"Striped Virginia": We've Got a LOT of Work to Do Before We're Truly "Blue"

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Like most Virginia Democrats, I woke up this morning feeling great, following the news yesterday that Republican Mark Obenshain had conceded the Attorney General's race to Democrat Mark Herring. That, of course, means Virginia Democrats will soon control all statewide, elected offices - the two U.S. Senate seats, Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General - in the Commonwealth. In addition, Barack Obama won Virginia in 2008 and 2012. In short, other than the 2009 "Tea Party" moment of insanity (and subsequent wipeout of Democrats all across America), Virginia would seem to be looking a nice shade of "blue" politically. But before we get too excited, let's consider a few facts.1. Republicans continue to control the U.S. House of Representatives delegation from Virginia by an 8-3 margin. This is the result in part of "incumbent protection" gerrymandering (following the 2010 census and 2010 Tea Party wipeout), of course, but it's also because Democrats still tend to turn out in lower numbers, proportionately speaking, than Republican in non-presidential election years. And as long as that continues, it's going to be exceedingly difficult for Democrats to cut into that 8-3 disadvantage. Possible targets for 2014: VA-10, which went 50%-49% for Mitt Romney in 2012; and VA-02, which went 50%-48% for Barack Obama in 2012. Another possibility SHOULD be VA-04, which went 50%-49% for Romney in 2012, but we'll need a strong candidate and Democratic unity (e.g,. no Democrats supporting Randy Forbes) to do it. In both VA-04 and VA-10, Dems will need to exceed their performance in the presidential year of 2012, which would be difficult if not impossible. So we'll see, but for now, Virginia's not "blue" in our Congressional delegation.
2. The Virginia House of Delegates has a massive, 67-33, Republican majority, and that doesn't appear likely to change significantly anytime soon. It's extremely frustrating, as there were 18 HoD districts in 2013 that were won by Tim Kaine, yet held by Republican delegates. In the end, Democrats picked up a net of just 1 (one!) HoD seat this year, and I'm hearing that could go back down to a net gain of ZERO if we lose Del. Lynwood Lewis' seat, an outcome which Dems appear highly concerned about. And remember, a gubernatorial year, especially one in which our gubernatorial candidate spent approximately a gazillion dollars, and especially when we had plenty of good candidates, should have seen us pick up at least 4 seats, maybe even 6-10 (believe it or not, I was told that even more than that were considered "in play" just a week or two before the election). If we HAD picked up 10 seats, we'd now be facing a 58-42 disadvantage in the House of Delegates - still godawful, but getting within shouting distance at least. For now, though, we're buried, with not much prospect for major improvement in 2015, when turnout will be at its lowest of the four-year cycle.
3. It's not like statewide Democrats are winning by landslides. As we know, Mark Herring won by just a few hundred votes (of course, I'll take it; as they say in baseball, whether you win by 1 run or 10 runs, it's still a "W"). For governor, Terry McAuliffe won by about 2.5 percentage points, running against about as extreme a candidate as one can imagine in America, one who also got massively outpsent and who ran a much poorer campaign than anyone had anticipated, a priori. And Ralph Northam...well, he won big, but not nearly as big as one might expect against such an extremist/freakazoid as E.W. Jackson.
So, bottom line: let's not get carried away here into prematurely celebrating "Blue Virginia" (love the name, by the way, maybe I'll use it for something? lol). To do that, we're going to need to keep the pedal to the metal, really beef up the Democratic Party in this state - on all levels. We're going to need to continue bringing new voters into our ranks. We're going to need to find/recruit/develop strong candidates up and down the ballot, and we're going to need to ensure that they are well funded. And, bottom line, we're going to need to get our voters out to the polls on election day, at least at the same rates that Republicans do, before we can seriously call this state "blue." For now, it's more like "striped Virginia" - "blue" statewide, "red" in gerrymandered local/House districts; "blue" in presidential and possibly gubernatorial years; "red" in odd-year/non-gubernatorial years. In 2015, 2017 and beyond, let's see if we can turn those "red" stripes" "blue."
UPDATE: As "FreeDem" noted in the comments, the State Senate - currently tied (20-20) - is in serious jeopardy unless Democrats start picking up seats to offset expected losses (e.g., Phil Puckett, whenever he retires).