Republican Ken Cuccinelli's unexpectedly strong showing in the Virginia governor's race will make it more difficult for moderate members of the GOP to pull the party toward the center, says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Polls had shown Cuccinelli down by 7 points to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, but Cuccinelli, a tea party favorite, led vote counts most of the night, with Clinton administration insider McAuliffe pulling out a late victory as bigger cities were counted.
"Whether it's one vote or a million, you're governor for four years," Sabato said. Still, he said, "The conservative Republicans will certainly take heart from the fact that Cuccinelli has done better than expected."
The big story, Sabato said, is Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's huge re-election win in a "deeply blue state."
Christie took 59 percent of the vote. He's the first Republican to win statewide with more than 50 percent since George H.W. Bush in 1988.
The United States is so politically polarized that it is remarkable any time a Democrat can win in a heavily red state or a Republican can win in a heavily blue state, Sabato said.
"Christie has shown the way," Sabato said. "The question, again, is whether the Republican activists – who are mainly social conservatives, tea party people, libertarians – whether they're willing to embrace somebody as moderate-conservative as Chris Christie."
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