What Two Bellwether Counties Tell Us About the Republican Party’s Future

National Journal
Nov. 6, 2013, 1:06 a.m.

What do Tues­day’s elec­tions for gov­ernor say about the fu­ture of the Re­pub­lic­an Party? The path to vic­tory leads through the na­tion’s melt­ing pot sub­urbs.

Look no fur­ther than Ber­gen County, N.J., and Fair­fax County, Va., for the evid­ence. Both are the most pop­u­lous in their state. Like the na­tion as a whole, both counties were once al­most uni­formly white and leaned Re­pub­lic­an, but are now in­creas­ingly mul­tiracial and vote Demo­crat­ic in pres­id­en­tial elec­tions.

Gov. Chris Christie won Ber­gen County by 46,000 votes, im­prov­ing on his 2009 per­form­ance, when he nar­rowly lost the county to Demo­crat Jon Corz­ine. In con­trast, Vir­gin­ia At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Cuc­cinelli, best known for his so­cial con­ser­vat­ism, lost Fair­fax County by 60,000 votes. That’s a ma­jor step back­ward, giv­en that cur­rent Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Bob Mc­Don­nell nar­rowly won Fair­fax in 2009.  “Our guys don’t un­der­stand [sub­urb­an] areas like North­ern Vir­gin­ia, sub­urb­an Phil­adelphia, areas that used to be our base.  We’re get­ting smoked in these areas,” said former Re­pub­lic­an con­gress­man Tom Dav­is, who rep­res­en­ted a Fair­fax County-based House seat from 1992 to 2008.  “North­ern Vir­gin­ia is a dis­aster for Re­pub­lic­ans, these [statewide can­did­ates] do not know how to run up here.  They fo­cus so hard on the so­cial is­sues, cul­tur­al stuff.” No won­der then, that Re­pub­lic­an strategists have poin­ted to Christie’s re­sound­ing vic­tory — rack­ing up siz­able leads in di­verse, sub­urb­an parts of the Garden State via his mod­er­ate ap­peal — as a mod­el for the party’s can­did­ates to emu­late. It works.

On his way to a statewide vic­tory, Gov. Chris Christie won Ber­gen County by 46,000 votes, im­prov­ing on his 2009 per­form­ance, when he nar­rowly lost the county to Demo­crat Jon Corz­ine. In con­trast, Vir­gin­ia At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Cuc­cinelli, best known for his so­cial con­ser­vat­ism, lost Fair­fax County by 66,000 votes, along with Tues­day’s elec­tion. That’s a ma­jor step back­ward, giv­en that cur­rent Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Bob Mc­Don­nell nar­rowly won Fair­fax in 2009. McAul­iffe also car­ried Prince Wil­li­am County, 52-44%, and Loudoun County, 50-45%.

“Our guys don’t un­der­stand [sub­urb­an] areas like North­ern Vir­gin­ia, sub­urb­an Phil­adelphia, areas that used to be our base. We’re get­ting smoked in these areas,” said former Re­pub­lic­an con­gress­man Tom Dav­is, who rep­res­en­ted a Fair­fax County-based House seat from 1992 to 2008. “North­ern Vir­gin­ia is a dis­aster for Re­pub­lic­ans, these [statewide can­did­ates] do not know how to run up here. They fo­cus so hard on the so­cial is­sues, cul­tur­al stuff.”

No won­der then, that Re­pub­lic­an strategists have poin­ted to Christie’s re­sound­ing vic­tory—rack­ing up siz­able leads in di­verse, sub­urb­an parts of the Garden State via his mod­er­ate ap­peal—as a mod­el for the party’s can­did­ates to emu­late. It works.

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