One year ago Barack Obama turned the political establishment upside down with a resounding national election that, according to so-called experts, spelled the end of influence and legitimacy for the GOP for years, perhaps decades to come.
However, a mere 12 months later, Republicans have dramatically turned around their fortunes with two high-profile gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey — both by comfortable margins.
In Virginia, Republicans won the top three offices (governor, Lt. governor, and attorney general) in Virginia by sweeping margins. Republican Bob McDonnell won the gubernatorial race by a shattering 17 percent margin over Democrat Creigh Deeds.
Not only did McDonnell win in the vast majority of Virginia counties, but he also won in the three largest suburban counties: Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William, which trend Democratic and which Obama won by significant margins. He also took Obama successes among independents and turned it around to win 63 percent of those voters.
And while many Democrats now point to exit polls that indicate President Obama and his policies were not the driving force behind this phenomenon, the Democratic candidate there had a different take. In an interview in October, Deeds blamed, in part, the Democrats' national agenda as he trailed McDonnell in Virginia's gubernatorial race. "Frankly, a lot of what's going on in Washington has made it very tough," he said.
In New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie ousted incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine. The margin of victory was the largest by a New Jersey Republican in a statewide race in 25 years.
Christie was significantly outspent by Corzine, who also had the advantage of having the full support of the White House and President Obama campaigning for him regularly. The victory was a 20-point reversal of Obama's victory in 2008. Exit polls say Christie won 58 percent of independent voters.
So what does this mean for Republicans nationwide?
First, I believe that this demonstrates that after a couple of dismal cycles, Republican voters once again are energized and ready to work hard so that Republican candidates gain traction nationwide.
Next, the numbers in Virginia and New Jersey show the success conservative candidates are having with Independents/Reagan Democrats in these key states — setting the stage to capitalize on these gains in the 2010 midterms and beyond.
Lastly, I believe that moderate Democrats will have a much tougher time supporting the progressive agenda being pushed by the White House after seeing the president fail to bolster the struggling Gov. Corzine in a state the president carried by 20 points just a year ago. Thus, Republicans must recognize this potential dynamic and take advantage of it to pursue more moderate and acceptable policies rather than those being promoted by the president, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Political fortunes can swing — and swing rapidly. Just as the landscape seemed so inviting to Democrats one year ago, fortunes could once again swing back in their direction at the drop of the proverbial hat. This is especially true if Republicans fail to take advantage of the political opportunities in front of them.
It is time for Republicans to not only oppose the big government and big spending programs being proposed by national Democrats, but to also push forward their own ideas and their own agenda so that 2010 voters have a true alternative to the Democrats' increasingly unpopular path forward.
We need our Republican leaders to put forward these sound solutions for practical governance, returning power to local governments and voters. On healthcare, immigration and energy, conservative values offer us common-sense solutions. Even ideas that are unlikely to see much debate time under the current president will ring out in the next election, as they did last night.
2009 was just the beginning.
Mike Reagan, the elder son of the late President Ronald Reagan, is chairman and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation (www.reaganlegacyfoundation.org). You can find his newest book, “Twice Adopted,” and other information at www.Reagan.com. E-mail comments to Reagan@caglecartoons.com.
© 2009 Mike Reagan
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