Saturday, January 11, 2014
On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama did something that no Democratic presidential candidate did in 44 years- carry the state of Virginia. And he carried it by 6 points. Also that day, Mark Warner (D) was elected to the US Senate, replacing the retiring John Warner (R), no family relationship. Two years prior, Jim Webb (D) beat the incumbent Senator George Allen (R), and his infamous "macaca" statement, by less than 1 point. So in 2009, it came to many as a surprise that Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell held a commanding lead in polls leading up to the November 3 election. His baggage was a 1989 thesis from Pat Buchannan's Liberty University, in which he outlined a 15-point plan on how the GOP could pursue a socially conservative agenda through economic legislation. But he was able to downplay the thesis, and the "Bob's for Job's" slogan won out. That night, he won 58% of the vote, supported by the traditional Republican strongholds, the swing counties of DC's outer suburbs, and even Democrat-leaning Fairfax, a diverse county of a million residents. The margin of victory and the depth of the victory, transcending racial and cultural lines, attracted nationwide attention. He immediately became a potential VP pick. In 2011, Republicans gained effective control of the State Senate, giving the GOP control of government in Virginia. With this power came responsibility and liability; and anything that the GOP passed in the 2012 and 2013 sessions became a potential projectile for Democrats to use in the 2013 elections. Bob McDonnell kept on doing well in the polls. Campaigning as "Northern Virginia's Own", he came off as business friendly (tort reform, lower taxes), and concerned about the degradation of the quality of life caused by traffic jams in DC's ever-growing suburbs. I've heard numerous references to McDonnell's "Boy Scout" image. That is, until last year, when the Star Scientific scandal came out. It made for a juicy story involving under-the-table loans and a Rolex watch. Furthermore, there is evidence that McDonnell went to Florida and promoted the enhancement product- doing the job of s salesman- while elected to be leading the State of Virginia. Whether laws were broken will be decided this year by a federal inquiry. For "Main Street" Republicans, the scandal came at the worst time. The Republican Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli,now nominated as candidate for Governor in a fire-breathing party convention, was tied to the scandal. Had the news broke before the Convention, "RINO" (a term the hard right uses to insult centrist Republicans) Bill Bolling might have gotten the nomination, and been able to compete as a "Virginian" against the "Yankee"- Terry McAuliffe with shady business ties. I was a bit surprised that Cucinnelli led now-Governor McAuliffe (D) until his ties to the scandal broke out. Virginians could tolerate Ken's hard-core social views over Terry's revolving-door business practices; but with the scandal, both candidates were in the same boat, and all Ken could stand by was his social views. I watched the news throughout the election season as business groups and independent educational researchers reluctantly endorsed Cucinnelli's plans. I watched as Cucinnelli reached out to minority communities, including the a council of Hispanic business leaders and the Muslim community. This outreach actively countered the claim that the GOP was becoming the "old white man's party". In the end, Virginia didn't want either Cucinelli or McAuliffe; the Libertarian, Robert Sarvis, carried 7% of the vote, McAuliffe 47%, and Cucinelli 45%. E.W. Jackson, the firebreathing minister nominated by the GOP Convention for Lieutenant Governor, flopped by 11 points. Mark Obenshain, running for Attorney General, and the most traditional brand of the Republicans in the race, lost by 163 votes out of 1 million cast, and was the "last Republican standing", as it took a month before he stopped the recount, and conceded to Democrat Mark Herring, now the first Democratic Attorney General in 20 years. Some on the hard right would say Cucinelli closed the gap after doubling down on the Tea Party rhetoric once Obamacare started on Oct. 1. As for nominating by party convention, the state GOP has no intention on changing to a ballot primary. Today, two open State Senate seats will determine control of the State Senate until 2015. These seats are drawing national attention, as it will determine which party has the "mandate" in Virginia. If the Republicans win one of these seats, Governor McAuliffe could appear to be an obstructionist if he repeatedly uses the veto. If Democrats win both seats, the Republican super-majority in the House could appear to be a "hillbilly revival meeting"- as Rep. Peter King once said about Newt Gingrich's Republican Party- impeding "progress". An election has been held on one of those Senate seats, in Norfolk, but this is another close election that is headed to recount. The next election is in Northern Virginia, where a Democrat, a hard-right Republican, and an Independent Republican seek to create a three-way race for the seat last held by a Democrat.