Chris Christie and Terry McAuliffe, Bill de Blasio and Marty Walsh, this is your election:
1. Ken Cuccinelli almost won. Maybe it's true that Ken Cuccinelli lost because he was associated with the Tea Party wing of the GOP, which was supposed to have been the story line. But the truth, as votes still trickle in, is that he was 10,000 votes away from winning. That means that had the government not shut down, had Terry McAuliffe made one more mistake, had the timing of the Tea Party revolution in the House come just a month earlier, Cuccinelli might have weathered his party's misdeeds and succeeded.
2. Chris Christie can win the presidency if he can win his party's nomination. Forget the exit poll question showing that voters in New Jersey would have chosen Hillary Clinton over Christie for president. Christie would have done well enough in that scenario to win the presidency nationally. Can we meaningfully extrapolate? Well, sure. Is the 2016 Democratic nominee likely to win with the same "coalition of the ascendant" that drove Barack Obama's engines? Probably not. But if the Republican nominee does better with Hispanics in the Intermountain West, slightly better with minorities and women in North Carolina and Virginia (or changes the composition of the electorate to include more white men), and turns out a higher proportion of Reagan Democrats in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida, then he can win. (The electorate in Pennsylvania is very much a testing ground.)
3. Being pro-government, or pro-governing, can be fashioned to an anti-Washington message. Said Christie: "We promised we were going to go to Trenton and turn things upside down, and I think we just did that. People in New Jersey were downhearted and dispirited and they didn't think government could work for them anymore. Four year later, we stand here tonight showing that it is possible to put doing your job first, to fight for what you believe in but still sand by your principles and get something done for the people who elected you. I know that if we can do this in Trenton, New Jersey, maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should turn on their TV and see how its done."
4. Pick your battles as you fight your war. The best way to compare Cuccinelli and Christie may be to assess their political skills. Christie is a much better politician who has a much better sense of timing, and was a much better communicator, than the Virginia Republican. And Christie understood when and how to pick his spot. He drove the narrative; in Virginia, Cuccinelli, a lucky ideologue, couldn't drive a car, because he'd get stuck in Northern Virginia traffic.