Anyone looking for a grand message in Tuesday's election results is bound to be disappointed—unless they are looking for the message that there's no message at all. Local issues and a few iron laws of politics pretty much explain how things broke. But it has not stopped folks from trying.
For example, The Guardian can be excused for framing the Democrat win in Virginia as a loss for George W. Bush. By European, party-centric standards it certainly looks like Bush's party suffered a defeat in his "backyard." Anyone with a passing acquaintance with U.S. politics should know better, however. Take Ron Brownstein, for example. He might as well be filing from Mars when he declares that the results sent "new tremors through Republicans worried that President Bush's sagging popularity may drag down the party in next year's midterm elections."
Gubernatorial elections, especially off-off-year ones, turn on the candidates, not the parties. The GOP was saddled with a loser candidates for governor in both New Jersey and Virginia, where they were fighting uphill to take over Democratic offices. To do that, you need good candidates, and the Republicans did not have them.
In New Jersey, GOP hopeful Doug Forrester tried to beat Jon Corzine by quoting Corzine's ex-wife. Great issue, Doug. Next.
The Virginia result pretty much mirrored the 2001 result, which just further muddies up the assumption is that the Commonwealth is a "red" state just because it voted for Bush. In truth, Democrats are tough to beat in Virginia statewide given the huge number of votes the liberal DC burbs can turn out. If the rest of the state doesn't hate you, you've got a decent shot. Tim Kaine played up his Catholic background and mounted a Sportsmen for Kaine effort to appeal to rural, conservative Dems.
Couple that with Jerry Kilgore running one of the worst campaigns in recent memory—the soft-on–Adolf Hitler death penalty ad he ran sounds made-up even after you see it—and totally side-stepping the tax cut issue that had traction in many parts of the state and the GOP was doomed. This is George Bush's fault, how? It's a bum rap.
Not so the exploding cigar California voters slipped Arnold Schwarzenegger. His Reaganesque strategy of bypassing the General Assembly and going straight to the people with propositions turned out to lack one thing: Salient issues.
California politics have always mystified me, but the Gubernator's choice of weapon for his battle against Sacramento never made sense. The proposition route presupposes a protest vote, but it is hard to lead a protest from the governor's office. Especially for Arnie, the guy who promised to slap the entrenched girly men silly, but then turned around to ask voters for help when the girly men slapped back.
In sum: It's a good thing Californians can distract themselves acquitting celebrities of serious crimes. Resolution to the state's fiscal problems is nowhere in sight.
Elsewhere voters opted to solve problems that were not problems, like gay marriage in Texas, where a constitutional ban got 76 percent of the vote. Call it the belt-and-suspenders approach to stopping the Gay Agenda. Texas judges are more likely to hand down consecutive death sentences on a jaywalker than approve of a gay marriage, but now they can't even contemplate the gay thing.
Meanwhile, Maine voters turned back the "anti-gay threat" in the form a bid to repeal a gay civil rights law that went into effect in May. What does this tell us besides that Maine is not Texas and vice versa? Big news there.
Finally, to smuggle in one observation that might contain the seeds of trend for 2006, which is really what all the pontificators and spinners are looking for in Tuesday's results. It might just be that, having given up on fiscal conservatism, GOP will have to increasingly turn to issues like gay marriage and opposition to union-led "living wage" or "government reform" campaigns to draw a distinction between themselves and Democrats.
Those issues certainly helped Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory remain one of the few big city GOP mayors, as he beat back Democrat Craig Madans. Madans ran to the right of McCrory on fiscal and transportation issues, and even had the endorsement of the local Fraternal Order of Police. But McCrory hit back on Madans' support for granting benefits to the partners of gay city employees and won easily.
Still, that tussle barely registered with the public compared to the truly hot local—national even—news of two Carolina Panther cheerleaders boozing, brawling, and hooking up in a bathroom stall. The big message there? That given a choice between politics and hot girl-on-girl action, America wins every time.