A year after losing the White House, Republicans look poised to capture at least a governor’s mansion today. If the political winds blow particularly strong behind their sail, then the GOP could take ones in Virginia and New Jersey.
“We have a chance for Glenn Youngkin to win in Virginia, possibly Jack Ciattarelli in New Jersey,” Doug Ducey, chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association, told The American Spectator in an interview in October. “We’ve got 27 sitting Republican governors. It’s the only majority Republican conference in the country. There are 36 races next year. I’m in charge of recruiting the best candidates and getting them over the finish line.”
The 2021 off-year elections feel quite a bit like 1993. Way back when, Christine Todd Whitman captured Drumthwacket, Rudy Giuliani took over Gracie Mansion, and George Allen won the Executive Mansion in Richmond. Many social conservatives lamented the loss of Mike Farris for lieutenant governor in the commonwealth. But overall the 1993 elections unleashed the tremor indicating the big earthquake to come and yet exuded something seismic in the moment.
“I think we have some great candidates,” Ducey says in measuring Republican prospects in gubernatorial races beyond today. “Not only are we going to protect the Floridas, Georgias Texases, Arizonas, and Ohios, we can pick up Maine, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas, and New Mexico.”
He says “excellent candidates” in Michigan give him confidence and further east a known commodity making a comeback looks like a good bet to retake his former office.
“A familiar name is going to be Paul LePage,” Ducey said with a smile. “He was the two-term governor of Maine. He’s coming back. He’s tanned, ready, and rested. He’s coming back from Florida.”
The rosy prospects go beyond the gubernatorial candidates with whom Ducey works to the House, the Senate, and state legislatures. He opines, “We definitely have the possibility for a national wave election.”
The drubbing of Democrats at the ballot box in the big elections after the smaller ones of 1993 caused Bill Clinton, and many in Congress, to reorient their political lodestars. This found extreme expression in Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Richard Shelby switching parties. More common nods to the prevailing political reality resulted in such pivots as Bill Clinton stressing milquetoast issues such as school uniforms, Democrats cooperating with Republicans on deficit reduction, and such prominent congressional liberals siding with conservatives on the Defense of Marriage Act as Tom Daschle, Harry Reid, Steny Hoyer, Dick Durbin, David Bonior, Jim Clyburn, Richard Gephardt, Chuck Schumer, and, yes, Joe Biden.
But as the Nancy Pelosi’s replacement of the sex-specific “father” with the gender-neutral “parent” indicates, this is not your father’s Democratic Party. Ducey expressed skepticism that a shellacking causes any profound reconsideration among the ideologues pervasive in the current Democratic Party.
“The harder they locked down, the more they were called ‘leaders,’” he notes. “They’ve got a different governing philosophy. They believe in top-down, one-size fits all. And they’d rather trust the government than the individual and the family. That’s not where America is.”
And as New York City and New Jersey voters shifted further left from where they stood in 1993, the chances of Republicans running the table on the birdcage bet of New York, New Jersey, and Virginia seems about as good as Christie Todd Whitman again winning a Republican primary or Rudy Giuliani again winning the Liberal Party nomination. Democrat Eric Adams, for instance, more than doubles Republican Curtis Sliwa in the polls for New York City mayor and in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by one million, Ciattarelli faces an uphill, though not quixotic, fight in New Jersey.
So maybe Democrats blame racist “dog whistles,” Donald Trump, Joe Manchin and other recalcitrant party members, or some other boogeyman for setbacks. They certainly do not assign blame in the mirror. And this change from Bill Clinton’s adapt-and-overcome politics that applied lessons learned from 1993 and 1994 to 1996, on the one hand, to today’s reflexive pointing of fingers at external entities, on the other, bodes well for Republicans in 2024.
Parties, like people, who do not admit mistakes commit the same mistakes.
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