After Obama: What the Republican victories in N.J. and Va. mean, was NY-23 about national issues?

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Reihan Salam
New America Foundation Fellow
Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 1:00 PM

Where should the Republican party go next? Every Wednesday, Reihan Salam examines the ideological struggle for the future of American conservatism and how to revitalize the Republican party.

Today: what do the results of yesterday's elections say about the state of the Republican party? Will the NY-23 race inspire more conservative challenges of moderate Republican candidates?

The transcript follows.

Reihan Salam is a fellow at the New America Foundation, a contributing editor at National Affairs, and a columnist for Forbes.com and The Daily Beast. He writes The Agenda blog for National Review and is the co-author of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream (Doubleday, 2008).

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Reihan Salam: Well, that was quite an election, my friends. Left-of-center folks are noting that a left-of-center Democrat is replacing a moderate Democrat in California, and that a moderate Democrat is replacing a moderate Republican in Upstate New York. Republicans are celebrating the victories of Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie in Virginia and New Jersey respectively. The first is a purple state and the second is decidedly blue. Was this just anti-incumbent fervor, a totally disconnected series of essentially local races, or something else? And of course, what is the upshot for the Republican future in the medium term?

Boy, we have a lot to discuss.

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Anonymous: Republicans are crowing about the story in Va. and N.J., localized affairs, but they should be looking to upstate New York where they've lost a seat they had for 120 years. This is a stunning upset and a slap at Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and others who would remake the GOP into a rightwing bastion. Also the Democrats have gained another seat in Congress. Will the GOP learn anything from this? I doubt it. The Republicans seem to have a death wish Too bad, for we need a good, constructive Republican Party to keep up the two-party system in this country.

Reihan Salam: Well, that's one way of looking at it. But the president won the North Country district, a severely depressed region that depends on a large military base and federal and state spending as its economic lifeline. Doug Hoffman couldn't answer basic questions about a number of local infrastructure projects. For all his virtues, he was a weak candidate. Had he been the Republican nominee, he would have been subject to withering criticism for weeks and months.

Also, there is a widely held belief that John McHugh was named to the president's cabinet in part because the White House political shop saw NY-23 as winnable -- that is, not an extraordinary, exotic, out-of-the-blue possibility. This loss was not unlike Tedisco's loss earlier in the year, in my view. NY-23 is pretty idiosyncratic. The Republican nominee, lest we forget, was staunchly pro-labor, pro-same-sex-marriage, pro-stimulus, and much else besides.

Funny that you think of NY-23 as a race of national significance and Republican victories as localized affairs. I buy that New Jersey had a very specific profile -- Corzine's profound unpopularity, the enduring significance of a slow-motion tax and spending crisis. But Virginia? GOP gains in the outer suburbs strike me as significant. McDonnell's ability to frame himself as a pragmatist versus a Democrat who focused on cultural issues, etc.: this all strikes me as potentially very relevant.

As for the death wish, rightwingery, etc., I just ask that you consider things from the perspective of someone who disagrees with me. Scozzafava didn't look like such a great candidate.

I agree that there was way too much of a national focus in NY-23 and not enough work done by conservatives on nitty-gritty local issues.

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Atlanta: As a former Republican, I hope the message the Party got from yesterday's elections is people do not want the Rush-Beck-Palin wing of the party. They voted for moderates, or in the case of McDonnell, someone who portrayed himself as moderate and the conservative lost in NY-23. I hope the other message they got was to quit cowering to Rush-Beck-Palin and the other nutjobs.

Reihan Salam: Interesting. McDonnell portrayed himself as a moderate. I'm not so sure. I suppose it depends on what you mean by moderate. He never said that he wasn't a pro-life social conservative. Rather, he maintained that he'd focus on job creation and transportation. Given that a state governor has limited leeway regarding what he can do single-handedly on abortion and other hot-button social issues, that strikes me as defensible. And as for his job creation focus, he argued fairly explicitly that card check and other measures designed to strengthen organized labor would stifle job creation. That could be right and it could be wrong, but it certainly sounds like a conservative position -- one that he hammered home repeatedly. Same on cap-and-trade, transportation taxes, and a whole host of other issues.

So was he pretending to be a moderate because he focused on economic issues? Reagan did the same thing in 1980 and 1984, and it's not obvious to me that he was pretending to be a moderate.

As for your analysis of Rush-Beck-Palin, I get it. But the idea that people who like Rush-Beck-Palin are "nutjobs" doesn't sound right to me. That said, I also don't think that Van Jones was a "nutjob."

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Southern Maryland: I see the Virginia race as unique for the GOP because of McDonnell's resume, particularly his law degree from Pat Robertson's university. That probably enabled him to retain the allegiance of the state's religious conservatives while downplaying the social issues that would have otherwise turned off moderates and independents. A Republican candidate with a different resume would not have had that advantage. Would you agree? And has McDonnell ever explained why he pursued his degree from Regent, if he doesn't support the school's religious goals for government?

Also, are Chris Christie and Doug Hoffman religious conservatives, or do they simply oppose abortion and gay marriage? That's an important distinction - I generally define "religious conservatism" and "religious right" as encompassing belief in dominion theology, but one doesn't have to hold that belief to oppose either abortion or gay marriage. I would be interested in knowing where Christie and Hoffman stand on, say, teaching creationism in schools and posting the Ten Commandments in courtrooms.

Reihan Salam: Now here was have some nuanced analysis! I like this idea. One could think of McDonnell as the un-Romney. Romney felt he had to establish his social conservative bona fides in light of his pro-choice stance during his 1994 run for the U.S. Senate and his 2002 run for governor. McDonnell, in contrast, had a lengthy record as a committed social conservative.

But I'm not sure this is unique to a Regent University alumnus. What you're invoking is the idea of "dog-whistle politics," the idea of sending subtle signals to true believers that mainstream voters don't always here. This happens on the left and the right, when an avowed moderate uses his labor allies to get out the vote, promising that their guy is a real progressive or, for that matter, when an avowed moderate reaches out to church groups, etc.

When Sarah Palin first came on the scene, her large family was seen as a way of reinforcing the pro-life message in a more accessible, less alienating way. But it turned out that she was a very polarizing figure for complicated reasons. Still, there are other ways to convey social conservative credentials without emphasizing those issues at the expense of job creation, transportation, etc.

Another big thing is an apparent structural shift in the electorate: while younger voters are about as conservative (if not slightly more so) on abortion, they consider the issue less salient to their voting decisions. That means we're in a new landscape, where the traditional mix of dog-whistle issues might not matter as much.

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Reihan Salam: I neglected to answer the second half of Southern Maryland's question.

I'm pretty sure Christie is opposed to teaching creationism and posting the Ten Commandments. I can't say for Hoffman, though my guess is that he thinks local governments should decide.

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Vienna, Va.: Reihan, please describe for me Bob McDonnell's political position. I'll give you a hint: if you say he's center-right, you're lying, naive or uneducated.

How did an avowed radical right wing religious conservative manage to convince so many voters that he's a moderate? And isn't that kind of deceptive campaigning the best way forward for the Republicans, instead of openly running as a radical right winger as Hoffman did in New York?

Reihan Salam: Hi Vienna.

You have me pegged: I am naive and uneducated. But am I also lying? This is an interesting philosophical puzzle. Given that I am naive and uneducated, couldn't it be that I genuinely believe something that is untrue? Ergo, am I *lying* when I state something I genuinely believe?

I like your style of discourse. I imagine it has made you many friends. And I wish you the best of luck in all future endeavors.

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Princeton, NJ: You forgot to mention that the Dems won the CA 10th easily. The CA 10th went for Arnie by 16% and had a Republican Representative before Tauscher. One could agrue that it was much less Democratic than the NY 23rd was Republican where the congressmen were Republicans since Hector was a pup.

So the Dems won two Congressional Races which are based on national issues and the Repubs won to governor's races which are based on local issues.

Reihan Salam: Hi Princeton.

You're right that I didn't delve into the CA 10th. I like the idea that you cite Schwarzenegger's success in the district as significant -- implicitly you're saying, "See, they voted for a Republican!" But then you say that the state races were local and idiosyncratic. Couldn't this be true of Arnie's victory, both during the recall election -- pretty local and idiosyncratic, I'd say -- and during his reelection, at which time he had positioned himself as, if anything, left-of-center (e.g., the chief of staff appointed after the failed referendum battle).

I'm not saying that your analysis is wrong. Rather, I'm asking you to look at things from someone else's perspective, and then weigh whether or not your original take *might* have some flaws or oversights. Call me crazy, but I think that the East Bay is a pretty liberal region. And I think that the Hoffman race was pretty idiosyncratic -- you have tons of activists coming into a sparsely populated, economically depressed region on behalf of a candidate who wasn't an expert on how to save Fort Drum to prop up the local economy.

So was NY-23 really about national issues? Maybe. Not sure that's obvious. CA-10 was -- it was a heavily D district that went with its instincts.

If you believe that Virginia going R had nothing to do with exhaustion or discontent with President Obama, well, you could be right. Again, I don't think that's obviously true.

But you have an admirable certainty about your views, and that might be a good thing.

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Phillies, PA!: The VA and NJ often elect governors of the opposite party of the current POTUS. I think the bigger news is that the Dems have added 2 new votes in the House with wins in CA and NY special elections. And, what does it say when NY-23 elects a Dem for the first time since reconstruction? A win for Palin and the tea-baggers? I think not.

Reihan Salam: Not sure if this is a question. I certainly don't think this is a win for Palin. That said, I think Palin's model might be Howard Dean: energize the grassroots, build an infrastructure, go out in a blaze of glory. Or perhaps she just loves the attention. Who knows? One reason I'm skeptical of politicians is that I think they all love attention and power -- not attractive qualities in my book.

Also, can't say I'm a big fan of the term "tea-bagger." Not sure you know it's original meaning. Criticizing people I disagree with seems totally fair. Calling them names isn't my cup of tea, so to speak.

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Vienna again: Thanks for playing off my somewhat tongue in cheek question and thus ducking the issue at the heart of it. I'll try again: do you honestly believe McDonnell is a moderate and, more importantly, do you think he portrayed himself and his positions honestly to voters in Virginia?

Reihan Salam: Yes. I also don't think that McDonnell's transportation plan adds up, and I think he could stand to learn a lot from Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who has made hard choices regarding structural budget questions that I think all governors, Democratic and Republican, will have to make.

Keep on keeping on, Vienna.

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The limits of McDonnell's strategy: Reihan, McDonnell never emphasized his conservative credentials because he didn't have to, he already had those voters locked up. Instead he hid them and falsely presented himself as a right of center guy, with a moderate temperament.

That won't work at the national level in the GOP, because Presidential candidates are going to have to fight to win the support of the hard right who will have several candidates to choose from. Once you go far right to win the primaries and caucuses, it'll be hard to swing back to the center and convince people in the general election you're a normal, rational human being -- excuse me, a moderate (sorry, couldn't resist).

Your thoughts?

Reihan Salam: He hid them? Interesting. Please see my answers to previous McDonnell questions.

Pretty sure there's no real question here. My main thought, I guess, is that you seem to believe that people who advocate spending restraint and who think tax burdens in suburban Virginia and New Jersey aren't normal, rational human beings. One of these days I'd love to bring you to the working-class suburbs of Essex County to meet some abnormal, irrational human beings. I think it would be fun for the whole family.

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Wooster, Ohio: My take on this: The R's that ran to the center won - emphasizing pocketbook issues rather than social issues. The R's that ran right (NY-23) lost. My question: do you think that they are listening to what the voters are saying?

Reihan Salam: That sounds right to me. And I think that some R's *are* listening -- the ones who will actually win elections in purple states and districts.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Do you think "teaching creationism and posting the Ten Commandments" are winning issues for Republicans nationally? Anyone who believes in creationism is ignorant and uneducated and most likely has a low opinion of education.

Reihan Salam: (1) I do not think that teaching creationism and posting the Ten Commandments are winning issues nationally.

(2) I do not think that anyone who believes in creationism is ignorant or uneducated. I know it's hard to believe for some of us, but people who have different views are sometimes highly educated and well-informed. Though I don't believe in creationism, I know a number of devout evangelicals who do. And I also know many very smart people who believe that there has been some kind of divine intervention involved in the emergence of the world's flora and fauna.

To tell you the truth, I think that the fixation of these issues is mainly about status politics. And I can't say I'm very interested in status politics.

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DC: Reihan,

Thanks for your time. I am curious as to whether or not these races show a strong pushback for the less radical wing of the party. I know McDonnell is a strong social conservative, but he and Christie ran on what I would call Nelson Rockefeller Republican issues. Hoffman seemed to be supported more by what I would consider to be radicals, such as the T.E.A. Party Activists, the talk radio pundits and the blogosphere. Could NJ and VA show that the winning platform in 2010 will focus on fiscal responsibility and not on social divides, and if so, which races should we watch. Thanks.

Reihan Salam: I'd disagree a bit on the Nelson Rockefeller point: Rockefeller was far friendlier to the agenda of organized labor, and opposition to it was a centerpiece of the McDonnell campaign. So was his low-tax agenda, and Rockefeller was very much in favor of a large, activist government.

I also worry that Christie and McDonnell are not as fiscally responsible as I'd like them to be. Both have promised large tax cuts without offering a convincing answer as to how they intend to pay for them. There have been governors who've managed to both trim the cost of government and improve its effectiveness, and who've also managed to trim taxes. But this is very hard work that requires tradeoffs and a lot of time. My hope is that both men are prepared to make the hard choices. It's hard to say if that's true.

As for which races, that's a tough one -- 2010 is still shaping up.

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Colorado: Hi,

Congrats on the victories but I felt the races in NJ/VA/NY were a lot of "we think the East Coast is important, thus you should too." Part of the story in 2008 was the purple/blue shift in the Western US, so does the GOP really think it can come back nationally based on these large states with specific, regional problems?

Reihan Salam: Good point. And don't congratulate me -- I'm just a writer!

The interior West will be a 2010 background, and conservatives are optimistic about their chances. Colorado, a state where Republicans have lost ground, has a number of viable statewide candidates who are capitalizing on discontent with the White House and Congress. We'll see if this optimism on their part is justified.

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Washington, DC: Let's see.

In VA where the Democrat ran a truly inept campaign the Republican won. In NJ were a truly inept Democrat, who would have lost to a candidate named "Anyone Butt," was beaten by a Republican. In NYC an incumbent with unlimited funding won. This is somehow a rebuke of Obama. But NY where the RNC ran to its right wing base the Republicans lost a seat held since roughly the civil war after the Republican candidate endorsed the Democrat rather than the RNC/Palin flavor of the month. If I were a right of middle of the road Republican I know which I'd be more worried about.

Reihan Salam: I love your analysis. Check this out:

In NYC an incumbent with unlimited funding won.

True, true -- which no one is describing as a Republican win, as Bloomberg is an independent and liberal.

Then:

In NJ were a truly inept Democrat, who would have lost to a candidate named "Anyone Butt," was beaten by a Republican.

But of course Corzine was also an incumbent with unlimited funding. I *love* this kind of analysis. Keep it coming, my friend!

And of course, Deeds was considered the most electable Democrat during the primaries.

The RNC ran to its right-wing base -- by strongly backing pro-EFCA Dede Scozzafava before a grassroots revolt led by locals.

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Surprise, Ariz.: you say NY-23 is idiosyncratic for it's results. Yet it was the Republicans that selected their Candidate (Dede). Dede would easily won that election where then the GOP would have another seat, that they could mold and hammer to toe-the-line of the party. Yet it was the Conservatives that attempted to force feed a Carpetbagger and make it a national issue by using it as an example for elections to come. After all remember it was Armey that said the local issues were parochial. If Hoffman had won, I believe the GOP was about to eat itself.

Reihan Salam: Well, Surprise, grassroots conservatives in the district say she was chosen by county chairs -- there was no primary, after all.

Interesting idea about the eating of self. I actually think Hoffman's loss was probably a good thing for the Republicans in 2010.

As for Armey's remarks, I've tried to allude to this by noting Hoffman's extreme weakness in an economically battered transfer-dependent district.

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Anonymous: My view is the results actually served as a warning to Conservatives as the Democrats took the NY-23 House seat, a "safe" Republican seat for over 100 years.

Virginia pitted a slick Republican against a weak Democrat, thanks to Terry McCullouh entering the primary. Democrat Deeds talked about increasing taxes and could not articulate most of his positions. Republican McDonnell pretended to be a moderate, and offered to build roads and cut taxes. How could you not vote for a magic man?

The race with national implications was for the NY-23 District House, a seat held by Republicans for over 100 years, now turns Democratic. Big Conservatives from outside the state, notably led by Sarah Palin, gave money and campaigned for the loser. So in the one race that had immediate national implications, a vote in the House, conservatives lost, moderate Republicans lost, and the Democrats won! Agree?

Reihan Salam: Please feel free to believe that. I think that there are other plausible interpretations.

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Salinas, Calif.: " Doug Hoffman ... For all his virtues, he was a weak candidate"

Perhaps the good folks of Upstate N.Y. were also sending another message: "Ideological carpetbaggers, keep out!"

Reihan Salam: Yep. I've tried to allude to that, and I think you're right.

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Washington, DC: I'm a Republican, but if I lived in the NY-23, I highly doubt that I would be happy with, and vote for, Dede Scozzafava. After she got challenged, her true colors came out: she endorsed the Democrat and now, the rumor is that she will formally join the NY Democrats! If Dede is the best that the GOP could get in that district, then we deserved to lose. Here's to hoping that the party officials can find a more credible candidate for the general election.

Reihan Salam: That's a fair point. I'm very curious as to what led Scozzafava to align herself with the Republicans in the first place. One gets the impression that it was a flag of convenience, given that her core convictions seem to be strongly pro-labor.

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Montgomery, Ala.: Wow, Democrats are really on with their talking points in these chats--Christie and McDonnell are apparently now "moderates," although Christie was portrayed as a crony of John Ashcroft and McDonnell as a Bible-thumping nut prior to the elections. Meanwhile, a three-way race in upstate NY is ultra-meaningful, even though Hoffman would likely have won if he had run as the sole R from the beginning.

I think Republicans may well become overconfident as the result of these elections, but pretending like they mean nothing seems like ostrich syndrome.

Reihan Salam: Montgomery, I think you make a good point.

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Las Cruces, NM: Many of these chats consist merely of ideologues preaching their beliefs without any real expectations of dialogue. I admire the class and elan with which you answer questions clearly meant to bait - not illuminate.

Keep up the good work Reihan!

Reihan Salam: That's very kind of you, Las Cruces, but I really hope like everyone in the chat feels like they're getting a fair shake.

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Washington, DC: I like your style. Big liberal here, so I hope the Republicans continue to evolve into essentially a southern regional party as the base lines up behind Rush, etc and the Dems move towards nominating more progressive candidates that fire up the base (and could in in places like VA). So I don't know if that means I'm -not- wishing you well, but I like your approach and have enjoyed this chat session and the one before it.

Reihan Salam: I know a lot of big liberals and a lot of big conservatives, which is why I really want people to talk to each other and not past each other. But hey, I'm naive and uneducated, so what do you expect?

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New York : Was Scozzafava really ousted by locals? Seems like a truck-load of outsiders came in and bushwacked her too - And outsiders with lots of money and political power too. All for an area with more deer than people.

Reihan Salam: I think it was a bit of both -- locals were up in arms, outsiders poured. Think about the Howard Dean campaign. Iowa was flooded with volunteers, but there were, for a while, plenty of Iowans who were on board. These things are always a mix.

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Edinburg, NY : Not entirely-rhetorical question; If the GOP isn't going to win NY-29, where in the Northeast are they planning to win? I live literally on the border of the district, and this should be the strongest area for Republicans imaginable, or at least it was, until the Michelle Bachman hard right stuck its nose in. People here vote GOP by habit. How did these people look at the slaughter in 2006 and 2008 and decide that they had to go more Glen Beck in order to become a national party again?

The Va Gov had the right idea: talk moderate, even if its not true. And make sure the other side nominates someone that Dems will stay home in droves to avoid voting for.

Reihan Salam: This strikes me as a pretty reasonable view. But NY-23 has been changing for a long time, hence the White House's sense that it was winnable. Rural districts vary: some are flourishing economically, but plenty of others look to state and federal governments to keep them afloat. And that makes you look askance at an anti-tax, anti-spending message. Hoffman campaigned against pork -- but what happens when pork is the biggest source of employment in your district?

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Silver Spring, Md.: Any chance the Republican party can rid itself of Sarah Palin? I see her as a ball-and-chain on the Republican Party which is trying to walk out of the desert. They might be able to make some progress, but it's going to be awfully slow until they can cut her loose.

Reihan Salam: Well, plenty of Republicans like Palin. There's no central command that makes these calls. Incumbents want to stay in power and they scramble to line up with the electorate -- or the primary electorate. And when the party shrinks, the gap between the primary electorate and general electorate gets big enough to endanger the party's political success.

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Sterling, Va.: All this opining about what Republicans think and why they vote. No one has ever asked me or anyone I know for that matter why we vote as we do in a particular election.

Well, McDonnell is no prize (sell the ABC's? that's pretty dang dumb), but Kaine is a very intelligent and slick guy but not so slick that his taking on an extra job while he's supposed to be the governor of Virginia really offends a lot of people and makes them not too thrilled with seeing another Democrat running Virginia. His administration has pulled some fast ones on state employees as well. Dems are perceived as soft on crime and we have an alarming gang problem here. Dems favor funding abortions and while (believe it or not) most Republicans I know don't want to get in involved in someone else's life, asking us to pay for it is another matter. Culturally, I don't know anyone who wants creationism "taught" in schools, but we see an atmosphere that is so PC that people feel they most be so careful that they don't inadvertently offend someone-and they're just tired of it.

And yes, most of us think the Bush dynasty was a horrible thing to happen to America. We want the Republican party to represent, self-reliance, compassion, generosity, and fiscal responsibility-not greed, military interference, and callousness.

The political commentators just don't seem to do much asking people outside of their circle what they think.

Reihan Salam: Thanks for writing, Sterling. There's a lot of food for thought here.

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Arlington, Va.: I don't think Deed's landslided loss in Virginia is a sign that Republicans are back in VA- if anything the other state elections might- but not Deeds. His campaign was poorly run in getting his name out and addressing the issues that really matter to people, and in many of the positions I did hear him talk about, he was too far towards center of a candidate, at least in my eyes. Because of that I made a decision that I could not support him, so I elected to not vote for governor yesterday, I know several people in my circle that elected to do the same.

Reihan Salam: And many Dems were upset with the way Deeds distanced himself from the White House.

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Club for Growth: I don't see much discussion of the Club for Growth's role in financing losing bids. You know, the anti-tax TABOR-style bill that they bankrolled in Maine was soundly defeated. They couldn't buy NY-23 for a million dollars. The CFG has, I believe (am I misremembering?) racked up a string of losses with these two being the latest. They get a lot of press, but not the bang for the buck. When voters repeatedly reject your well-financed message, at what point do you adjust your message? Or are all those Mainers (who, incidentally at the same time repealed a gay-marriage law)just no-good liberal tax-and-spend traitors?

Reihan Salam: This is a pretty good point. Are they making bad calls? Should the donors backing the group clean house? I can't say, but you're right that they haven't achieved their core objectives. The Core's leadership has changed over the years, and I imagine there are a lot of tough questions being asked right now.

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Washington Independent: "It's no secret that national fundraising has buoyed the campaign of Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate in the NY-23 special election. But the full extent is remarkable. We crunched the FEC contribution numbers this afternoon to discover that 95 percent of Hoffman's donations came from individuals and PACs based outside of the district. (Hoffman himself doesn't even live in NY-23.) Only $12,360 of the $265,341 he's raised came from potential constituents. Hoffman collected money from donors in 35 states. Of the total 146 donors, only 22 were actually from within the district he hopes to represent. The campaign's biggest backer is the Washington-based Club for Growth, accounting for more than one-third of all fundraising ($83,260)." Washington Independent

Reihan Salam: This is not surprising. The speed of the Hoffman insurgency was such that it couldn't have been fueled by funds raised in a very poor, rural district for a low-turnout special election.

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New York : No surprise that there's definitely resentment by working people against the elites, which couldn't have helped Corzine, a billionaire Goldman Sachs guy who wasn't loved by anyone anyway, and nearly made billionaire Bloomberg's life very interesting, against a dog candidate. Its just a smoldering fire now. If we're still sitting with 10% plus unemployment in 2010, all bets are off. It might be Huey Long time.

Reihan Salam: This is a good point -- it could be that populism is the big winner, and that makes 2010 very unpredictable.

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Arlington, Va.: To me, yesterday's election shows me that the GOP will come roaring back in 2010 and take both the House and Senate back. By 2012, Obama will be out of a job. Why did it take voters only one year to figure out that liberals are America's greatest enemy?

Reihan Salam: Come on, Arlington. Do you really think liberals are America's greatest enemy? Conservatives and liberals in the United States disagree on a great deal, but we agree on the important things: we all favor democratic elections, an economy based on competitive markets, and a high degree of individual freedom. Sure we get frustrated with each other. But it's a safe bet that the people who disagree with us on day-to-day political questions also want what's best for the country and the world, no matter how misguided they seem to be.

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Albany, NY: I thought that the election results vitiated Bill Kristol's column from last week when he said that the future GOP would be led by the populist/anti-Obama/obstruction wing rather than the moderate/good-government wing. (He also said that the future GOP would be led from outside the Beltway, which is hard to dispute.) Of course the Dems have vulnerabilities, and of course local issues and candidates have an effect. But the governors-elect had specific plans and visions for how government could work positively (fix roads and create jobs in VA, eliminate corruption and reduce taxes in NJ). And Doug Hoffman, the one candidate who fits Kristol's template - a businessman/outsider running on an anti-Obama message - lost in a strongly Republican district.

Kristol may also have undercut his own argument when he cited the poll about support for the 2012 nomination. The strongest candidates were Huckabee and Romney, who fit the good-government template much better than the outsider/obstruction template; Palin, the best of the outsider/obstruction "personalities" (Kristol's word) was a distant third. What do you think of his argument? Or of mine?

Reihan Salam: This is a really interesting point. Not totally sure you're right, but I will mull this over.

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Reihan Salam: Guys, I'm in China and it's pretty darn late here. Thanks for chatting, and I hope you'll be back next week. What an election night!

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