THE BLOG
11/06/2013 07:11 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

What Do Tuesday's Elections Mean? (If Anything)

After an anti-climactic election day which turned out mostly as anticipated going into the elections, it's time for the quadrennial exercise in over-analysis in search of national import from the races for New Jersey governor, Virginia governor, and New York mayor.

It happens because it's a slow time in the election cycle and these elections are in the close vicinity of the New York and Washington factions of the East Coast-based national media.

In reality, these jurisdictions taken together aren't much in the way of bellwethers for anything. But it's fun for some to pretend that they are.

Still, the elections have some meaning for those who don't live there, so let's look at what happened and what it does mean.

As expected, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the longtime Clinton operative and fundraiser, reclaimed the Virginia governorship for the Democrats, defeating a far right Republican in a true swing state. Republican Chris Christie rolled to an easy landslide win in mostly Democratic New Jersey. And Democrat Bill de Blasio reclaimed the New York mayoralty for the Democrats for the first time in 20 years in an even bigger landslide, replacing billionaire Republican-turned-independent Michael Bloomberg, at last termed out of office. Republican Rudy Giuliani reigned for two terms before Bloomberg's three.

Let's dispense with the New York City result first, as it clearly has the least national import. That's not a knock on the Big Apple, one of the world's truly great cities. But the rest of the country isn't New York and it isn't going to be. And the only thing that was striking about the result is that it's been 20 years since a liberal Democrat has been mayor of this liberal Democratic city.

Giuliani triumphed over a tired left-liberalism. Then the billionaire Bloomberg, who switched his registration from Democrat to Republican to avoid a Democratic primary, narrowly beat my old Hart for President colleague Mark Green in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 with personal campaign spending on an unprecedented scale and the strong endorsement of Giuliani, suddenly a superstar as "America's Mayor."

Bloomberg stayed in power with even bigger spending and a Wall Street-centric center-left politics that saw him switch again from Republican to independent. The very liberal de Blasio's election is in part a reaction to Bloomberg's demi-imperial style but largely a return to form for New York.

The New Jersey results have more to say about America's future, but not a tremendous amount. Chris Christie, who would not be nearly as famous if he were not governor of a state next door to the Manhattan media echo chamber, pulled off a huge re-election win against a sacrificial Democratic candidate.

But that was always in the cards after Superstorm Sandy, and serious mutual need, gave the Springsteen-loving voluble governor and a re-election hungry President Barack Obama the opportunity to wow a nation that still yearns for some post-partisan stylings with their friendly across-the-aisle alliance to pursue the obvious common good.

Christie's big win means we're going to hear an awful lot about him running for president as a relative moderate against the Republicans' still dominant far right faction. To be sure, Christie has a good thing going as a candid-sounding moderate conservative who does a good job using controlled anger as a rhetorical style. (Though I'm almost certain that even an increasingly super-sizing nation will not elect someone so morbidly obese to the presidency. It's hard to visualize Christie in a summit meeting with triple black belt Vladimir Putin.)

But none of this is a new development from this election. And it may make sense for Democrats to have allowed Christie a re-election romp with little serious definitional spending against him. For starters, Christie vs. the Tea Party sets up a great dynamic in the Republican primaries. And if he should emerge, very bloodied from the experience, without succumbing to hypocrisy to win the nomination, there is a new book by the Game Change authors that says Christie had serious vetting problems when he was looked at as Mitt Romney's 2012 running mate.

In any event, notwithstanding his massive Tuesday win, exit polling shows Christie trailing Hillary Clinton in New Jersey, which has been reliably Democratic in presidential politics, by seven points, 50 percent to 43 percent.

In reality, the only big election which might have indicated the shape of things to come was the gubernatorial race in Virginia, a genuine swing state. But even there, though some things are clearer, we're thwarted from saying too much beyond the facts that Obamacare and the shutdown are both unpopular.

Obama campaigned Saturday in Virginia with longtime Clinton fundraiser and campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe, who somewhat surprisingly had a pretty consistent though slender lead for governor of the Old Dominion state, a lead which in some polls was getting significantly bigger in the closing days of the campaign.

Tellingly, nobody said a word about Obamacare, even though it's Obama's biggest legislative win and was the subject of an ongoing assault by McAuliffe's hard right Republican opponent, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Exit polling showed most Virginia voters oppose Obamacare, and Cuccinelli made big gains with his stand against the law. He even won a plurality of independents against McAuliffe.

Which to some seems a surprise, since Cuccinelli is a Tea Party backer. But McAuliffe is a hyper-partisan, too, albeit more in the modern world, a hustling political operator and reflexive partisan who was Democratic national chairman and was on utterly relentless spin patrol during his every waking moment as Hillary Clinton's 2009 presidential campaign chairman.

Still, some were, in their chat show pre-mortems, declaring this an impending victory for moderation over extremism in the wake of the federal shutdown debacle, carried out by Cuccinelli's ideological allies. That was when it looked like McAuliffe's slender lead was expanding toward double digits.

Even in the aftermath of a different result than many anticipated in the final weekend -- McAuliffe's more modest 2.5 percent margin, about 60,000 votes -- some position the result in that way. Unfortunately, there is a flip side.

Cuccinelli was heavily outspent by McAuliffe, $28 million to $12 million, and party groups spent relatively little on Cuccinelli's behalf while Democratic groups poured more money in to help McAuliffe.

In other words, had Cuccinelli gotten more financial assistance -- as outgoing Republican Governor Bob McDonnell (whose legal problems were a big distraction for Cuccinelli) did in 2009 -- his anti-Obamacare message may well have trumped the shutdown issue and delivered a Republican victory.

Which will certainly make for an interesting debate for badly divided Republicans going forward.

So, in reality, there is no big takeaway.

De Blasio's victory in New York -- after blowing away, among others, a Bloomberg-aligned Dem and the Anthony Weiner circus sideshow in the Democratic primary -- is a return to form for the Big Apple, not a harbinger of a newly progressive America.

Christie's huge win in New Jersey was sealed on the day that he and Obama turned Superstorm Sandy into a buddy picture.

And the tea leaves from Virginia can be read in a couple of very different ways.

None of which will stop the agenda-pushers and purveyors of instant novelty from claiming otherwise.