Two gubernatorial elections today could provide insights to Republicans who are looking to reconnect with the American public and improve their brand image.
Republicans have taken hit after hit in polling in recent years as tea party loyalists have established themselves as uncompromising and, in many ways, unable to govern. The latest debacle was the government shutdown and fiscal cliff battle, where tea partiers in Congress refused to do their job unless President Barack Obama's Affordable Heath Care Act was repealed.
The focus on the shutdown took attention away from problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, hurting the party tremendously in the eyes of the public. And while the problems plaguing the Affordable Care Act have gotten a lot more attention since the shutdown standoff was resolved, approval ratings for Republicans and the party in general have not improved.
It is against this backdrop that New Jersey moderate Republican Chris Christie is expected to easily win a second term over challenger Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono, but Republican Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is in a much tougher race with Democratic challenger Terry McAuliffe.
New Jersey leans heavily Democratic, yet Christie's no nonsense, pragmatic approach to governing has won over independents and many Democrats. Contrast that with Cuccinelli's campaign, which has been fighting hard in what was traditionally a Republican stronghold, yet trailed McAuliffe in most polls heading into today's election.
Over the weekend, Cuccinelli tried to make the election a referendum about the problems with the Affordable Care Act. That likely will resonate with some people and could boost his chances. But at the same time Obama was out campaigning for McAuiffe, painting the GOP challenger as a tea party fanatic who puts ideology over what is best for the country. This extremist wing of the GOP, Obama said, "has shown again and again and again that they're willing to hijack the entire party and the country and the economy and bring progress to an absolute halt if they don't get 100 percent of what they want."
For all that Christie has done to promote Republican ideals and improve the party's image, Cuccinelli has operated in exactly the opposite fashion.
Today's elections in New Jersey and Virginia, and the contrasting styles of the candidates, will provide additional insights for Republicans looking to get elected next year to which the party would do well to pay attention.