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First Thoughts: Ideology vs. electability in next week's races

Ideology vs. electability on display in next week’s Virginia and New Jersey races… Outside forces (like Hurricane Sandy for Christie, and the government shutdown for Cuccinelli) have played important roles, too… Watching the upcoming FL-13 special… The Snowden leaks keep coming, and they keep hurting the Obama administration… Cruz’s “warm but muted” reception in Iowa… Rubio’s office: Don’t use a limited House immigration bill to conference with the Senate… And Dick Cheney uses TV appearance to criticize Mike Enzi.

*** Ideology vs. electability on display in next week’s races: It’s now eight days until Election Day 2013, and the featured Virginia and gubernatorial contests each pose a central question. In Virginia, the question is no longer will Democratic Terry McAuliffe win; it’s whether there will be a Democratic sweep (governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general). And in New Jersey, the question isn’t whether Gov. Chris Christie (R) will win re-election; it’s how big his margin will be and if his all-but-certain victory will allow him to run up impressive results among women, minorities, and younger voters in the exit polls. But there’s an even bigger story in next week’s Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races: You’re seeing the two different halves of the Republican Party on full display. In purple Virginia, it’s ideology with the very conservative Ken Cuccinelli leading the GOP ticket. (And it’s that same ideology that made Sen. Ted Cruz a draw in Iowa over the weekend.) In blue New Jersey, it’s electability with the conservative (but also pragmatic) Christie leading the ticket. And remember, one man -- Cuccinelli -- spoke at this year’s CPAC conference, while another man -- Christie -- wasn’t invited. As CPAC’s chief organizer said of Christie’s snub, "This year, for better or for worse, we felt like, ah, like he didn't deserve to be on the all-star selection.” And that was before the shutdown, and before Cruz control of the fall agenda for congressional Republicans.

Virginia candidates for governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, talk during a forum at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va. Steve Helber / AP file photo

*** Outside forces have played important roles, too: Of course, ideology and electability haven’t been the only factors in these two gubernatorial races. So have outside forces. Given that this week is the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, it’s worth remembering that Christie had solid -- but not out-of-this-world -- poll numbers before the storm. And in Virginia, Cuccinelli’s candidacy was hurt by two stories largely out of his control: 1) Gov. Bob McDonnell’s ethics woes, and 2) the government shutdown. By the way, the two gubernatorial favorites in Virginia and New Jersey had stars advocating on their behalf over the weekend. In Virginia, former President Bill Clinton stumped for McAuliffe on Sunday, and he does so again today. “I know what a good man he is… And I could literally keep you here until tomorrow morning just telling you things that I know about him that make my blood boil when I read these sort of cartoon characterizations of him,” Clinton said, per the Washington Post. (Rand Paul campaigns today for Cuccinelli.) And in New Jersey, Shaquille O’Neal appeared in a TV ad for Christie. “I don't endorse many politicians, but Chris Christie is different,” Shaq says in the ad. “He's working with me to bring jobs back to our cities and on a new program to help kids in tough neighborhoods get ahead.”

*** The 2016 proxy fight between Clinton and Christie: There’s another fun way to look at these two gubernatorial races, and that’s through the prism of 2016. McAuliffe’s campaign has been seen by many insiders as a way station for Clinton staffers to be. In fact, McAuliffe’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, is among the front-runners to hold the same title for Hillary 2016. Then there’s Christie, who is clearly modeling his re-elect off of George W. Bush in 1998. Bush wanted to show electability and distance from the less popular House Republicans back in 1998 as he used his re-elect to begin making his case to donors nationally and governors around the country. Christie, who is about to take over the RGA, will likely be hitting the road pretty quickly touting his bipartisan accomplishments and re-election numbers as he perfects a more anti-Washington message that many GOP governors feel they have no choice but to utter now that their party is taking a beating nationally.

*** Watching the FL-13 special: Speaking of elections, there is another race we’ll be watching in the coming months: the special congressional contest to fill the seat vacated by the late Rep. Bill Young (R-FL). Democrats will have A LOT of pressure to win this race given that it’s a swing district (Obama won it in 2012, 50%-49%; Obama also won in it 2008, but Bush carried it in 2004). A win would give the Democrats plenty of momentum heading into the 2014 midterms, and would allow them to advance the narrative that the political winds are at their backs. But a loss would have the opposite effect: If Democrats can’t win THIS swing district, it would be hard to argue that they can win the other (and more Republican-leaning) districts needed to win back control of the House. That’s what will be on the line in the FL-13 special election. By the way, the election date hasn’t been set yet, but both parties are expecting January primaries and a March general.

*** The Snowden leaks keep coming: We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: The Snowden leaks have done significant damage to the U.S. intelligence services and to the Obama administration -- at home and abroad. The New York Times: “New details about the monitoring of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone by the National Security Agency further stoked the German government’s anger on Sunday and raised two questions: Why did the United States target her as early as 2002, and why did it take five years for the Obama administration to put a halt to the surveillance?” In addition, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said on “TODAY” that the Spanish major paper, El Mundo, reported the NSA recently tracked more than 60 million calls in just one month. The administration is embarrassed by these revelations and one of the president’s national security advisers admitted the president believes the revelations that have been more damaging than the tactics. That said, the administration appears to be open to establishing some sort of no-spy agreement with Germany or, perhaps, a “low-spy” agreement as they realize that Merkel’s not just PUBLICLY upset for political reasons -- she’s upset publicly and privately.

*** Cruz’s “warm but muted” reception in Iowa: Turning to 2016 news, Ted Cruz made his third visit to Iowa over the weekend, despite having served in the U.S. Senate for less than a year. Here’s the dispatch from NBC’s Kasie Hunt: “Texas Sen. Ted Cruz became the hottest thing in tea party politics this year -- and the favored son of some activists -- almost overnight. But after two days of events across Iowa, it is clear that using the state as a springboard to the White House in 2016 won’t come nearly as easily as his national fame. At a big speech to the state party's fundraising dinner Friday, the reception was warm but muted. The western Iowa party activists and businessmen he hunted with Saturday morning were complimentary - yet more curious than fervent. And supporters of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who greeted Cruz at a joint fundraising lunch, cheered him - but several admitted they knew little about him.” In other 2016 news today, Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan (as well as House Speaker John Boehner) will speak tonight at a Jack Kemp Foundation dinner in DC.

*** Rubio’s office: Don’t use limited House immigration bill to conference with the Senate: Until now, it's hard to recall another political figure spending so much political capital on an issue, but then deciding to essentially abandon that issue. But that is precisely what some might believe Marco Rubio has done on the issue of immigration reform. Yesterday, a Rubio spokesman told Breibart News that the Florida senator opposed a conference between the already-passed Senate bill (which Rubio co-sponsored) and any minor piece of immigration legislation the House passes. "Any effort to use a limited bill as a ruse to trigger a conference that would then produce a comprehensive bill would be counterproductive. Furthermore, any such effort would fail, because any single senator can and will block conference unless such conference is specifically instructed to limit the conference to only the issue dealt with in the underlying bill," Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said. In a follow-up with First Read, Conant added, “We're simply recognizing the reality that the House isn't going to pass [comprehensive immigration reform]. So at this time, the only approach that has a realistic chance of success is to focus on those aspects of reform on which there is consensus through a series of individual bills.”

*** Rubio’s two different races in 2016: Ever since the Gang of Eight immigration passed the Senate, Rubio hasn’t acted comfortable backing the legislation that he helped to write and negotiate. And it’s worth noting this: Come 2016, he faces the prospect of two different races -- 1) re-election to his Florida Senate seat, and 2) a presidential bid. The distance he has kept from his immigration bill suggests he is paying more attention to that second race more than the first.

*** Dick Cheney uses TV appearance to criticize Enzi: Lastly, Dick Cheney used his Sunday interview on ABC to criticize Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), whom his daughter Liz is challenging in a primary election. “Mike has a record, if you go back and review his finances, of getting about 84% of his campaign funds from Washington-based PACs. That’s more than any senator of either party. He doesn’t get much money from Wyoming,” Cheney said. “In the quarter just reported, Liz got 25% of her funds from Wyoming; he got 13% of his from Wyoming. She outraised him in the last quarter, over a million dollars in the first quarter out there.” Cheney also said this about Enzi: “Mike also said he and I are fishing buddies, which is simply not true. Never happened.”

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