The common theme binding all of Tuesday’s big elections—in New Jersey, Virginia, and Alabama—is the reemergence of the beaten-down, beleaguered, almost-left-for-dead Republican establishment. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s landslide reelection was the big headline event. As expected, Christie won by a wide margin, producing the jarring image on CNN of blue-state New Jersey bathed in deep red.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s win in Virginia’s gubernatorial contest—or rather, Republican Ken Cuccinelli’s loss—was also expected, although the race was a bit closer than most polls predicted. Still, Cuccinelli, an ardent social conservative and Tea Party favorite, lost in a critical swing state. And he lost narrowly enough it’s hard not to imagine that a more mainstream Republican might have pulled it out. The fact that the government shutdown is widely viewed as having cinched Cuccinelli’s loss is further sustenance for the mainstream wing of the party, which had hoped to avoid that debacle.
But the most interesting, and in some ways most meaningful, triumph of the GOP establishment over the Tea Party came in Alabama’s First District congressional primary, where former business lawyer and state senator Bradley Byrne edged out a win over an outspoken Tea Party candidate, Dean Young, who many people thought would win. Establishment Republican-aligned groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce invested heavily in Byrne’s race, mainly to head off a candidate in Young who instantly would have become one of the hardest-core Tea Partyers in Congress, had he won. One caveat to this race is that it took place in one of the most business-friendly districts in the U.S. and therefore favored the business-backed candidate, who still won by only 4 points.
Still, the race—and the entire evening—was a welcome relief to the mainstream elements of the Republican Party. It will be interesting to see if the momentum carries over to Washington, D.C.