Every four years, political pundits feast on the the New Jersey and Virginia elections and pretend they have national significance because, well, there’s no other game in town.
But today, one of these contests really will have national reverberations, and it’s not Virginia.
It’s a foregone conclusion that Chris Christie will win reelection by a sizable margin, and the media drumbeat touting him as the GOP’s best chance in 2016 is growing louder by the day.
And the prognosticators will not be able to resist contrasting Christie’s win with the Virginia governor’s race, where the conservative attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, is expected to lose to Bill Clinton pal Terry McAuliffe. But the Old Dominion contest turns on a number of unique local factors, while Christie seems to be positioning himself for the White House run he bypassed last time.
How does the MSM love Christie? Let me count the ways.
--He’s a blustery character who loves to pick fights and uses the S-word in his speeches; he’s fun to cover.
--He’s a Republican who wins in a blue state, and the pundits respect that.
--He believes in working with Democrats—famously hugging President Obama during Sandy—and the MSM swoon over bipartisanship.
--He’s conservative but not a social-issues crusader, making him more palatable to media types who are wary of hard-right figures who focus on abortion, gays and contraception (and who the MSM believe can’t win national elections).
--He’s close to the New York media market, so it’s easier for him to make news (don’t underestimate this).
--Plus, we get to debate his weight all over again.
Now there is, of course, a whole other side to this debate. The more conservative wing of the GOP, which embraces the likes of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, won’t want any part of the governor and his more moderate approach. We tried that with John McCain and Mitt Romney, they will say, and got clobbered. Christie will have to find a way to appeal to the kind of religious and social conservatives who turn out in places like Iowa.
Christie got dinged a bit in the Halperin/Heilemann book “Double Down” for not fully answering the questions posed by Romney’s vetting team. Christie (whose Romney code name was “Pufferfish”) says the authors are just “two guys trying to sell a book,” and Mitt dismissed the questions on “Meet the Press.”
“Chris could easily become the nominee and save our party,” Romney said.
Christie, for his part, is making the classic outsider’s case that he can fix a dysfunctional political culture. “We watch this craziness in Washington D.C., where these people don't do anything anymore except yell and scream at each other, they don't work with each other, they don't talk to each other. You know, in New Jersey we just haven't let that happen.”
Not that he doesn’t do a bit of yelling and screaming himself. But he hasn’t had to do much against little-known state Sen. Barbara Buono.
The Washington Post seems gaga for the guv. Here’s chief political writer Dan Balz:
“In one way, Christie is taking a page from the playbook of former president George W. Bush, who used his 1998 gubernatorial reelection campaign in Texas to make himself the favorite for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. Like Bush, Christie is trying to win by the biggest possible margin and show that, despite his conservative positions, he can attract support from constituencies long tied to the Democrats.
“But the Republican Party that will pick its next presidential nominee in three years is far different from the one that nominated Bush. Christie should emerge from Tuesday’s election as a top-tier candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, but also as one fully stamped as a favorite of the establishment wing who has not been afraid to criticize hard-liners on the right.”
The “Fix” columnist Chris Cillizza is more optimistic:
“Christie is increasingly seen as the one candidate who might be able to bridge the divide between the establishment and the tea party that is in the process of ripping the party apart. In that way, Republicans are hoping that he can do for their side what Bill Clinton did in the early 1990s for a Democratic party that was similarly divided — heal what looks to be an un-healable wound through force of personality and a demonstrated record of success as a governor.”
And conservative Post blogger Jennifer Rubin actually lists the lessons that Republicans could learn from him:
“Make the emotional connection with voters. Sandy was a once-in-a-lifetime event, even for New Jersey, the way 9/11 was for New York. Like Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Christie literally embraces voters. He was the engine of the state’s recovery and a unifying force for the state. His ads highlighting blue-collar voters helped by him show that empathetic leadership can defy party loyalty. As he told Peggy Noonan, ‘Politics is a feeling. It’s a visceral reaction to someone.’
“Don’t be a phony. Christie’s favorite phrase, ‘I am who I am,’ should be every candidate’s mantra. If you’re not from the South, don’t start goin’ around tellin’ folks stuff while dropping your Gs.
“Do something. Christie has an actual record to which he can point. He doesn’t just empathize with voters. He knows they want elected leaders to do things for them, whether it is cut taxes or get the beach cleaned up.”
As for Virginia, Cuccinelli was pigeonholed as a strident social-issues guy, was hurt by the government shutdown, is being outspent by McAuliffe and was brushed by the ethics scandal that has damaged the man who should be his champion, Gov. Robert McDonnell. Still, if he loses, Cuccinelli’s defeat will inevitably be compared with Christie’s victory.
One intriguing note is the way the national press slept through the surge of Bill deBlasio, who will be elected New York mayor today. He’s an unabashed liberal with an African-American wife who’ll be the first Democrat to hold that office in 20 years. But his media moment will have to wait.
Top Twitter Talk
Maybe the ACA could also cover compassion transplants for the Ayn Rand folks? Might help solve many social problems.
Tale of Two Newspapers
Which front-page story better captures the zeitgeist of the ObamaCare debate?
“Millions of people could qualify for federal subsidies that will pay the entire monthly cost of some health care plans being offered in the online marketplaces set up under President Obama’s health care law, a surprising figure that has not garnered much attention, in part because the zero-premium plans come with serious trade-offs.”
“Americans who face higher insurance costs under President Obama’s health-care law are angrily complaining about ‘sticker shock,’ threatening to become a new political force opposing the law even as the White House struggles to convince other consumers that they will benefit from it.”
Sticker shock is certainly dominating the news right now.
HuffPost Hosts POTUS
Barack Obama must be a fan. He took to the pages of Arianna Huffington’s website with a blog post on why Congress needs to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Did it help? The Senate garnered 61 votes to proceed toward passage of the bill this week.approved the measure yesterday. But John Boehner says he'll try to kill it in the House.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.