Defeated Virginia Republicans ponder unpopular choices

Ken Cuccinelli with his family as he makes a speech following his defeat Not all Republicans were behind Cuccinelli in the Virginia race

For the Republican Party, this night is not only the tale of two elections, but of two possible paths. I am at the rally of the defeated candidate in Virginia, watching the victorious Republican in New Jersey on the big screen in the hotel ball room.

The loser in this race, Ken Cuccinelli, comes into the hotel ballroom to country music, cheers and waves. Some think Republicans lost here because of him and his hard line.

He's a social conservative accused by his opponents of wanting to bring back anti-sodomy laws and trying to make divorce more difficult. Backed by the radical right-wing Tea Party movement, he fought this campaign against the background of a government shut down forced by his allies. And he's not apologising.

In his speech, he promises that the battle is not over. After him, another Republican comes on promising that they will block everything their opponents want to do, and saying the elected governor has no mandate to act.

Republican Chris Christie after being re-elected governor of New Jersey The face of Republican victory on Tuesday night did not come from Virginia

Earlier, the head of the Virginia Republican Party makes a bitter little speech accusing the Democrats of running the dirtiest campaign he's ever seen, demonising decent men, who love their families, their country and their God. It is not exactly a sign of profound self-reflection. Another warns the country is in economic and spiritual decline. "We can fix it by repealing Obamacare," he says.

This is the Republican mood in this vital state, a state that is slipping through their grasp. For decades it voted solidly Republican in the presidential election. But in 2008 it voted for Obama. It voted for him again in 2012 in slightly bigger numbers. It is changing, becoming less white, less rural, with an important Hispanic population. In those respects, it is like much of the United States.

You might think that when Chris Christie, victor in the traditionally Democratic state of New Jersey, where he crushed the opposition, appeared on the twin screens, thumping home a message of working together, of one America, of buckling down and getting the job done, they would have fallen silent and listened.

They carried on chatting.

'One scary dude'

But one group I spoke to afterwards said that it was what their party needed - a dose of moderation and compromise. But they were in a minority. More typical was the man who told me: "Reach across the aisle and they'll bite your arm off."

Immigration reform protester is barred from Cuccinelli rally Alternative voices were not always welcome at Cuccinelli's campaign

Earlier at a farmers' market just outside Richmond, I spoke to voters, many wearing a badge proclaiming that they had been to the polls. On display were robust carrots, chocolate-coloured peppers, fresh young ginger and chicken fingers - the last for pets to chew on. The views were as varied as the produce, and Ken Cuccinelli divides opinions.

"I don't like him, he's a Tea Party plant and one scary dude," a man munching a kebab told me. A woman selling handmade soap said that "Cuccinelli did stand up to the powers that be, saying he didn't believe in Obamacare, I applaud him for his opinion and standing up".

But this is a state where a quarter of the economy is linked to the federal government and last month's government shutdown was not popular..

One woman told me: "I didn't vote Republican this time, I wanted to make a point. We have to work together and they just want to block things. I vote both ways but I'm shifting, I have to."

Another said: "I don't believe in someone who has to tell a woman what she has to do, we are past all that, it is the 21st Century. Sometimes I've been a Republican but they've got all these Tea Party candidates, and the moderates are realising they are not all that great."

But there is a reason hardline Republicans stand firm. Many of their supporters want them to hang tough. One man, selling bread and vegetables, told me: "I hope he wins, I don't want a Democrat in, the people in power now are extreme lefties, our country was founded on conservatism."

He does think the party needs to alter course, but not in the way most might mean. "The Republicans need to change - but they've been going left for ages, with McCain and all that. They've left their base behind."

Big divide

In the offices of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the big question is whether the Republicans will learn lessons from this defeat. Jeff Shapiro's been the newspaper's political commentator for 30 years.

"They're going to have to take a very long and hard look at this changing electorate," he says.

"This is a state where for a long time the tensions tended to be black and white. Now it is a multi-hued electorate."

Cuccinelli supporters at his campaign HQ For Cuccinelli supporters, defeat raises a number of questions

He says that is not easy.

"Some Republicans are going to have to make some unpopular and very risky choices, in which they will put their personal ambition on the line in the interests of advancing their party.

"Are they prepared to tell the grassroots what they probably don't want to hear?"

This is an interesting moment.

The Republican party is not fighting about ideology or policy. The vast majority are conservative, pro-life, extremely worried by what they see as a growth of government and high taxation.

But there is a big divide about strategy and mood. Many in the Tea Party furiously want to block everything the other side attempts, worried their country is changing beyond repair.

Some in the leadership and the business community are concerned about this way of doing politics. But they also are the sort who prize loyalty and are hesitant about provoking civil war.

One of those who is not prepared to stay silent is former congressman Steve Latourette who runs the super-PAC (campaign group) Republican Mainstreet Partnership, which is close to the party's leadership,

"You can't just go after angry 57-year-old white men below the Mason-Dixon line and build a national majority, you have to rely on Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, gay Americans, African-Americans, and God forbid women should want to vote for Republicans," he says.

"That's the tension within the party and the Cuccinelli race will be sort of determinative, at least on our side, and people will say, 'Well I guess the more conservative thing didn't work so good today'. This is just the beginning of a long drawn-out battle."

He's right that that battle will take place eventually but I am not sure there will be much more than sporadic skirmishes for the moment.

The leadership hasn't the stomach for it.

What happened tonight in New Jersey could be a lesson about how to win in a state that may not look like natural territory, but they may not be ready to put victory above purity.

This is a good night for Hillary Clinton - Virginia's new governor is a close ally in a key state that she probably needs to win to become president in 2016.

You would think Republicans should start worrying about how they will stop that happening. They probably won't.

Mark Mardell, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor


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  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    This is funny and shows the real unpopular choice:

  • Comment number 352.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    ref #349 and 250

    we do know if was an Obama bundler from Texas who did finance the campaign

    In other words he was a stalking horse so McCaullife could win. with the extensive BBC staff they are always boasting about. you would think Mark would get the facts right for once

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    Presuming the Virginia 3rd party vote would not have changed the outcome as split down party lines, wonder how spoiler, Ralph Nader not in the race would have changed the vote in 2000?

    We could have avoided the dark-age of Bush Jr/Cheney?

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    Well, to tie-in with the theme of your comment,"politics makes strange bed fellows."
    Plus, there are differing degrees of libertarians.But my point was that the libertarian vote swung the election to the Democrats.Some think the Democrats contributed to the libertarian campaign. Who knows.

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    305. mscracker How could a real Libertarian vote for a party that restricts individual freedom in the bedroom, in lifestyle choices, and voting rights? The marriage between Libertarians and TEAliban types was doomed from the start. Also, the Catholic church won't always be comfortable with the Pope=Antichrist Calvinists [look up "Counter reformation" and "Inquisition"].
    Delenda est TEAP!

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    286 "For [the GOP] to now really change its views - not just its propaganda - would be astonishing." Especially as the party is controlled by the Christian TEAliban and FOX/GOP/TEA/NRA Propaganda outlet.

    They don't care about the country as a whole, just about their own parochial concerns.

  • Comment number 346.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    If the Saudis get nuclear weapons it will most definitely hasten Iran's desire to be a nuclear power. Why the land of Mecca feels the need to have these evil weapons is beyond me. Who's threatening Saudi?

    I can understand the logic of why Iran feels the need to have them. Two of Iran's neighbours have been unilaterally invaded by the USA/UK and these vile weapons are the best defence it can have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    as bad as the elction choices were in NY City and Boston, we could have Toronto's problem

  • Comment number 343.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    Without wishing to be a pedant the Tea Party are technically not a conservative, but a reactionary movement. They desire to 'go back in the past' - albeit a mythical one - and not just to conserve the present. Intellectually their world-view is pre-Enlightenment (anti science and pro theocracy) so how they can champion the Enlightenment greatest success - US Constitution - is beyond me!

  • Comment number 341.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    Read: It isn't just about this POTUS

    Actually it is

    As Sieu pointed out Obama still has several years left and Saudi Arabia doesn't know if it can wait that long

    Read: US power is waning globally, other powers are growing, it's just a natural order of things

    Its karma...what goes around, comes around

    But if Germany can come back, so can we,
    however, it may be a few years yet

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    338. LucyJ
    If Iran got Nukes, it and Israel might disappear in mushroom cloud shortly after.
    I do not wish to see that happen and even less the whole region follow suit.

    It isn't just about this POTUS
    US power is waning globally, other powers are growing, it's just a natural order of things
    Your view of gods country being supreme forever is delusional, but may explain the Tea Partys actions

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    Read: Or more likely every regional power would follow Saudi's lead

    With the sanctions not working
    what else can Saudi Arabia do to protect itself from Iran?

    I think SA always felt more protected before Obama
    but in the last year especially things have changed

    Yes this could set off a ME arms race
    but if they don't do anything, Iran will gain the upper hand in ME

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    336. LucyJ

    Perhaps Saudi Arabia having nukes could deter Iran more than any sanctions ever could.

    Or more likely every regional power would follow Saudi's lead

    That is the nightmare that is to be avoided at almost any costs.
    The current POTUS was asked "What keeps you up at night?"
    Answer " Pakistain"

    There may be more than this reason for that answer .. but still

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    Chris: Saudi Arabian nuclear

    Saudi Arabia sees Obama not stopping Iran from building nukes
    so they feel like they must get nukes now in order to protect themselves

    Of course because they are Pakistan's nukes
    its not so much bringing in new ones
    as it is two ME countries sharing nukes

    Perhaps Saudi Arabia having nukes could deter Iran more than any sanctions ever could

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    @332. Chris A

    Come on don't you like the irony of a toll free donation line.
    That is the second greatest scam there every was.
    "it won't cost me anything to call"

    334. sieuarlu
    You know that may be the first time you and i have ever agreed on anything

    Palin the 1st Mrs President. That almost makes a nuclear Iran look good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    Lucy, actually it's three more years and three monthys, sorry to disappoint you. What if McCain had won in 2008 and died in office? 3 more years of Sarah Palin. OMG now there is a nightmare scenario if ever there was one.


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