The election is over. But the spin over what it all means and the sifting of election data have only just begun!
We offered our six major takeaways from the Election 2012 Tuesday night on The Fix. And, we noted this morning that the tea party had a rough night. But, with an entire night's beauty sleep in our rearview mirror, we now present our bigger take-out on the winners and losers from the day (and night) that was. To be clear: We always attempt to move beyond simply declaring the people that won winners and those that lost losers; this is an attempt to go deeper into what the election's highs and lows really were.
* Terry McAuliffe's campaign: The governor-elect did something we never thought he would be capable of -- he stayed extremely disciplined as a candidate. McAuliffe relentlessly focused on his plans to bring jobs to the state while casting Ken Cuccinelli as an unstinting and unapologetic social conservative warrior. McAuliffe's campaign, which severely limited his exposure to the media knowing his tendencies to, for lack of a better term, "be Terry," also deserves a huge amount of credit for keeping him reined in. McAuliffe won for lots of reasons, but one of the big ones is that he ran a very steady and solid campaign -- from manager Robby Mook to pollsters Fred Yang and Geoff Garin to media consultants Saul Shorr and Adam Magnus.
* Christie 2016: Just in case there were any doubt about the New Jersey governor's future political plans, his speech following a sweeping second-term victory should clear those right up. (The speech, which was excellent and well delivered, is worth watching.) Christie and his top aides -- led by Mike DuHaime -- grasped early on that he had the chance to send a major message to the divided GOP in his reelection race, and he did just that. The victory was broad and deep -- Christie won overwhelmingly among Republican constituencies, but he also won women by 15 points, took a majority among Hispanic voters and won 20 percent of the black vote. (Full New Jersey exit poll is here.) There are plenty of ways to poke holes in the "Chris Christie as a different kind of Republican" narrative -- for one, he didn't really run as a Republican -- but the numbers are the numbers. And, it's hard to imagine any that other candidate looking at the 2016 GOP race -- with the possible exception of Jeb Bush -- could come anywhere close to approximating the winning coalition Christie put together on Tuesday.
* Moderates: More than four in 10 voters in the Virginia exit poll identified themselves as "moderates," and McAuliffe won that group by 21 points over Cuccinelli. Half of the New Jersey electorate identified as "moderates," and Christie won them by 24 points. In each case, moderates proved decisive in the final margin. Perhaps more importantly, the vast difference between how moderates and independents voted -- particularly in Virginia -- should serve to decouple the idea in many analysts' minds (not ours!) that the two groups are synonymous. (More on independents below.)
* Fairfax County: Again it was this massive Northern Virginia county that made the difference in a statewide race. McAuliffe carried Fairfax by 66,000 votes -- more than his 55,000 vote margin statewide. The county is so large in terms of population -- 13.5 percent of all votes cast statewide were cast in Fairfax county -- that it has become virtually conclusive for Republicans statewide. Break even -- Bob McDonnell won with 51 percent in Fairfax in 2009 -- and you will almost certainly win. Let the Democratic nominee roll up somewhere between 57 percent and 60 percent and you almost certainly lose.
* Unions: Union-friendly candidates are now the mayors-elect of New York City and Boston. For a movement that has struggled to (re)assert its power in recent national elections, Tuesday was a very good night.
* Mark Obenshain: If the Republican nominee for Virginia attorney general hangs on (and he is, as of this writing, ahead by 476 votes) he starts 2017 as a favorite for the Republican nomination for governor. And, his potential opponent in that race -- newly elected Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) -- is decidedly untested, having cruised to a victory over E.W. Jackson, a controversial pastor who never had a chance to win. If Obenshain does manage to squeak out a win, he should take his daughter out to dinner; her presence in his TV ads helped humanize a politician who is not naturally warm and fuzzy.
* Peter Hamby: CNN did itself an enormous favor by putting one of its young reporting stars on the air from Cuccinelli headquarters. His reports were the kind of stuff we want to hear -- not what the campaign was telling him (everything is amazing!) but rather what the room felt like, which is always a better indicator of what's really happening. Memo to CNN: More Hamby please. (Caveat: Hamby, like The Fix, is a Georgetown graduate. Draw your own conclusions.)
* Social issues: Here are two amazing facts: (1) Cuccinelli won by seven points among voters who said the economy was the most important issue in their vote, and (2) Cuccinelli won by six points among voters who said health care was the most important factor in their vote. So, how did he lose? He lost by 25 points among voters who said that abortion was their key voting issue. The simple fact is that Cuccinelli let himself be defined as a warrior for social issues -- particularly in Northern Virginia where McAuliffe flooded the airwaves with ads that highlighted past comments by the Republican on abortion and contraception. And that was game, set and match in the most critical voting region of the state.
* Independents: Guess what? Independents may not be the be-all, end-all of elections these days. Consider that Cuccinelli won independents by nine points while Mitt Romney won them by 11 in Virginia and by five nationwide. Both candidates lost. What's the conclusion? That many independents may well be Republicans-in-hiding rather than true fence-sitters. Judging by Tuesday night's results, moderates are the key swing group, not independents.
* Public polling: Heading into Tuesday night, the Real Clear Politics average of polling in the Virginia race had McAuliffe ahead by nearly seven points. He won by 2.5. (To their credit, the McAuliffe team had the race far closer as recently as late last week.) For an explanation on why the public polling missed, make sure to read WaPo pollsters Peyton Craighill and Scott Clement.
* Michael Bloomberg: The mayor of New York City watched as the person -- Bill de Blasio -- who ran against virtually his entire tenure in office was elected as his successor. And, the day after the election in Virginia, talk that Bloomberg's spending on ads hitting Obenshain and Cuccinelli on guns had backfired was rampant.
* White voters: The erosion of the white vote continues. In 2009, white voters made up 78 percent of the Virginia electorate. On Tuesday it was 72 percent. This not only mirrors a national trend of a shrinking white vote but also speaks to Republicans' broader need to expand their traditional electoral coalition or run the risk of not being able to build a majority across the country.
* Government: A majority (52 percent) of Virginia voters said that "government is doing too many things." And this is in Virginia where the federal government -- and the contracting industry -- is by far the biggest employer in electorally critical Northern Virginia. The antipathy toward government overreach is a message that Republicans nationally would do well to latch onto heading into 2014, particularly if the Obamacare rollout remains as rocky as it has been.
* Rob Ford coverage: Look, we get it. The mayor of Toronto admitting he smoked crack during a "drunken stupor" is nothing but ratings (and clicks). But Tuesday was an Election Day right here in the United States. If ever there was a day to go full-bore into (American) politics, wasn't Tuesday it?