James Carville: Not so fast, my friend

James Carville: Not so fast, my friend
© Greg Nash

In my column two weeks ago, I bet that Terry McAuliffe would have a decisive win in Virginia but that it wouldn’t be enough for the Washington media elite. 

Look, I’m not one of those people who always has to be right — when I’m wrong, I fess up. I once famously cracked an egg on my head on election night I was so wrong. 

But it didn’t take long last Tuesday for the media to prove me right. As soon as polls closed, Washington was quick to jump on a false storyline: 

The Virginia race is much closer than expected, which must mean that ObamaCare is toxic for Democrats. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the model for how Republicans can win again, after he carried diverse demographic groups in a traditionally Democratic state to win reelection. And he’ll use that to convince Republicans that he can be elected president. 

As Lee Corso would say on College GameDay, “Not so fast my friends.”

If you don’t mind, I’ll debunk these in order.

First, how is it that George W. Bush, an incumbent president, showed that “Republicans are on a roll” with a 2.4 percentage point victory over John Kerry in 2004, but McAuliffe “barely won” by beating “the Cooch” by 2.5 percentage points? McAuliffe won by more than 56,000 votes, with 47.74 percent to 45.23 percent for Ken Cuccinelli and 6.52 percent for Robert Sarvis. It was remarkably consistent with the campaign’s internal polls late in the race. Their final internal polling predicted a 3-point victory as well: 45 percent for McAuliffe, 42 percent for Cuccinelli, and 5 percent for Sarvis. And with the exception of a bump during the government shutdown, McAuliffe’s own polling never had him up more than 4 points. 

As has been well documented, Virginia has a long history of rejecting gubernatorial candidates of the same party that controls the White House. And that’s not even when the incumbent president has a net negative approval rating. Bob McDonnell won in 2009 with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Given the makeup of the electorate, this was always going to be a relatively close race. So it’s damn impressive that McAuliffe won at all. 

Second, ObamaCare was not the determining factor in the race. As my friends at Media Matters for America pointed out this week, Fox News, The Washington Times and the National Review all ironically used the McAuliffe win to make the point that ObamaCare could be used to the GOP’s political advantage. Despite its unpopularity, the exit polling just didn’t bear that out. 

While the Republicans would like to deflect from this fact (mostly because they don’t have an answer for it), McAuliffe won because he could connect better with unmarried women. As Stan Greenberg and our Democracy Corps team pointed out last week, McAuliffe’s large margin of victory among unmarried women — winning about two-thirds of their votes — was similar to President Obama’s same margin among this group. Both won the Commonwealth of Virginia on this key demographic. 

At the end of the day, this was a rebuke against Cuccinelli’s Tea Party-based, right-wing policies for women. Quite honestly, they were scared of him. And they should have been. Look, even the pope isn’t spending all his time attempting to ban birth control. The less crazy the candidate, the better the Republicans would have done in Virginia on election night. 

The bad news for Republicans is that the Tea Party and its ultra-conservative, far-right views are here to stay. As I have gleefully pointed out before, 53 percent of Republicans — a majority in their party — now identify with the Tea Party. They are the mainstream of the GOP. But it will doom them nationally and in key swing states like Virginia because of growing demographics like unmarried women. 

This brings me to point three.

Sure, Christie won New Jersey. And he did it rather impressively. But I seriously doubt his model applies anywhere outside the Acela Corridor. Christie had better start recruiting people more like him and less like Cuccinelli if he wants to be successful as head of the Republican Governors Association. The bad news for Republicans, and for the New Jersey governor, is that the majority in their party share Cuccinelli’s extreme views on women’s and social issues — which means people like him have very little chance in a Republican primary in most states across the country. 

It’s that fact, and not the unanswered questions about his background, that makes me think Christie is doomed to be nothing more than a two-term governor of a blue state. As far as I’m concerned, he ought to get comfortable in his Barcalounger in Trenton.


Carville is a chief political correspondent for ARISE Television. He also serves as a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he lives with his wife, Republican strategist Mary Matalin. His column will appear twice a month in The Hill.