But first a bit of background.
If you've been reading the newspapers or following developments online or paying attention to the news over the past week, you've heard about the gubernatorial and legislative elections in New Jersey and Virginia. You've heard about them because they were the only gubernatorial elections taking place this year and because the media needed to focus on something of this sort since it's November and thus, traditionally election time.
And no doubt you've heard from the media that the Democrats scored really big victories in both states. This has been the narrative: It was a yoooge day for Democrats as voters came out en masse to repudiate President Trump and the GOP.
In fact, a New Jersey university professor/pollster (who just loves to be quoted) flatly declared that while the state's gubernatorial election is never about the newly elected president "this was the first exception to that rule." This same talking head also said that Democrats in New Jersey significantly outperformed expectations "and that it's all part of a national wave."
Another statewide prognosticator (a political columnist who shall also remain nameless) has all but declared the New Jersey GOP dead. And, since the media are relentlessly imitative, these lines have been repeated over and over again.
Now, without further delay, here's what we want to tell you: They're wrong, wrong, wrong!
To any knowledgeable observer or student of state political history, the results of New Jersey's election should not be considered surprising, stunning or even terribly significant. What happened last Tuesday was not unusual.
Put another way, these results broke no rules and upset no precedents.
And here's why:
- The losing GOP gubernatorial candidate, Kim Guadagno performed better than the polls suggested and her final vote total was actually slightly better than the average percentage of votes gathered by other defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate going back to 1961. In fact, over the past 56 years, the average vote total for an unsuccessful GOP gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey was 41%, while Gudagno gathered 42% of the vote.
- Guadagno actually carried eight out of Jersey's 21 counties and in two of those counties she won overwhelmingly.
- On the other hand, Phil Murphy performed worse than the average vote total garnered by winning Democratic candidates seeking their first term dating back to 1961. While Murphy garnered 55% of the vote, the average over the long haul is 58%. In fact, Murphy's total is precariously close to Crozine 54% first term total -- and we all know what happened to Crozine. And there's more: In their try for an initial term, winning Democrats Byrne (67%), Florio (61%) and McGreevy (56%) all exceeded Murphy's total. And even at that, two out of the three of these never made it to a second term. Bottom line: Murphy's win was hardly a landslide. In fact, it wasn't even close. And that's significant considering that Democrats have an unparalleled voter registration edge in ultra-blue New Jersey.
So, tell us again how this was a Democrat rout when the Democrat candidate underperformed while the GOP aspirant slightly over-performed . . . huh?
Nor is there any indication that the election encouraged the sort of big voter turnout that often accompanies a "wave" election -- an election that signals a significant vote shift. Instead, the voter turnout last Tuesday was an historically low 35% while the last two gubernatorial elections attracted 47% and 40% turnouts respectively. If Murphy was such a compelling candidate and/or the anti-Trump cause was so fervent, how come that couldn't generate anything like the 47% turnout of 2009 when Christie won or the whopping 65% turnout in 1993 when Whitman won?
This now brings us to the question of whether or not this was a repudiation of the newly-elected president. To find that answer, we again look to the history. And here's what we find:
- In every case since 1988 New Jersey has elected a governor of the party opposing the newly-elected or re-elected president. That's a 30 year trend! So, if this was a repudiation of Trump, then the previous seven New Jersey gubernatorial elections were repudiations of the presidents who came before Trump from Obama all the way back to George H. W. Bush. But those presidents were hardly repudiated as all but H. W. Bush went on to be re-elected. So no, there was no clear repudiation here as the pattern clearly suggests otherwise that this was as unrelated to the presidency as all the other elections. The pattern held true to form.
And here's another thing that ought to be remembered:
- While it's been a long time since New Jersey elected a Democrat to the United States Senate, the state has an almost half-century tradition of switching back and forth between Democrat and Republican governors. And during that time, you might be surprised at which party has outperformed the other. Because, since 1969, Republicans have held the governor's office for 28 years while Democrats have only managed to hold onto it for 20 years. So, the truth is that Murphy and his friends have some catching up to do.
- AND, over the past 40 years no Democrat governor in New Jersey has been re-elected. On the other hand, over that same period of time, every GOP governor has be re-elected.
Now, none of this is to suggest that New Jersey is not a blue, blue state. It is.
And so too, now is Virginia.
And, just like in Virginia, the New Jersey GOP lost state legislative seats. But the losses in New Jersey were not nearly as great as in Virginia.
Here again, the facts belie the media and post-polling hype.
In New Jersey nearly all of the GOP's state senators and nearly all of its assembly members were re-elected. Overall, the retention rates were 92.5% in the Senate and 97.5% in the Assembly. Not bad for an election that's being called a wipeout, right?
One more thing: The Democrats in New Jersey are now already fighting over the spoils or victory and the priorities moving forward and Governor-elect Murphy is already being pulled between a smaller (but nonetheless influential) semi-moderate group of traditional Democrats and a rabid and radical gang of Trump-obsessed members of the Resistance. As liberal as Murphy is (and he's very liberal) this mob-like cabal will still try to push him further over the edge. It's going to get interesting -- so, stay tuned!