Americans turn on Tea Party in elections for state governors

By David Lightman in Washington

Bill de Blasio poses with son Dante, daughter Chiara and wife Chirlane after he was elected the first Democratic Mayor of New York City in 20 years. Photo / AP
Bill de Blasio poses with son Dante, daughter Chiara and wife Chirlane after he was elected the first Democratic Mayor of New York City in 20 years. Photo / AP

Voters have sent the Tea Party reeling as its star candidate lost a winnable Virginia governor's race while centrist Governor Chris Christie won big in New Jersey.

Republican Ken Cuccinelli ran a closer-than-expected race against Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia, an important swing state test for the grassroots conservatives, but still fell short yesterday.

The result was a vivid reminder that the Tea Party has become a movement with largely regional - and limited national - appeal.

Cuccinelli was a model of what the Tea Party had eagerly sought, a feisty, unapologetic believer with a sterling resume. Name the issue, and he was leading their crusade: limits on abortion clinics, the first state attorney-general to file suit against the hated Affordable Care Act, challenging a researcher over climate change work.

And yet Cuccinelli struggled from start to finish in a race Republicans should have won easily, up against a flawed Democratic candidate in a state with a steady history of voting against the party in the White House.

Christie, on the other hand, cruised to a big victory in New Jersey, a state that gave Democratic President Obama 58 per cent of its votes last year and last month elected Democratic Senator Cory Booker in a special election race that was never close.

Christie demonstrated broad appeal, as exit polls found him doing well among independents, women, racial minorities and others whom Republicans have had trouble attracting.

Tea Party loyalists tend to loathe Christie. He embraced Obama last year after Superstorm Sandy ravaged New Jersey, and he has downplayed his conservative stands on social issues.

In Virginia, the Tea Party looked to reclaim the state that had been reliably Republican for decades, but which started to embrace Democrats in recent elections.

Virginia has long had a strong social conservative wing, and the Tea Party appeared to thrive in certain pockets of the state. Virginia's gubernatorial campaigns often preview what's to come around the country. And its voters often send messages. Until this year, the party in the White House had lost the race nine straight times.

This year's race unfolded as Obama became vulnerable. First came reports the Internal Revenue Service was targeting conservative groups and news about National Security Agency eavesdropping. Then there was Obama's decision, and then indecision, on military action against Syria followed by the botched launch of the Obamacare website.

Cuccinelli had another advantage: McAuliffe, dogged by controversial business deals, was hardly a favourite in his own party.

Pre-election polls had suggested McAuliffe had built a comfortable lead, and Cuccinelli was badly outspent - yet lost largely because McAuliffe swamped the Republican in suburban Washington, DC, counties.

The 16-day government shutdown last month stole the spotlight from Cuccinelli's bid to make opposition to the Affordable Care Act a major issue, and incumbent Governor Bob McDonnell's ethical troubles took the once-popular Republican governor out of the campaign.

More importantly, Cuccinelli could never shed that Tea Party label. It hurt. Pluralities of voters rejected the Tea Party and branded themselves centrists. Exit polls showed more than four in 10 voters opposed the Tea Party, and they went nine to one for McAuliffe. Forty-four per cent called themselves moderates, and they broke nearly two to one for McAuliffe.


New Yorkers elect Democrat mayor

New Yorkers have elected a liberal Democrat to succeed billionaire Michael Bloomberg as Mayor.

Bill de Blasio, head of the city's public watchdog agency, replaces the Republican-turned-independent who had been the city's mayor for 12 years.

Although New York is overwhelmingly Democratic, it hasn't had a Democrat mayor in 20 years', after Bloomberg's three terms and two by his Republican predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani.

De Blasio's overwhelming victory over Republican Joe Lhota, a one-time Giuliani deputy, is seen as reflecting unease with the inequality of wealth among city residents, even as New York prospered over the past two decades. With two-thirds of the precincts reporting, De Blasio was outpolling Lhota by a 73 per cent to 25 per cent margin.

De Blasio ran on a tax-the-rich platform that contrasted sharply with Bloomberg's record.

- AP

- NZ Herald

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