The 2009 elections were more favorable to Republicans and conservatives than the 2008 elections. Although Republican and conservative candidates did not win every major race, they did win both of the most significant offices on the ballot: Bob McDonnel was elected Governor of Virginia and Chris Christie was elected Governor of New Jersey.
Both states had voted for Barak Obama for president and had Democratic governors for eight years. Although the 2009 election was not a referendum on Obama, it suggests – at least – that his waning popularity is not transferable to other liberal Democrats. At most, it could suggest voter dissatisfaction with the excessive spending, borrowing and taxing by liberal Democrats in both the federal and state governments. It also suggests that the strategy of campaigning against George W. Bush, such as incumbent New Jersey Governor John Corzine employed, no longer works.
McDonnel’s campaign was a particularly good example of a positive, issues-oriented campaign. His historic landslide produced GOP coat-tails in Virginia: Republicans swept all three statewide offices, including lieutenant governor and attorney general, and won several more seats in the state legislature.
One commonality to both Republican victories is that both nominees were former prosecutors. McDonnel was a state attorney general and Christie a U.S. Attorney. Christie’s election is particularly noteworthy because he had prosecuted successfully scores of public officials, including mostly Democrats, for corruption. Indeed, he never lost a case! Although Democratic-dominated New Jersey had developed a reputation as one of the most corrupt states, voters continued to elect Democrats. The 2009 elections suggest that voters prefer Republicans viewed as tough on crime.
Gubernatorial races are significant beyond suggesting the mood of the American electorate. Even though they are state elections, they have federal implications. For example, governors make appointments to the U.S. Senate when there are vacancies. In some states, like New Jersey, the governor appoints appellate judges, who rule on elections for federal office and congressional redistricting. The party of the governor is given preference on all of the state’s election ballots in some states, including for federal office. Also, governors are often presidential or vice presidential nominees. Moreover, their success at implementing reforms can serve as examples to other states.
There were other conservative Republican victories across the United States. In Pennsylvania, for example, strict-constructionist Republicans won at least six out of seven statewide judicial races, including a seat on the state Supreme Court that determined which party controls the majority on the highest court of appeals in the Keystone State. Republican judges will now be the referees in Pennsylvania of the congressional redistricting after the 2010 Census.
Conservatives must build on the momentum generated by these encouraging victories by recruiting and supporting candidates in Republican primary elections in 2010. In those elections for state and federal offices, voters will elect all 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and one third of the seats in the Senate. Many states will elect governors and state legislators. In the meantime, conservatives must continue to speak out in favor of liberty, limited government, virtue and strong defense.