November 3, 2009, rolled around and gave Republicans much to be excited about. Virginia fell to the GOP. New Jersey did too. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court went their way. Many suburban Democrat officials in New York found themselves unemployed the next morning. Virginia’s lower house pulled in many new Republicans. The only loss was New York’s 23rd Congressional District. And conservatives must still count that as a win.
NY-23 was a win on two fronts. First, it showed the Republican Party that it cannot win if it abandons its conservative base. In fact, of the three candidates in the race, the Republican was furthest to the left. Bill Owens, the Democrats, was to the right of Scozzafava on everything from taxes to health care to abortion. Second, NY-23 showed conservatives that they must stand their ground within the Republican Party. Third parties have no chance of long term viability in the United States. If you do not believe it, ask your local Libertarian or Green Party senator.
While NY-23 overshadowed Virginia and New Jersey, those were still the big races and suggest good things for Republicans in 2010. For only the second time in history, the Republican Party swept all of Virginia’s state wide elected offices. According to Larry Sabato, there have only been two other occasions where New Jersey and Virginia have concurrently seen major party shifts: 1993 before the Republican Revolution and 2005 before the Democrats took back power.
Heading into 2010, the Democrats are giving Republicans a lot to play with. The cap-and-trade legislation is deeply unpopular with the business community, particularly small businesses. The health care legislation is also unpopular with a majority of Americans. Likewise, there are a number of very vulnerable Democrats heading into 2010. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas might be the most endangered Senator next year, but Harry Reid is right up there.
Unbelievably, Republicans just might pick off the second Senate Democratic Leader in a row. Reid’s unfavorable ratings are over 50% in Nevada and he polls behind the “generic Republican” as well as all the named Republicans running against him. By trying to own the health care fight on the Hill, Reid just might be happy dying a martyr’s death at the polls.
The danger for Republicans is two-fold. First, they may get overconfident and start making rookie mistakes. There is a lot of time left. Second, they still have to sell themselves to the public. Ironically, the “conservative” brand polls better than “liberal,” “progressive,” “Democrat,” or “Republican.” In fact, “Republican” is the least popular brand right now. By campaigning as conservatives, instead of as Republicans, the GOP might find its road back. But it will have to mean it.