WASHINGTON â€” Tuesday's election results from two U.S. gubernatorial races are being seen by some observers as an indication of how Americans may vote in next year's Congressional elections.
The off-year elections were the first time voters have gone to the polls following the 16-day federal government shutdown and the problem-plagued rollout of President Barack Obama’s healthcare initiative.
The winners included a new Democratic party governor in the important swing state of Virginia – where the race was unexpectedly tight – and a Republican governor re-elected in New Jersey.
Two different elections, influenced in different ways by the Tea Party, the ultra-conservative wing within the Republican Party. Tea Party members of Congress brought about the U.S. government shutdown in an effort to de-fund President Obama’s signature healthcare program.
Analysts say the unpopular shutdown hurt Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who has strong Tea Party ties. Yet Cuccinelli narrowed the gap with his opponent by attacking Obamacare.
“Virginia understands that Obamacare is a failure and you want to be in charge of your healthcare, not the government,” said Cuccinelli.
In the end, Virginia voters chose Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who promised bipartisanship.
“Just think what we can accomplish in Virginia when we work together,” he said in his victory speech.
And, in New Jersey, it was a big re-election win for Republican Chris Christie, who claimed a victory that also included Democrats and minorities.
“Leadership is much less about talking and more about listening,” Christie said. “Sitting around a table and listening to each other and showing them respect.”
Christie’s win was particularly notable, said Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist,
“He’s been able to take a very democratic state – Obama won New Jersey by 17 points in the last two elections – and become a governor who could not only win a close election as he did the first time, but win a landslide election,” he said.
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said Tea Party Republicans need to learn from the winning candidates.
“It leaves the Tea Party in an echo chamber, just talking to the base,” O’Connell said. “The real problem for the Tea Party is how do they expand their appeal beyond the Republican base.”
The internal battle ahead in upcoming national elections is for the heart and soul of the Republican Party, say analysts. Does the party tilt toward the extreme conservatism of the Tea Party or lean more moderate?
“Depending on how this battle turns out, it could lead to more battles and dysfunction and government shutdowns,” said O’Connell. “And that’s something that people all over the world have an eye on because America is still the most robust economy in the world.”
O’Connell believes Tuesday’s results will embolden the Tea Party to continue to go after Obamacare as an issue they can win on in future elections. But the loss in Virginia could also encourage moderate Republicans to balance those attacks to appeal to a larger electorate.