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THE excessively costly, substantively undernourished campaign for the presidency is finally over. But before this election year is consigned to the archives, a few kernels of substance are worthy of inspection. After all, Election 2012 was about more than Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
Here are some postscripts that may suggest trends for the future:
Another "Year of the Woman"?
This overused term doesn't really apply to this election year. The gender gap that saw women once again rally to the Democratic cause was certainly a key factor in the presidential race, with President Obama receiving 56 percent of the female vote against Mr. Romney's 44 percent, according to Gallup. But the political bottom line for female candidates of the future was mixed.
New Hampshire claimed a first-ever status as the only state whose entire congressional delegation (two senators and two representatives), as well as its governor, will be female. The number of women in the U.S. Senate edged up, from 18 to 20, thanks to notable wins in Wisconsin and North Dakota.
But the number of women holding the job of governor, the office that has traditionally spawned national candidates most bountifully, dropped from six to five. That adds up to a less-than-whopping 10 percent of the governorships. Of the five female governors, the Democratic Party, which accused the GOP of a "war against women," can claim a grand total of one.
The Colors of the Electorate
Most states retained their distinct blue (Democrat) or red (Republican) colors in this year's presidential election. The more interesting case studies come from the handful of purplish swing states.
Virginia and Ohio added a bit more blue to their tint this year, while Florida tipped slightly toward the red (although Mr. Obama won the Sunshine State by a nose).
There is also ample evidence that ticket-splitting is alive and well in many states, adding yet another complexion to the partisan colorations. For example, West Virginia has become reliably Republican in presidential politics, yet its governor and two senators all hail from the Democratic Party. Ditto Montana.
Emerging Candidates for the White House
It came as no surprise that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was first out of the gate with speaking engagements that sound suspiciously like preliminaries for the 2016 GOP nomination. For a party that desperately needs Florida as part of its presidential base, as well as a higher percentage of Latino support, Mr. Rubio comes close to looking like a dream candidate. But what pressure on him to deliver the presidency for the GOP in four years. Call him Atlas.
Though he's facing a 2014 political dead end as governor, Virginia's Bob McDonnell is not to be overlooked, either. By 2016, the bitterness over the General Assembly's "anti-woman" legislative antics presumably will have subsided. Mr. McDonnell would bring to the table swing-state credentials, good connections to his conservative base, a moderate record as governor, and an amiable personality.
As for Democrats, once you get beyond the usual suspects (Hillary Clinton and the very suspect Joe Biden) you find interesting possibilities on both sides of the Potomac. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has made no secret of his appetite for national office. But his blue-state orthodoxy would be a hard sell to swing voters.
More promising is Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, who thought about taking on Hillary Clinton in 2008--before a certain Illinois senator stole the show. By 2016 there's a good chance that voters will be hungry for the post-partisanship many had hoped Mr. Obama would bring. If so, Mr. Warner could be the right candidate in the right place at the right time.
So could it be an all-Virginia Warner vs. McDonnell fight for the presidency in 2016? Would the Mother of Presidents be bursting with pride that one of her offspring would add to her total? As we seem to be saying more and more about politics, almost anything is possible.