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A tale of two Republicans

Moderate Christie won in NJ, while Tea Party favorite Cuccinelli lost Virginia to McAuliffe.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

Moderate Christie won in NJ, while Tea Party favorite Cuccinelli lost Virginia to McAuliffe.

Democrats and moderates won big in key races in an off-year election on Tuesday. Virginia went blue, electing Terry McAuliffe. NYC elected progressive Bill de Blasio as its first Democratic mayor in 20 years, and in NJ, Chris Christie, a popular governor viewed as a centrist, sailed to re-election easily.

But two races defined the internal fight for the soul of the Republican Party.

While GOP lawmakers and party insiders struggled to define an identity, pulled between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party brand of conservatism, voters chose to elect moderates.

Virginia voters chose Democrats to be their next governor and lieutenant governor in an apparent referendum against the Tea Party, which has enjoyed extremely poor approval ratings after the shutdown. Once a GOP stronghold, Virginia demonstrated that the party's far-right wing was a liability--a result that party elders will be analyzing as they head for the 2014 midterms.

Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli hoped the race would be a vote about Obamacare, trying to capitalize on the tumultuous rollout of president’s health care bill to rally conservatives in his favor. But his stance on abortion issues, the environment, and health care were hammered by the McAuliffe campaign. Unmarried women particularly responded in McAuliffe’s favor. 

“You have to look at Chris Christie or Bob McDonnell,” Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough said on Tuesday’s show. “There are ways to win in these purple, blue states, but you’ve got to make people think, I guess, you’re focused on jobs first and not ideology, and I don’t think Cuccinelli has done that.”

“This election is going to say a lot about Virginia’s future, and the country’s future,” Obama said while stumping for McAuliffe over the weekend.

Virginia’s own restrictive voter ID law won’t go into effect until 2014, but they did recently purge voter rolls of 40,000 reportedly ineligible voters (and according to many registrars, hundreds of eligible voters with them) just weeks before the election. In a court challenge, Cuccinelli defended the move in his role as attorney general; Democrats alleged that the purge disproportionately targeted Democratic voters and asked the attorney general to recuse himself. Cuccinelli declined. 

Despite it, Virginia’s secretary for the Virginia State Board of Elections Don Palmer told reporters that voting went “pretty smoothly” despite a software glitch that slowed down check-in processes in roughly half of one county’s polling stations.

“I’m sure it’s probably made the wait a little bit longer than it should be,” he said, according to The Washington Post.

New Jersey incumbent Governor Christie easily beat his Democratic challenger Barbara Buono. The governor’s no-nonsense style and his recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy prompted sky-high approval ratings that haven’t fallen much. Christie, controversially, opposed gay marriage, but he is stylistically and politically a far different breed of Republican than Virginia loser Cuccinelli.

Christie said the governorship is the last elected office he’d seek—in New Jersey.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever have another chance to vote for myself,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “I won’t ever run for another office in New Jersey, I can guarantee that. This is it for me.”

Many expect Christie to run for president in 2016. One of Buono’s chief criticisms of the governor was that his presidential aspirations are governing the state and pushing him farther toward the right on matters of gay marriage and gun control (the governor notably vetoed the ban on a .50-caliber rifle, despite backing the proposal months earlier). 

Hillary Clinton may be the person to stop Christie in his tracks in a potential match-up, according to an NBC News exit poll. It showed Christie would lose to Clinton by 7 points if the 2016 presidential election were today.

Less than a month after a federal shutdown that tanked Americans’ views of their elected officials in Washington, just one congressional race will be decided on Tuesday.

In Alabama’s first congressional district, a Tea Party activist and establishment GOP-er battle for the Republican nomination—a race that effectively decides who will take the extremely conservative district’s House seat. 

Attorney Bradley Byrne—representing the center-right, business aligned Republican party—is up against Tea Party activist Dean Young, who just last week declared the president was born in Kenya.

Byrne earned the financial support of a number of business and Washington GOP groups hoping to keep Tea Partiers at bay—his race is likely the first in a long series of outright battles in the GOP’s civil war.

“Hopefully we’ll go into eight to 10 races and beat the snot out of them,” former Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio told the National Journal of their plan to fend off Tea Party challengers with a new group, Defending Main Street. “We’re going to be very aggressive and we’re going to get in their faces.”

The End Spending PAC, founded by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts that funded Ted Cruz in 2012 actually opted to support Byrne over Young, reported Monday, despite Young’s promise to be a “Ted Cruz congressman.”

“I wonder if the fever has broken. You look at what Joe Ricketts is doing,” Scarborough said on Tuesday’s Morning Joe, remarking that there may be a swell of support toward supporting more mainstream Republicans. He added that the Chamber of Commerce has also supported Byrne.

“Does the fever break tonight in Mobile, Alabama?” Scarborough asked.

Boston and New York are both chosing new mayors for the first time in over a decade.

In New York, Democrat Bill De Blasio won the mayor's race, as expected. it’s the first time in three elections billionaire Independent Michael Bloomberg isn’t on the ballot. Voters rejected his de facto successor, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, in favor of the uber liberal de Blasio, who was a clear front-runner in the contest against Republican Joe Lhota, whose controversial late-in-the-game advertising push made some headlines, but did little to affect the polls.

De Blasio voted around noon and kept campaigning throughout the day, posting a series of photos of New Yorkers who voted for him on Twitter.

Boston’s legendary Tom Menino will not seek re-election for the first time in two decades. City Council John Connolly and State Representative Martin Walsh, both Democrats, are duking it out. Connolly pinned his campaign on education, while Walsh has tied himself to minorities and labor. In the latest polls, Walsh shows a slight lead.

In bankrupt Detroit, one local businessman may ride a catchy jingle all the way to the mayor’s office. Mike Duggan was kicked off the primary ballot over a residency issue (the former hospital executive used to live in the suburbs), but crafted an incredibly catchy jingle of the spelling of his name encouraging voters to write his name in on the ballot in August. Months later, he holds a strong lead over Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. Duggan would be the first white mayor in roughly 40 years.

Online, Duggan pushed voters to turn out.

Elsewhere, amendments and ballot initiatives will be decided—in Washington State, the first labeling requirement for genetically modified ingredients would be the first of its kind in the country according to NBC News. Residents in the Seattle suburb of SeaTac, home to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, will also vote on an initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and mandate paid sick leave for airport and hotel workers. And in Colorado, voters will weigh a 25% marijuana tax.

Though many voting laws won’t kick in till next year, restrictive laws will kick in in several states, a full year after the president promised Americans that “we’re gonna fix that.”

In Texas, former Speaker of the House of Representatives Jim Wright, 90, was nearly prevented from casting a vote today—the first election Wright would have missed since 1944—when he realized his driver’s license was expired and made multiple trips to government offices to procure the proper ID, which he was finally able to do on Monday. Married or divorced women whose names don’t perfectly match the voter logs may also be prevented from voting.