George W. Bush unveiled plans this week for his presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and according to architects’ renditions, it will have a front yard that is designed to look like a prairie. Judging by the imagery surrounding W., one would think that his forefathers fought at the Alamo.
But as most astute political observes know, Bush’s family tree is really rooted in Kennebunkport and Prescott Bush. It was from this legacy that his Dad built a coalition in 1988 that delivered wins in mainstream states like New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Illinois. These could be called George H. W. Bush states.
Of course, in the 1990s and early 2000s, these states turned blue, and the younger Bush lost them all, mostly by wide margins, even though New Jersey was closer than expected in 2004 when memories of 9/11 were still fresh. These days, however, it could be possible that Republicans are seeing a resurgence in these H. W. states.
Chris Christie knocked off machine-powered Gov. Jon Corzine in New Jersey. Moderate Reps. Mike Castle and Mark Kirk are promising to make open-seat Senate races in Delaware and Illinois competitive. And former Rep. Rob Simmons is neck-and-neck with Sen. Chris Dodd in Connecticut.
What do these Republican candidates have in common? Three things: First, they’re all Wall Street Journal Republican – pro-business and socially tolerant – in states that are pro-business and socially tolerant. Most Republicans in these states agreed with Peggy Noonan’s observation that picking Sarah Palin for vice president was “political bullshit,” “gimmicky,” and signaled that the race was “over.”
Second, they’re running against runaway government spending, which was a winning message for in the 1980s and early ‘90s. “Unemployed, white-collar voters don’t think they’ll get their jobs back at the same pay, and this is a huge group that is politically unaffiliated,” says Connecticut GOP chairman Chris Healey. “They want action, not bailouts to those who don’t deserve it and not the Detroit model.”
Third, these candidates are running against (or ran against, in Christie’s case) either Democratic candidates traditionally fueled by political machines (Dodd, Corzine, Alexi Giannoulis) or political brand names whose shelf-life may have expired (Dodd, Corzine, Beau Biden). In this sense, Republicans are simply picking the right year to run.
Another H.W. state where Republicans are optimistic is New Hampshire, although demographics here may have shifted so far that it’s gone for good for Republicans. The same is true in California, where even the most successful Republican will have a tough time winning on the Left Coast. In Pennsylvania, Republicans seem to have completely lost the suburban bloc of their coalition.
Could the Republican resurgence be sustainable in New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Illinois? Probably not on the presidential level. But if Republicans keep nominating candidates that fit the district, and if they can discredit the tea party, Club-for-Shrinkage crusaders, they may be able to reclaim a beachhead.