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What Tuesday’s Election Returns Mean for 2016

What Tuesday’s Election Returns Mean for 2016

On this night four years ago, it was clear. A wave was coming. In November 2009 it was still far out to sea, but it was coming. Chris Christie, a tough talking former U.S. attorney, had upended a liberal governor in Democratic New Jersey. In Virginia a hard-right Republican, Bob McDonnell, running on a socially conservative platform, had crushed the Democrat in a state thought to be trending blue. In two suburban swing counties in New York, unknown Republicans romped over longtime Democratic officeholders.

By 2010, that wave, known as the Tea Party, had landed, upending Washington, D.C., and ushering in what appears to be an era of permanent gridlock on Capitol Hill. In 2005 the reverse was true—a string of Democratic victories up and down the ballot presaged the shellacking the Republicans would take in 2006 and again in 2008.

And now that the 2013 elections are in the books, what do they tell us about the nation’s political landscape, with 2014 midterm campaigning in full swing and the 2016 presidential campaign close to beginning in earnest?

First, we must proceed with caution. Elections a year from now have a way of defying predictions. In November 2012 Christie was widely assumed to face a vigorous reelection challenge in New Jersey, Bill de Blasio was a second-tier contender in the race for New York City mayor, and the phrase “Terry McAuliffe, governor of Virginia,” drew sneers.

Still, a few takeaways can be had from this Election Night.

There is real and deep anger at the political establishment, and at the GOP political establishment in particular. Before Tuesday night, polls pointed at the sentiment, with Republican pollster Bill McInturff predicting that voter frustration would lead to a “shockwave” as a “deeply unsettled people” entered the voting booth looking for blood.

The candidates who were able to capitalize on that anger were the ones who won Tuesday night. In New York City, de Blasio’s come-from-behind victory in the Democratic primary was predicated on his making the cleanest break from the Bloomberg era, while one-time front-runner Christine Quinn promised more of the same. Christie cheered New Jersey hearts when he called House Republicans “disgusting” and accused the GOP of being more focused on scoring debating points than winning elections. His underfinanced Democratic opponent was, in his telling, a creature of the Democratic machine that had suffocated the state. In Alabama, a real-estate developer with no political experience who all but promised to take a torch to the way Washington works narrowly lost to a state lawmaker who received the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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