It is not surprising that the few national elections that fall on odd-numbered years tend to not receive a great deal of media hype, given the low level of electoral activity that surrounds them relative to races held during midterm or presidential years. As consistent as this reality normally is, it was certainly not the case in 2013. Mere weeks ago, the race for governor in New Jersey and Virginia attracted a frenzy of media attention. This was primarily due to the peculiarity of two particular candidates, Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, their unique stances on the issues, and the circumstances in which they were elected.
Both Christie and McAuliffe ran and won the in states long dominated by the opposing party at the national level. The state of New Jersey has not voted Republican in a presidential election since 1988, with President Obama winning it over Mitt Romney in 2012 by more than eighteen percentage points, while Virginians voted Republican in every presidential race between the years of 1964 and 2008 and has voted for the candidate from the party opposite the president’s since 1977. Furthermore, both men’s backgrounds and track records reflected a noticeable separation from some of their parties’ more rigid ideology and rhetoric. Such distinction is reflected by Christie’s signing of the nation’s second ever statewide ban on gay “conversion” therapy and McAuliffe’s decisions not to run against Virginia’s right-to-work law and to support off-shore oil drilling.
In addition to generating significant media attention, the recent gubernatorial elections have revealed a lot about the current political landscape. They have proven that in spite of the virulent political climate currently plaguing Washington, candidates who adopt centrist positions, or at least run as political moderates, can win over enough voters from outside of their party to win in states with a history of hostility towards that party.
Given the widespread public ire over the recent government shutdown and the botched role out of Obamacare, the national parties would be wise to take note of this phenomenon and how Christie and McAuliffe govern over the next few years when considering whom they should tap to run for president in 2016. If the current gridlock persists, the appeal of centrists or, at the very least, candidates who have shown they can win elections by appealing across party lines and can govern by balancing the interests of various constituents to govern effectively while attempting to advance their agenda, as Christie has done, will likely grow. The elections have also shown that voters are willing to reward candidates who will forgo rigid party ideology in exchange for effective, pragmatic governance.
Now more than ever, the country needs more victories like those of McAuliffe and Christie to drive the policy debate back towards problem-solving and the political center. Until more people are elected to public office who appeal to more than just party stalwarts and who will work on behalf of their constituents as whole rather than for the interests that support them, we should expect more of the same kinds of policies that have gotten us in the current mess we are in. So, looking to the next round of gubernatorial races and congressional midterms in 2014, here’s hoping that more centrists take center stage.