Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Murphy's Law of Justice

The Democrats hoped to gain one governorship this year by holding the governor's office in Virginia and taking the governor's office in New Jersey, where Republican lame duck Chris Christie is historically unpopular and where Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy leads his GOP opponent, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, by double digits in the polls.  But even if they do both, the party's net gain will be zero.  That's because West Virginia Governor James Justice, elected as a Democrat in 2016, just became a Republican.
Justice, the governor a of state dependent on coal mining and a coal magnate himself, said he could no longer serve his constituents as a Democrat when the Democratic Party seems hell-bent on destroying the coal industry (actually, market forces are destroying the coal industry, but let that pass).   His defection to the GOP comes after Donald Trump won West Virginia by two to one over Hillary Clinton.
To those who suggest that this could be a foolish move for Justice if Trump doesn't get West Virginia's economy moving again by 2020, when both men are up for re-election, and if Trump's popularity tanks in West Virginia as it already has nationally, you're the fools.  No Democratic presidential candidate has carried West Virginia since 1996.  Republicans have made serious inroads in state and local politics in the past twenty years.  Senator Joe Manchin, the only West Virginia politician of any relevance with a D after his name, could be in trouble when he runs for re-election next year; Shelley Moore Capito, the state's Republican U.S. Senator, faces no apparent difficulty when she, like Trump and Justice, is up for re-election in 2020.  Even if Trump loses his bid for re-election in a landslide, he'll still carry West Virginia.  Justice knows that.  
(Pointless historical aside I couldn't resist: It was a Republican administration - the first, Lincoln's administration - that brought West Virginia into the Union in the first place.  When Virginia, of which it was a part, seceded in 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War, the western counties nullified the secession ordinance and remained loyal to the Union.  The Union Army occupied the region almost immediately and helped the locals form the new state of West Virginia, admitted to the Union in 1863.)     
Now it is more crucial than ever for the Democrats to hold the governorship in neighboring Virginia and win back the governorship in New Jersey.  I don't know what's going on with the Virginia campaign, which is for an open gubernatorial seat due to a one-term limit, but in New Jersey, voters are so sour on state politics that they don't think much of either candidate, despite Phil Murphy's huge lead.  And his lead may not be as big as it appears; one of Kim Guadagno's internal polls shows her to be behind by only nine points, meaning that her emphasis on lower property taxes could be paying off.
If the Democrats can't win back the governor's office in New Jersey even after eight years of Christopher James Christie, than the party will likely go full Whig indeed. 

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