No question, the two GOP gubernatorial victories matter to the 16 million people who will now give a try at living under a Republican. But beyond that, can we say that yesterday's elections mean something?
I don't believe that they are predictive of what the 2010 election cycle will look like. But it could end up affecting behavior -- ending up making it predictive.
Sometimes, when people believe something is predictive, they behave as if it is. In basketball, for example, it's just about universally held that players get "hot" or "cold" shooting hands -- that is, if they have made their last couple of shots, they're likely to keep hitting, and if they've missed, they'll keep missing. From what I understand (and to my own disbelief as a player), it's just not statistically true. But nevertheless, players believe it's true -- so, for example, they might run plays to set up good shots for the "hot" shooter; or the "cold" player might pass up good shot opportunities. Thus the belief in the predictive power of the shooter's touch can actually make the believers create the conditions for the prediction to come true.
Likewise, the victories in Virginia and New Jersey this week are likely to make Republicans believe that their party is going to win big in 2010. That optimism could inspire Republicans to contribute more to the party and individual candidates. It could convince good potential GOP candidates to run in elections, and convince depressed members of the lowly minority delegations to run again rather than retire. All of this would greatly help the party do well in 2010.
That's exactly why national Republican leaders are so eager to talk about how meaningful Tuesday's elections are -- they are trying, quite wisely, to create better conditions for the party in 2010.
There's another thing that this belief can do, and that's alter the behavior of your opponents. If some congressional Democrats believe that yesterday was an omen of bad things for Democrats in this cycle, perhaps they will be less willing to take tough votes on health care, or climate-change, or stimulus spending. That will bear close scrutiny.
Of course, the Democrats actually gained a seat in Congress yesterday, by retaining one in a California special election and being handed one in upstate New York.
That debacle is predictive, because it clearly is part of what I've been writing about incessantly for some time: the GOP has passed a tipping point where the party's behavior is most influenced by people who have little or no interest in actually getting Republicans elected. They are instead trying to bolster and capitalize on the lucrative "movement-conservative marketplace," as I have dubbed it.
The third-party conservative candidate, Doug Hoffman, is a joke -- he was never seriously considered by the GOP decision-makers who chose DeDe Scozzafava, not so much because he's too conservative as because he's an unbelievably bad candidate for public office. He doesn't live in the district, doesn't know anything about the issues of the district, didn't even pretend to try to learn the issues of the district even by the end of the campaign, and perhaps most importantly comes across on the stump as one of those Monty Python sketches featuring Michael Palin as a meek, bespectacled accountant with pathetic dreams of a grander life. (I want to be a... a lion tamer! No, I want to be a... a Congressman!)
Hoffman was (at least) the second rejected Republican that the Conservative Party asked to be the fundraising poster child for movement conservatives, and when he accepted those salesmen did what they do best: like infomercial pitch-men, they whipped up the movement-conservative marketplace shoppers into a Scozzafava frenzy that could be sated only with the input of a valid credit card number. Head huckster-at-large Dick Armey took Hoffman under his wing, and the fundraising in his name began -- by, among others, three of Alan Keyes's organizations; Eagle Forum; National Republican Trust PAC; Gun Owners of America; Family Research Council; National Organization for Marriage; Susan B. Anthony List; Campaign for Working Families; and of course the Club for Growth. They raised unknown amounts of money, some unknown percentage of which they turned around and spent on the Hoffman race -- much of it in payments to themselves and related companies.
If you think these groups woke up today regretting that they ultimately handed the NY-23 seat to a Democrat who will oppose everything they stand for, think again -- they're already touting this as a principled stand that they will replicate elsewhere, if you'll only send them a contribution to help them do it.
And as I mentioned before, we have passed a tipping point where those organizations I listed above, and many more like them, and their codependent brethren in the media wing of the movement-conservative marketplace, have much greater credibility and influence among Republican primary voters than do anyone in the party itself. This means that Republicans who do care about getting elected (eg, Tim Pawlenty, Jim DeMint) have no choice but to jump into this river, even as they see it heading over the cliff -- and even if it means getting onto a raft with an obviously undeserving guy like Hoffman.
None of this means that the Democrats don't have anything to worry about after Tuesday -- just that the Republicans have more to worry about.
Oh, and gay marriage lost in Maine. I don't know how to interpret that, because I am consistently at a loss to understand Maine voter behavior, which is a unique and impenetrable thicket to me. Anyone who doesn't understand Maine voting -- and I don't think there are very many who do -- should avoid drawing any national implications from anything that happens there.