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Jon-Christopher Bua

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US Election Three Ring Circus

Posted: 11/11/2013 09:55

What should the UK and its European neighbours take away from the recent US "off year" election? What does all of this mean for US legislative gridlock and international financial stability?

Let's face it, what we Americans take for granted - endless political campaigns rife with cash and a terminal election elimination process rife with guile, distrust and humiliation - even our most politically savvy friends across the Atlantic scratch their collective heads and declare... "When is enough, enough?"

We look at the outcome of the 5 November off year election results and try to make sense of things nationwide and worldwide. The 2013 election was what we call a true off year election - there was no presidential race and the House and Senate races were held to fill unexpected vacancies.

These so called off year races are determined in most cases by voter turnout which is measured by the excitement - or lack thereof - among each parties' base voters. These races are often issues driven and much more narrowly focused than during the national election cycle. However, they do show trends for the 2014 mid-terms and the 2016 presidential election.

Perhaps the most informative were the two Governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia. Time and again it is proven, the two most important elements that can either destroy a candidate or send them straight to the State House or the White House are, first, in the words of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan - Events! Events! Events! And second - ask any comic - timing!

In New Jersey, Chris Christie's 24.1 point win is being touted by the Republican establishment as a model for victory in the 2016 presidential race - a Republican governor who governs conservatively and can win in a traditionally "blue" Democratic state.

What observers fail to realise is that Christie was most fortunate to have had a very weak opponent - almost a complete unknown with very little backing from the party or Washington.

Christie also had the advantage of running an almost scrutiny-free incumbent campaign on a wave of gratitude for his high-profile, Obama-supported "man of the people" efforts during Hurricane Sandy.

His potential opponents for the 2016 presidential race - senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz - have all gone to great pains to dismiss Christie's win as unique to New Jersey. Even through in some ways they may be correct, a twinge of fear may underlie their hubris as they realise "Jersey" is not just a Tony Soprano hang out.

New Jersey is not like the south or the mid-west. However, the Garden State is like many other blue states on both coasts, so it does matter that a Republican can win here.

For Christie to even have a chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination he will have to either appease the far right and Tea Party factions of the now fractured GOP or convince them that he is their only chance to regain the White House.

It seems clear Christie is not the kind of guy who will play the fading chameleon role that Mitt Romney played - being all things to all people which proved to be his undoing.

Unlike Christie all the other Republican presidential wanabees are in lock step with the far right and the Tea Party factions of the GOP on the key issues - these are groups that will count in the Republican primaries.

What the New Jersey governor's race does say is that voters will even cross party lines to vote for someone they believe is the "genuine article" and can work across the aisle to get things done for them and possibly for their country.

In the Virginia Governor's race Democrat and Clinton family best pal Terry McAuliffe defeated his opponent, Republican "Tea Party darling" Ken Cuccinelli by 6.7 points.

This race was run on national issues and was a battle royal between the ideals of the Far Right and Tea Party wing of the Republican Party pitted against the progressive ideals of the Democratic Party, including Obamacare, abortion, guns and gay rights!

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama joined the top 2016 potential presidential contenders to campaign for their side - Bill and Hills and Joe Biden the Dems for McAuliffe and Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio for Cuccinelli.

Some view Virginia - now considered a "purple state" - a laboratory for the next presidential election, since this past race included many of the national issues expected to be front and centre in both 2014 and 2016.

The race tightened at the end in part due to problems with Obamacare.

The Democrat's victory was particularly telling in its demographics. Strong support for McAuliffe in Northern Virginia "DC suburbs" where Federal employees commute to work each day.

Surely it did not go unnoticed that another bastion of McAuliffe support came from the so-called "socialist state of Charlottesville" in Albemarle county where the "intellectual elite" reside - near Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson and The university of Virginia.

The Cuccinelli voter was mainly older, white and mostly male, while the McAuliffe's voter was strongly female, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, young and multiracial.

There was also an "anti-Tea Party" trend as voters blamed them for the government shutdown which hit Virginia and its federal workforce particularly hard.

Voter anger in the face of gridlock, shutdowns, debt limits and the sequester will to continue to increase to a fever pitch in 2014 and 2016.

Historically mid-term elections are typically much more "local" in nature. Most Congressional races are for mainly "safe seats" - meaning they are reliably Democratic or Republican. In each election cycle there are fewer and fewer truly competitive races.

However, in this up-coming election cycle people seem already feed up with their legislators not getting anything done. Congress now as a whole has historically low ratings - so incumbents need to watch out!

The Democrats have some time to get their act together but if President Obama's approval rating remains well below 50%, history tells us the Democrats are likely to lose more House and even some Senate seats.

The Republicans have more than their fair share of problems too.

They should be fearful of an anti-Tea Party backlash due to their role in the latest shutdown.

The only good news for the international financial community is with the mid-terms just a year away both sides will be motivated to get something done before they face the voters once again.

Jon-Christopher Bua's blogposts for Sky News appear here

 

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