Voters in two southern states have begun to answer the question of how the tea party-led government shutdown and gamesmanship with the nation's creditworthiness might affect future elections and, therefore, governance.

In Virginia's gubernatorial race, Democrat and Clinton protegé Terry McAuliffe defeated tea party candidate Kenneth Cuccinelli, the flame-throwing state attorney general who actually got a boost from the troubled rollout of Obamacare.

Like Pennsylvania, Virginia is a swing state in presidential elections. It is particularly sensitive to federal governance and, therefore, a government shutdown, because tens of thousands of federal workers live in Washington's Virginia suburbs. Many thousands more have been harmed by arbitrary budget sequestration adversely affecting the world's largest naval base, at Norfolk.

Mr. McAuliffe's victory clearly signals that Republicans have to steer a course more moderate than the tea party's if they hope to keep the state red in 2016.

An Alabama race is more telling. In a runoff to replace Mobile-area Rep. Jo Bonner, a Republican who resigned in July, establishment-backed former state Sen. Bradley Byrne defeated tea party candidate Dean Young for the Republican nomination. Mr. Young had supported the government shutdown, contended that President Obama is a native Kenyan and likened himself to tea party darling Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

The race was something of a test for 2014 because Mr. Byrne was backed heavily by traditional Republican business interests.

"It's become plainly obvious that staying out of primaries is not a good strategy. You have to play aggressively," David French, the chief lobbyist for the National Retail Federation, told Politico. "I think you're going to see more of that in the 2014 cycle."

Clearly, Republicans recognize that their objective must be not simply to win, but to govern.