The Road Ahead: 2011 Virginia Elections May Foreshadow 2012 Results
While political junkies can only speculate about what will happen during the 2012 elections, there will be one important leading indicator next year for how the 2012 environment is shaping up.
Observers should pay attention next year to the Virginia state legislative elections for a preview of how Pres. Obama and Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) will fare in the Old Dominion. Since 2003, every Virginia state election has foreshadowed the federal election the following year. In 2003, Republicans won 24 out of 40 state Senate seats, increasing their majority by three seats. The next year, Pres. Bush carried the commonwealth as did eight out of 11 GOP House candidates.
Meanwhile, on the national level, Bush won and congressional Republicans expanded their majorities in both chambers.
In 2005, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) won the highly-contested governor's race over Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R). One year later, Webb's razor-thin win over Sen. George Allen (R) clinched Democratic control of the U.S. Senate.
Virginia Democrats struck again in 2007, flipping the state Senate by winning a narrow majority while picking up seats in the House of Delegates as well. That acted as a prelude to 2008, when Obama carried Virginia for the Democrats for the first time since 1964 en route to winning the presidency. Down the ballot, former Gov. Mark Warner (D) trounced his predecessor in the governor's mansion, Jim Gilmore (R), in the U.S. Senate race. Democrats also picked up three U.S. House seats, giving them a 6-5 majority in the state's delegation.
The Democrats' momentum then came to a screeching halt in Virginia last year. Gov. Bob McDonnell (D) routed state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) by 18 points, and the GOP also ran roughshod over the Democrats down ballot. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) won re-election by 14 points. Ken Cuccinelli (R) toppled state Del. Steve Shannon (D) 58 percent to 42 percent.
Their statewide losses look to be replicated with the 2010 electorate
- all three of the freshmen are in trouble, as is longtime Rep. Rick
In the state House of Delegates, Republicans lost two seats in 2009 but picked up eight for a net gain of 6 seats. Of their losses, one was an open seat in a Democratic-leaning area of Northern Virginia and the other featured a scandal-plagued incumbent in Hampton Roads.
All 100 members of the House of Delegates and 40 members of the state Senate are up next year. House members are up every 2 years; Senators are up every 4. Republicans likely maxed out in 2009 in the state's lower chamber, which means the real fight will be in the state Senate.
Democrats expanded their majority to in the upper chamber to four seats in January when then-Del. Dave Marsden (D), a former Republican, picked up Cuccinelli's former seat. A Democrat won the subsequent special election to hold Marsden's vacant delegate seat.
Redistricting will certainly influence the electoral outlook, especially in burgeoning Northern Virginia. Expect Fairfax County, the commonwealth's most populous locality, to be one battleground when the lines are being redrawn, as Democrats have flipped three state Senate seats there since 2007. Next door in Prince William County, the dean of the upper chamber Chuck Colgan (D), who represents an otherwise-GOP-heavy district, is set to retire, creating potentially solid GOP pick up opportunity.And in at least one area, the 2010 election may preview 2011. If Boucher is caught up in the GOP wave this year, there are a trio of state Senate Democrats within his southwestern district that may have reason for alarm, including Sens. John Edwards (D), Philip Puckett (D) and Roscoe Reynolds (D). While each has served in the upper chamber since the '90s, Boucher's 27 years of incumbency dwarfs all of them. A Boucher loss would suggest that no Democratic incumbent, even those without scandal, is safe in GOP-leaning areas if their voting records don't line up right in the eyes of the voters.