Schieffer: Hard Right Driving the GOP Train

While some analysts may look at today's off-year elections as a measure of President Obama's ability to influence voters and push through his agenda, CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer believes the real significance of the outcomes of today's races will be a measure of divisions within the Republican Party.

The landscape in two key Governor's races, in Virginia and New Jersey, is very different, and the lessons learned from each quite dissimilar.

In New Jersey, incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine is neck-and-neck with his GOP challenger, Chris Christie, with Chris Daggett and several other Independent candidates rounding out the field. Daggett may draw enough votes from either of the front-runners to affect the outcome.

In Virginia, Republican Bob McDonnell is leading Democratic candidate R. Creigh Deeds by double-digits in the fight to replace Democratic Governor Tim Kaine (who is term-limited out).

In both states (which went Democratic in the presidential election), Mr. Obama has campaigned vigorously of late. But Schieffer does not think the outcome will much reflect the president's popularity.

"Well, I think in New Jersey where it is very, very close, Jon Corzine, who is the very wealthy governor — he comes from Wall Street, of course, before he got into politics — he's running about dead-even. I think there, if Corzine does pull out a victory, it's not going to be so much because Barack Obama came there to campaign for him. It's going to be because he, again, poured a lot of his enormous wealth into negative campaign ads against his opponent. If he wins, that will be the difference this time around.

"In Virginia, a much different case. There the Republican has opened up a very wide lead on the Democrat. In this case, Obama did come to Virginia. Of course he carried Virginia the last time, the first Democrat to do that since LBJ.

"But the Democratic candidate there comes from a rural area, and he never really connected with the African-American vote and some of the people from the urban centers and in northern Virginia [who] carried Obama to victory there. I think it's going to be a surprise if the Democrat pulls it out there.

"But I think these are curtain raisers. I don't think they'll give us much of an indication what will happen in the next presidential election. They'll just give us a snapshot of what's going on right now in two very different states."

CBS "Early Show" anchor Harry Smith suggested that despite some people's contention that the results will measure the length of President Obama's coat tails — long or short? — these two races are being very much decided on an individual, local basis.

But then there's New York Congressional District 23, a different kettle of fish, where Republican candidate Dierdre Scozzafava, a moderate, bowed out after GOP conservatives threw their support to Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffmann. [The election is to fill a House seat vacated by another moderate Republican, John McHugh, named by the president to become Secretary of the Army.]

"This notion that an insurgent conservative, orthodox conservative, would come in and really unseat the party's choice for nominee there, and have a shot . . . is this a precursor of what may be happening a year from now?" Smith asked.

"I think what it is, is a snapshot of where the Republican Party is right now," Schieffer said. "The Republican Party right now is still split. And I think right now it's the conservatives who kind of have the juice. I mean, they came in there and just pushed out the Republican candidate. You had a lot of out-of-state Republicans that came in and endorsed the Conservative candidate who was on the ballot and forced the Republican to withdraw from the race.

"What this tells you is, as there is still no overriding philosophy as it were in the Republican party, you've got the hard right here and you've got the more moderate Republicans, right now I think the hard right is driving the train in the Republican Party. And I think this is the snapshot of where all that is right now, a very interesting development there."

Read more Election Day Coverage on Political Hotsheet:

Washington Unplugged: Election Day a Referendum on Obama?
Off-Year Elections: Just Like Preseason Games
Obama: The Year since his Election
N.J. Governor's Race Goes Down to the Wire
Battle Rages for N.Y. House Seat
Palin Jumps into N.Y., Va. Races
Va. Race, A Look at the Electorate

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at and