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Legacy Content / OFF TO THE RACES

Don't Blame Deeds

Virginia Has Become A Swing State, And In This Year's Elections It Swung

November 10, 2009

Denial is not a river; it is a state of mind. It's inhabited by Democrats and liberal-leaning journalists who blame Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds for Democrats' loss of the governorship, all statewide offices, and a five-seat net loss in the state House of Delegates, with a sixth seat too close to call.

Sure, other elections were held a week ago. In the special election in New York's 23rd District that was a cross between soap opera and train wreck, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee once again proved its superiority in adult supervision and race execution, having won six straight special elections in which a House seat has changed parties.

But the truly important lesson, as painful as it is for Republicans, is nominees should not be picked by county chairmen. Primaries can avoid such miscues as nominating a candidate who is out of touch with the party base.

 

Next year's voters will likely be older and whiter than in 2008.

In another three-way campaign, New Jersey Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine lost in a race that had enough oddities to diminish any true lessons that could be extrapolated.

It's the Virginia gubernatorial race that is truly instructive, however. While it's true Deeds did not match up to his predecessors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and his campaign won't win any blue ribbons, Deeds likely would have beaten former state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, the 2005 GOP gubernatorial nominee, and possibly 2001 gubernatorial nominee state Attorney General Mark Earley.

At the same time, it's doubtful Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., would have won his 2006 race in the current political environment.

It is very convenient for Democrats to blame Deeds and his campaign for a debacle that sets the party back years in the state, certainly easier than facing inconvenient truths.

The two key variables in this race were the GOP nominee, Attorney General Bob McDonnell, and the year -- a year when Democrats are facing a headwind, not a tailwind. As my colleague Ron Brownstein noted in his column in last week's National Journal: "The Democratic decline among independents should really be seen as part of the party's dismal overall showing among whites. Both Deeds and Corzine retained commanding support among minority voters. But each man won only about one-third of whites, much less than [President] Obama in those states."

Brownstein went on to point out that "Deeds and Corzine each won fewer than three in 10 whites without a college education, and just one-third of white seniors," and that both lost whites under 30, and received less than 30 percent of the vote among white independents and less than 40 percent among college-educated whites.

Brownstein concluded that the results "parallel those in national polls showing most whites moving toward a Ross Perot-like skepticism about Washington, even as minorities express more comfort with an enlarged federal role. That divergence looms as an ominously destabilizing force."

Virginia has become a swing state and, in 2009, it swung. Blaming the outcome on Deeds, a guy who would likely have beaten a weaker candidate or won in a better year for Democrats, is ignoring important lessons.

For Republicans, the lesson of Virginia was that you can nominate a staunch conservative and win, if that conservative works hard to project a mainstream, nonthreatening campaign. McDonnell's strategists point to a green jobs ad, run early on, as an example of their efforts to prevent him from being pigeonholed as another conservative living in the past. This served him well when he was hit with charges related to his master's thesis, attacks that might well have worked had he not inoculated himself early on.

Next year's voters will likely be older and whiter than in 2008. Last year, half the voters were 44 years of age or younger, but this year in New Jersey and Virginia, that group constituted only a third.

In 2008, these older and whiter voters might have been somewhat disillusioned with years of a GOP Congress and George W. Bush but were not specific about the change they were voting for.

This same group now seems to be growing increasingly concerned about the agenda of Obama and congressional Democrats.

A Democratic consultant recently pointed to Warner's tenure as governor of Virginia, before his election to the Senate. Soon after Warner took over as governor, he embarked on a campaign to streamline state government and cut costs. It was only after a couple of years of establishing his ability to look after the taxpayers' money that he sought the largest tax increase in the commonwealth's history, one that paid for the greatest expansion in spending on K-12 education. He went on to earn accolades as running one of the best-managed states.

Obama and Democrats are getting squeezed and face a paradox. Voters want the government to do more to turn the economy around and create jobs, but they are also concerned about the size and scope of government and deficit spending.

They believe Obama and congressional Democrats are focusing on issues beyond the economy and jobs, priorities that seem mismatched for a 2010 midterm electorate.

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