Oh, you can expect this meme to run all the way to Sunday shows, paced by establishment GOP types looking to accentuate the positive and centrist-weirdos convinced that Chris Christie is some sort of "new Bill Clinton."
2. Virginia governor race is some sort of referendum on Obamacare.
Underlying media logic in a nutshell: Democrat like Obamacare, beat Republican who no likes Obamacare, what does it meeeeeeean?
Well, Terry McAuliffe is the next governor of Virginia, thus incrementally enhancing the possibility that Obamacare will gain a more solid foothold in the commonwealth. And as Dave Weigel points out, the defeated Ken Cuccinelli had, in the later weeks of the campaign, begun to use Obamacare as a cudgel against McAuliffe, so the Cooch theoretically "opened the door" to using the Virginia contest as a bellwether on the Affordable Care Act:
On Oct. 17, the day the government shutdown ended, the RCP average gave Democrat Terry McAuliffe a 7.4-point lead over Cuccinelli. On Election Day, that average has shrunk to ... 6.7 points. Two weeks of making this election a "referendum" has boosted Cuccinelli by less than 1 point. If the polls are right, Democrats will be incredibly grateful that Cuccinelli gave them a "referendum" and they won it.
Ah, but! It looks like Cuccinelli's margin of defeat will be a lot closer than 6.7 points, so suddenly, everyone can argue about this! Republicans can contend that once Cuccinelli got out from under the overhang of the government shutdown, the Obamacare attacks turned the race into a nailbiter. CNN's exit polls found that a slim 50 percent to 48 percent majority of the voters opposed Obamacare as well.
The counter to all of this is "Obamacare, schmobamacare, this race went the way it did because of Cuccinelli's extravagantly bizarre positions on sodomy laws and what level of autonomy women should have over their reproductive organs." (And still the race was pretty close! Welcome to Virginia.) Ultimately, what really matters if you are a proponent of Obamacare is that Jeff Zients delivers on his promise to have a functioning website by the end of November, and all estimates on how Obamacare impacts future elections will have to be recalibrated depending on whether he succeeds or fails.
3. Virginia governor race is a bad bellwether for red state Democrats in 2014.
Underlying media logic in a nutshell: Super-famous Democrat only barely beat heaving crazy-faced loon in Virginia oh noes red state Democrats!
Terry McAuliffe is a super-famous Democrat. And McAuliffe outspent Cuccinelli by wide margins throughout the contest. Yet the end result was a lot closer than anyone expected! So what's going to happen to other red state Democrats in 2014 who can't manage to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on their opponents?
Well, the answer is that it could be real problematic! But in the 2014 congressional elections, the Democrats have bigger worries -- the impact of redistricting, the oversaturation of Democratic votes in urban districts, and the number of seats they'll have to defend. But remember: in the "Fear And Loathing in Virginia" construct, McAuliffe was the "loathing." So the question to ask yourself, if you are a red state Democrat, is "Am I as thoroughly despised by my own base as Terry McAuliffe was by his?" If the answer is no, then you can chill for a few minutes and fret about other things.
4. Virginia governor race is a bad bellwether for Hillary 2016.
Underlying media logic in a nutshell: Man who barely won big pal with woman who may run for other thing later oh noes!
One of the pundit-memes that's been bandied about is the notion that the McAuliffe-Cuccinelli race is a vital test of Hillary Clinton's viability as a presidential candidate in the Crucial Swing State(TM) of Virginia. It's not hard to see why this theme has emerged. As McAuliffe himself will tell you until you drop dead from boredom, he's big-big pals with the Clintons oh man they go way back, you know? And McAuliffe was himself the Clown Prince of the Hillary dead-enders in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, forever rearranging deck chairs and superdelegates on that doomed vessel.
But was McAuliffe ever a great augur for future Hillary Clinton success? Let's recall that in his previous adventures in running for the Virginia statehouse, McAuliffe couldn't manage to defeat Creigh Deeds -- a nothingburger candidate served between two stale null-set buns -- in a Democratic primary. So he was always fairly weak-sauce as a stand-in for Hillary Clinton. Now that he's barely eked out a victory over Cuccinelli, the media's bias toward failure and disarray will kick in and this will probably become a bigger thing. (Had McAuliffe won in a 7-point walk, the media would have just ignored any Hillary Clinton connections and moved on, never again mentioning the whole bellwether thing.)
Besides, are there not many years between now and the 2016 elections, during which time a billion things of greater determining power may happen that could say more about whether Hillary Clinton is a viable candidate? Aye, verily, there are. So my advice continues to be: If you are thinking about writing the Terry McAuliffe-as-Hillary Clinton bellwether story, let someone else write it first.
5. Alabama 1st Congressional District race tells us all we need to know about whether the Establishment GOP or the tea party insurgency is "winning."
Underlying media logic in a nutshell: OMG race between GOP "insider" and GOP "outsider" is a huge sign of who's winning the GOP "civil war."
Yeah, so, the Alabama 1st race pitted former Republican state senator Bradley Byrne against Dean Young, a real estate developer turned self-styled tea party candidate, to fill the seat left vacant by the retiring Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.). And with 100 percent of the precincts reporting, the winner is Byrne by a 5-point margin. So, the GOP establishment can rub that in Sen. Ted Cruz's face, I guess? I think the story here is that a very conservative district has sent a very conservative person to Washington after he prevailed over another guy who didn't differ from the winner in any way other than some superficialities, the end.
Ha, just kidding, this is the political media we're talking about and no one cares about stories that involve poor people.
Anyway, these are the Grand Political Narratives that will be percolating for the rest of the week on cable teevee and in the political media, so now that you know all you need to know about them, you can just skip out on the whole thing and get on with your lives.
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