Elections offer lessons for California GOP

Elections offer lessons for California GOP

Chris Christie - Time


This post has been updated below.

Yesterday, two states located thousands of miles from California elected new governors. And although the elections won’t directly affect the Golden State, California Republicans hoping to reverse their recent fortunes in statewide elections will be observing the results closely.

In Virginia, scandal-plagued Democratic moneyman Terry McAuliffe narrowly defeated Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli. With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, McAuliffe held a 2.5-point lead. Given McAuliffe’s shady business dealings, lack of experience and past as an aggressive Democratic fundraiser, the race was Cuccinelli’s to lose. Although polls and analysis in the media predicted that Cuccinelli would lose by at least 7 points, his Republican predecessor Bob McDonnell won by double digits.

Political commentators have explained his loss by pointing to McAuliffe’s financial advantage, Cuccinelli’s focus on social issues, Cuccinelli’s unlikeable personality, a divided Virginia Republican Party, a surprisingly popular third party candidate and Cuccinelli’s ties to Virginia’s current governor, who is caught up in his own scandals. The government shutdown — which damaged the Republican brand especially hard in a state filled with federal workers — didn’t help either.

However, it’s likely that the narrow loss — unseen in polling — was a result of Obamacare backlash. As the rollout become more problematic, Democrats took heat from angry voters who felt lied to. Should Obamacare’s problems persist or worsen, the law could drag down numerous other Democrats in 2014.

Meanwhile, in a much more Democratic state, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie won re-election in a landslide, 61-38, with 99 percent of precincts reporting. His opponent, unlike McAuliffe, was solid, if uninspiring. Barbara Buono was a progressive state legislator whose political views aligned greatly with her average citizen in her state. But Christie still won an historic victory. And now Christie will be able to point to the huge margins he ran up in the blue state as a reason to nominate him in 2016, as George W. Bush did with his 1998 reelection in Texas going into the 2000 election cycle.


What gives?

Some of the reasons for Christie’s success can’t easily be duplicated in other states. His handling of Superstorm Sandy last year, and his likeable personality, make him uniquely popular in New Jersey. (The strength of his likeability, for instance, garnered him an endorsement from NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal.)

Some of the reason for Christie’s success, though, can be duplicated in other blue states — states like California.

Business Insider’s Josh Barro has been covering the final days of the Christie race and has presented several explanations for Christie’s success. He explained one message that was particularly effective:

When Christie yelled at that teacher yesterday about how education spending levels will “never be enough” for New Jersey’s teachers’ unions, he was doing so in a state that spent $19,291 per pupil on K-12 education last year — more than any state except New York and Vermont and 74% more than the national average. New Jersey’s educational outcomes are excellent, but Massachusetts achieves slightly better outcomes while spending 20% less.

New Jersey residents feel overtaxed because they are; depending on how you measure it, the state is at or near the top in state and local tax burden in the U.S., and Christie’s ire toward groups that demand ever-higher taxes and spending is popular with the electorate. Christie’s demands for school spending restraint, even (successfully) urging voters to reject local school budgets en masse in 2010, have been popular.

Given that California has similar problems with overspending and overtaxing its residents, conservative politicians could feasibly use these sorts of arguments against the excesses of Jerry Brown’s first four years. The egregious prison guard contract, for instance, would be an effective talking point.

But that’s only half of Christie’s replicable success: Christie has also done an excellent job of picking his battles. Although Christie opposes gay marriage, he has effectively conceded a court ruling to legalize it, knowing that fighting it would only anger potential supporters to his left.

California and New Jersey are not the same state, but they are blue states. And Republicans have had success in both in the past. If California Republicans want to start winning again, they might find some lessons in Christie’s victory. Republican state assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who officially kicked off his gubernatorial campaign yesterday, would be especially wise to take note.

Update: Barro took issue with a point in this article in an e-mail to CalWatchdog. He wrote:

California has very high income tax rates on high earners. But tax collections as a share of personal income are close to the national average. Per-pupil spending on K-12 education in California is actually 17% lower than the national average. Teacher salaries in California are high, but staffing ratios are low, and as a result class sizes are extremely large, second only to Utah.

Because of its lower level of public expenditure, California is able to maintain much lower levels of tax on middle-income residents than New Jersey. Property taxes in California are low; in New Jersey, they are the highest of all 50 states. Income taxes are also low for middle-income California residents.

Because of the different fiscal circumstances, the politics of anti-tax-and-spend policies are very different in the two states, and less likely to be fruitful in California than New Jersey.

The passage of Jerry Brown’s tax increase referendum, including a broad-based sales tax increase, reflects that Californians are not as likely as New Jersey residents to align with the view that the government is overtaxing and overspending. This isn’t surprising given that spending in California is not especially high.

To which I responded:

I should have written:

Conservative politicians could feasibly go on the offense against the nature of some spending in California.

Though California politicians might not be able to point to the same spending levels, there are myriad examples of billions of dollars being misspent. The WSJ piece on excessive prison guard contracts touches on that point. California spending per teacher is extremely high, thanks to unions that also win contracts that occasionally result in terrible things like this happening. California’s expensive high speed rail project, for which spending has spiraled out of control, is another example.



Write a comment
  1. LetItCollapse
    LetItCollapse 6 November, 2013, 13:58

    Chris Christie is a RINO and the poster boy for an impotent political party that has abandoned it’s core values and historical character. Christie is a reflection of the new one-party political system in the making.

    Chris Christie = Mitt Romney = John McCain

    Garbage in, Garbage out.

    Reply this comment
    • Steve Mehlman
      Steve Mehlman 6 November, 2013, 19:27

      Yeah, and what happened in Virginia when a “real” conservative got his butt kicked by a tarnished Democrat? Had “RINO” Christie run in Virginia, he would have also won easily.

      But y’all just keep on spouting your pipe dream that an extremist Republican like Ted Cruz can ever be elected at the national level. Same is true of Tim Donnelly in California. If Tuesday’s results showed anything, it is that–as it has always been–moderates and independents, not ideologues, decide elections.

      Reply this comment
  2. Sean Morham
    Sean Morham 6 November, 2013, 15:57

    Yes, he is not a pure conservative, but when Cal.goes down the toilet economically, the scumbags that support the bloated gov t workforce can be demonized. We need a good scandal and am sure we will get one with the corrupt Democratic machine financed by the parasitic gov union “workers/retirees” i.e maggots. Should be fun to see it play out. Hee, Heee.

    Reply this comment
  3. Ted Steele, CEO
    Ted Steele, CEO 6 November, 2013, 21:34

    LOL– keep dreaming about Obamacare—- wait and watch the Repubs and Liberwhacks eat their young— Hillary in 16!

    Reply this comment
  4. Queeg
    Queeg 6 November, 2013, 23:51

    It is sad hearing the grisly health insurance stories. Few hospitals, limited doctors, higher deductibles, copays and premiums.

    What the heck is good about ACA?

    Reply this comment
  5. Rex the Wonderdog!
    Rex the Wonderdog! 6 November, 2013, 23:54

    Chris Christie is a RINO and…

    Chris Christie is NOT a RINO. He is just like Arnold, Republicans.

    They are conservative/Republican on fiscal issues, and more moderate on social issues (though Christie was against gay marriage). That is not a RINO.

    Reply this comment
  6. SkippingDog
    SkippingDog 7 November, 2013, 01:04

    The important lesson to be learned from the election yesterday is that an extremist Tea Party candidate in a red state can be beaten by a Democratic candidate perceived as far closer to the center of political thought. The second lesson is that a conservative Republican can win election in a solidly blue state by avoiding the fringe goofballs on the right.

    Reply this comment
    • The Ted Steele Conceptual Abstraction Unit
      The Ted Steele Conceptual Abstraction Unit 7 November, 2013, 10:34

      Well said Skip D— Conservatives no longer care about the Country–If they did the would jettison the tea baggers and get back to Reagan, Nixon and Ike… winning is all they care about and there is some irony in the fact that they have no idea how to win or that their uber right wing hate filled agenda will be a loser for ever.It is sad because it brings out the worst in the left as well—- and so it goes…

      Reply this comment
  7. RT
    RT 7 November, 2013, 08:10

    The GOP in California is a mess. They have gotten in their current mess the old-fashioned way, they earned it. Where is the GOP on issues? Unless you go on a GOP website, you may have no idea. Who is the face of the GOP? I know they have one, but why are they not on TV, on the radio, and online spreading the message?
    The problem is that the GOP establishment that runs California’s GOP has no idea how to deal with the current political climate in California. They do not know how to compete against the takers and their allies. They continue to moan a little from time to time on a given issue but do little else other than fold up like a cheap lawn chair. The GOP in California needs a new framework that takes a clear stand on taxes and social programs.
    The good news for the GOP in California is that as things gets worse budget wise (and they will) they may become more popular. However, if they do not get their act together, and become a force, the GOP will become much like the Green or Liberation Party, that gets the support of a few loyalists but has no ability to effect change.

    Reply this comment
  8. LetItCollapse
    LetItCollapse 7 November, 2013, 09:33

    And y’all keep voting for the pres candidates who give away the store, punish producers and reward parasites, promote ‘inequality under the law’, focus on ‘gays, guns and God’ instead of keeping the nation solvent, sends US jobs overseas, invites indigent foreigners to enter the nation illegally and swipe jobs from American citizens, then rewards them with legal residence, engage military intervention in foreign civil wars we have no business entering into …….. and see what you get as an outcome.

    If all we have left to vote for are liberals and weak-kneed RINOS who are willing to bend over and grab their ankles to further the liberal agenda – this country is living on borrowed time.

    Reply this comment
    • Steve Mehlman
      Steve Mehlman 9 November, 2013, 12:41

      This makes no sense. In today’s Republican Party, anyone who doesn’t focus on focus on ‘gays, guns and God’ is considered a RINO and a traitor. So who the hell is a moderate and independent voter supposed to vote for? A right-wing nut? I don’t think so. One major reason Cuccinelli lost was because of his far-right positions on reproductive rights, gays, etc. As long as the Reeps refuse to moderate on these issues, they will continue to lose.

      Reply this comment
      • LetItCollapse
        LetItCollapse 10 November, 2013, 15:02

        “As long as the Reeps refuse to moderate on these issues, they will continue to lose.”

        And that’s only because the nation has been sold to the leeches and to the billionaire Wall Street crooks who continue to suck the lifeblood out of the middle class producers.

        The middle class working man can no longer compete with the big money from the top 5% who shower the politicians with bribes for votes or with the growing masses of leeches who vote and live for free off the government. People vote for politicians that sweeten their pots for the least amount of effort. Your so-called “moderates” cave to both extremes leaving the middle class working man holding the empty bag. The Republicans have folded and caved on so many issues – to include ObamaCare, immigration reform, debt ceilings, irresponsible budget approvals, higher taxation, Obama’s illegal war in Libya, fiat money printing, etc, etc, etc…..

        Chris Christie is really no fiscal conservative, btw. First off, NJ must balance their budget by law. All NJ governors must balance the budgets. It’s mandated. Christie balanced his budget like California addressed ours. By grossly exaggerating future revenue and underestimating future expenses. And by stealing money from one pot (ie, transportation) to fill another pot (ie, pension fund liabilities). Independent studies have placed NJ’s pension system @ 34% funded. Even the State of NJ claims it’s funded at only 67%. And we know that state’s lie about the amount of their unfunded pension liabilities. Christie did get some concessions from public labor. And that’s to his credit. But it’s far short from making any material difference. Why do you think NJ has amongst the lowest bond rating of any state in the union? When Christie sucked up to Obama during the 2012 presidential campaign and told America what a great guy Obama was – he lost my support forever.

        I refuse to alter my political philosophy and vote for a moderate who bends over for liberals to gain political expedience. That’s a loser’s game. It only results in more damage to the nation. Everybody wants to take the easy road for political expedience. That road only goes so far until it turns into a cliff with a 300 ft dropoff.

        Reply this comment
      • John Seiler
        John Seiler 10 November, 2013, 20:21

        Steve: You have a striking ability to portray the oppressors as the oppressed.

        Reply this comment

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