Days of Infamy, Days of Hope: Part II

Tomorrow, November 3, 2009, is another notorious day in recent political history. That night, two extremists posing as centrists—New Jersey Republican Chris Christie and Virginia Republican Robert McDonnell—won high-profile gubernatorial races and proceeded to turn their states into cesspools of corruption, while a reasonable Republican was ripped off in a special New York congressional election.

The day after the New Jersey and Virginia elections, Brother Benen noted:

[McDonnell’s win] was not a surprise – [Democratic opponent Creigh] Deeds ran an odd, disjointed campaign — and was in keeping with recent history. For the last 32 years, the party that wins the White House has gone on to lose Virginia’s governorship the next year.

Those looking for key electoral indicators or evidence of larger national trends are likely to be disappointed. McDonnell went out of his way to run a moderate campaign, despite a conservative record, and kept the Tea Party crowd at arm’s length. The governor-elect ran away from his far-right background, and made sure that Sarah Palin — who offered to “help” — had nothing to do with his campaign.

In New Jersey, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R), who led most of the year in the polls, managed to hang on and defeat incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D), 49% to 45%. The only surprise here is that Corzine was able to come this close — the governor was widely unpopular throughout the state, has had approval ratings in the 30s all year, and is the chief executive of a state with the highest unemployment rate in more than three decades.

With voters in an anti-incumbent mood, the result wasn’t too hard to predict.

Of course, McDonnell governed as a wingnut—there’s a reason Rachel Maddow called him “Gov. Ultrasound”and a corrupt wingnut at that; he will always be remembered by Virginia voters as, shall we say, a politician of conviction. Christie’s own corruption——can you say “Bridgegate,” girls and boys?—has all but destroyed his upward mobility as a politician.

Thus, five years on, it’s clear that the most significant event of that evening was the NY-23 election, which Democratic candidate Bill Owens won after Republican opponent Dede Scozzafava was bombarded by Tealiban forces horrified by her heresy on such issues as a woman’s right to choose, marriage equality and labor rights. The savaging of Scozzafava was a harbinger of things to come for the GOP, as Frank Rich noted at the time—and indeed, Republican Reps. Bob Inglis and Mike Castle got the Scozzafava treatment in 2010 and thus lost high-profile primaries they logically should have won.

A week after being abhorrently assaulted by the politically perverted, a recovering Scozzafava spoke to the Washington Post about the unspeakable abuse she faced. Her voice was filled with a survivor’s courage:

“There is a lot of us who consider ourselves Republicans, of the Party of Lincoln,” she said, her face now flush. “If [Tea Partiers] don’t want us with them, we’re going to work against them.”

Well put.

Scozzafava emerged as a hero on a night of villainy, and proved that there are still people of honor in American politics. November 3, 2009 was a dark day for this country, but Scozzafava’s light still shines through, five years later.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.