• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Virginia GOP Goes Redder as State Goes Purple

us-politics-republicans-democrats-flag

Virginia, where I was born and where I’ve lived for more than a decade, has gone from one of the most reliably Republican states in the union to a swing state that leans slightly Democratic. Mostly, that’s a function of the Northern Virginia suburbs surrounding DC (where I live) having had a massive population influx. The Virginia Republican Party, meanwhile, is increasingly dominated by the Old South region of the Commonwealth.

POLITICO (“Virginia embodies GOP’s woes“):

Look no further than Virginia to catch a glimpse of the GOP’s national dilemma.

As the Old Dominion becomes a firmly centrist state, more closely resembling the rest of the country demographically and politically, Virginia Republicans are shifting rightward.

After President Barack Obama carried the state twice, it’s plausible that the party will nominate a slate of three movement conservative white males for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general next year.

At a traditional party gathering earlier this month called “The Advance,” Virginia GOP leaders said there was no need to retreat — or even accommodate.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the GOP’s presumptive gubernatorial nominee, was defiant at the gathering, citing Virginia Republican revivals in past years following Democratic presidential wins.

Cuccinelli scorned what he said were “media” calls for GOP “change, re-evaluation, remake, retreat.”

But that’s precisely how Gov. Bob McDonnell won so convincingly in 2009, one year after Obama carried Virginia by 7 percentage points, and it’s the same path many Republicans expect Cuccinelli, a tea party favorite, to embrace next year if he’s serious about keeping the governor’s mansion in GOP hands.

McDonnell surely wouldn’t cotton to calling his repackaging from anti-abortion crusader and Pat Robertson acolyte to a “Bobs for Jobs,” son-of-northern-Virginia pragmatist as any sort of retreat. As he often notes, he remains an unapologetic social conservative.

But in an interview here, the governor, who just finished a stint as Republican Governor’s Association chairman and will consider 2016 presidential run, was abundantly clear about what sort of campaign he expected Cuccinelli to run.

“After you convince all of your conservative Republican allies and voters in the state that you’re right on those issues, you then have to find a way to capture the majority of the independent vote that represent 30 percent or 40 percent of the electorate,” McDonnell said, speaking generally and careful to avoid mentioning the attorney general by name. “And many times that’s as much a matter of tone and style.”

By that logic, wouldn’t nominating Cuccinelli, a hard-charging conservative who has sought a national profile, be a risk?

“No,” McDonnell shot back. “Because people grow into the office, and they grow into being a candidate.”

This is essentially the “Etch-a-Sketch” strategy that Mitt Romney deployed in the presidential contest to utter and spectacular failure. It’s long been the case that candidates have worked to appeal to their party base during the primaries and then shifted to the center for the general election campaign.  But, for the current Republican Party, the distance between the two is enormous. Moreover, the era of YouTube and Twitter makes it much, much harder to say different things to different audiences and get away with it.

Virginia is an especially difficult state. Outside of Northern Virginia, it’s an Old South state, more akin to Georgia or Alabama than to North and South Carolina. But NoVa is simply exploding. Fairfax County alone has well over a million people—more than five times the population of Richmond. Further, while embittered conservatives blame the Democratic lean in this part of the state to a combination of carpetbaggers and a dependency on the largess of the Federal Government for the very nice standard of living—both of which are true—the fact of the matter is that we’re simply a different population with a different set of needs, experiences, and interests. Transportation issues alone create a set of political pressures that don’t exist in the rest of the state.

Cuccinelli will almost certainly be the nominee. His brand of social conservatism will be a hard sell, indeed, in this part of the state. McDonnell wouldn’t have been able to pull it off in 2009, even at the height of the Tea Party frenzy, had the Democrats not shot themselves in the foot by nominating unknown Creigh Deeds in one of the most bizarre primary sequences I’ve ever seen. Thankfully for Virginia Republicans, there’s an excellent chance that they’ll do the same thing again by nominating lobbyist Terry McAuliffe.

Related Posts:

About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. With Lt. Gov Bolling out of the race, Cuccinelli will certainly be the nominee for Governor, although he probably would have been anyway since the RPV had chosen to select its 2013 nominees via convention, a method that favors a highly ideological nominee like Cuccinelli. The interesting question is whether Bolling will mount an independent campaign in November. He has decidedly refused to endorsed Cuccinelli and is not ruling out the possibility.

    Even without an independent on the ballot, though, I think the RPV is taking a huge risk putting someone like Cuccinelli at the top of the ticket. He’s not nearly as skilled a politician as Bob McDonnell and, unlike McDonnell, he doesn’t have a political record that undercuts the inevitable criticism of his social conservatism.

    Of course, Virginia Democrats will be nominating Terry McAuliffe, who couldn’t even beat a total unknown like Criegh Deeds four years ago so who knows what will happen. At the very least, though, with Booker out of the race in New Jersey, it looks like all eyes will be on Virginia in 2013.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    John Cole sent me on an ideological vision quest and whilst sailing those turbulent seas the ship crashed upon the inhospitable reefs of reality:

    Susan from Princeton granted that the Republican Party is “lily white and it’s a problem and it is messaging and Mitt Romney screwed up royally.”
    But Ms. O’Sullivan again took umbrage. As everyone went silent, she recalled a conference she attended in Australia in which a liberal nun (who “didn’t even have the decency to wear a habit”) criticized America for its “inner-city racism.” Offended, Ms. O’Sullivan recounted what she wished she’d said to this nun:
    “Pardon me, madam, but I have been in your country of Australia for ten days and the only Aborigines I’ve seen have been drunk on the street, and at least if we were in my country they would be serving the drinks at this conference!”
    Ms. O’Sullivan then warned against watering down the purity of the conservative agenda to placate minorities or, as she put it, rather succinctly, “the bastardization of the product.”

    The little dears can’t even hear themselves speak.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 0

  3. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Wasn’t that bit about the National Review Online cruise the funniest thing you saw through the whole long holiday weekend? It is time for responsible Democrats to get past the schadenfreude. But Republicans won’t let us.

    My favorite was

    Yoo worried that the Republicans were too quick to blame each other, saying, “This is all out of Lord of the Flies and Karl Rove is Piggy and we’re supposed to all chase him around with spikes and throw him on a fire?”

    Yes, that Yoo, John Yoo. The poor dears actually do understand their stituation, they just can’t bring themselves to act on it. If you want to save the Republican Party, James, you really do all have to chase Karl Rove with spikes and throw him on a fire.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  4. Peacewood says:

    John Yoo shows his ignorance yet again. Piggy was hurled off a cliff, not thrown in a fire.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  5. CB says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Pardon me, madam, but I have been in your country of Australia for ten days and the only Aborigines I’ve seen have been drunk on the street, and at least if we were in my country they would be serving the drinks at this conference!

    “Hey, where did all the Aztecs go?”, asked Cortez.

    Freakin’ idiots.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  6. Vivian Paige says:

    Please don’t lump Hampton Roads into the “rest of Virginia” group. While NoVA has the largest numbers, they alone can’t deliver it all. Hampton Roads is a player, too. And we are no longer a Republican stronghold: witness President Obama winning the City of Chesapeake, Randy Forbes’ home town.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08:

    Wasn’t that bit about the National Review Online cruise the funniest thing you saw through the whole long holiday weekend?

    Actually, it was rather painful. I kept face planting into my desk. I can not imagine how James felt by the time he got done reading it…. Probably like he had been beaten by a bunch of hobbits armed with baseball bats…. with spikes.

    It could have been worse James. You could have been there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Now the WaPo tells us Dick Armey led an armed coup at Freedomworks the day after Labor Day.

    James, do you still want to call it “your Party”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  9. legion says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I was just reading that before commenting here… It’s a classic example of what happens _every_ time you get businessmen into politics. Either a) they’re just getting in to tweak and/or scam the system to make more money or b) they’re “true believers” and also utterly incompetent at politics (since that requires compromise in about 100% of the time, and “real” capitalists don’t do compromise). If thew WaPo story is accurate, it seems FW’s White Knight is one of the latter…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  10. legion says:

    And as to this thread, it appears the GOP’s national problem is also occurring in smaller format at the state level… a total inability to grasp that it’s their product, not the packaging, that’s turning people off. If this sort of denial continues (and I see no reason to imagine it won’t, in state after state), we can truly start calling the GOP the Party of Permanent Failure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. Woody says:

    What will be interesting is how the “social conservatism” of Cuccinelli is reported in the non-Murdoch media. Personally, I see very little in the way of “conservatism” in their professed social philosophy, but then, I don’t watch Fox.

    Establishment Republicans might wince, but Cuccinelli is the VA version of Akin/Mourdock — i.e. radical extremists who represent an enormous and energetic percentage of GOP voters. Will non-Murdoch media report their views accurately?

    Extremist Republicans will repel large numbers of independents, which will enhance the chances of moderate Democrats. Establishment Republicans will, of course, continue to vote for extremist Republicans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @legion:

    And as to this thread, it appears the GOP’s national problem is also occurring in smaller format at the state level… a total inability to grasp that it’s their product, not the packaging, that’s turning people off.

    I have pointed this out before but perhaps it bears repeating: Here in MO, with the exception of Lt Gov and the Presidency, the GOP lost every state wide vote. I figure we went with Kinder because who doesn’t like pole dancers? As for Obama, well, we love to hate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. gVOR08 says:

    So…the moral of this story is that VA is just like every other state, a few big, blue cities and in between, Alabama.

    I’ve wondered how Democrats can shake their image as the party of minorities. Something I think is a problem for both Doug and James. The Republicans seem to be resolving this difficulty by making it clear the real cleavage is rural/urban. Actually a largely artificial rural/urban split incited and financed by our .01%. See the link at @OzarkHillbilly: This is almost as funny as the NRO cruise.

    Again, James, where do Republicans find these people? And why?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08:

    I’ve wondered how Democrats can shake their image as the party of minorities.

    They really can’t. They welcome minorities and the vast majority of the GOP does not. For the record, I do not think the GOP is necessarily racist, they just don’t like blacks, hispanics, Muslims, Gays, Asians, etc who don’t think like they do. And seeing as the vast majority of blacks, hispanics, Muslims, Gays, Asians, etc DON’T think like the avg GOPer…

    Back to the last of my first quote: Ms. O’Sullivan then warned against watering down the purity of the conservative agenda to placate minorities or, as she put it, rather succinctly, “the bastardization of the product.”

    It get’s harder and harder to give them credit tho.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Agree. The GOPs are an uneasy alliance between the .01% and the Tea Party. I haven’t regarded the .01% GOPs as racist for years. They’re classist. If you’re not wealthy, they got no time for you; black, brown, white, green, all the same. The TP on the other hand…

    As to the Dems image as the party of minorities, what I’m suggesting is, that like gay rights, most people will cease caring as it becomes we “urban voters” against those who want to stop the clock.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. Rob in CT says:

    Reading that NYMag article just made me sad. It undermines the (already very tenuous) hope I can muster that the GOP may begin building a bridge back to reality.

    There was something in there that jumped out at me and rang really, really true:

    The idea that Obama’s re-election has freaked out Conservatives (even more than they were, or are anytime they lose power) in part because it represented a pretty clear repudiation of the “Reagan Revolution.” These people thought they’d won and the conversation was over (except amongst people they could dismiss as irrelevant moonbat leftists), and now it turns out the argument wasn’t actually over. Oh boy. No doubt there were liberals in the 80s who were similarly freaked. I don’t recall, perhaps because I’m too young, if there was a large-scale descent into alternative reality, though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08:

    most people will cease caring as it becomes we “urban voters” against those who want to stop the clock.

    Out here in the “hills and hollers” country, it already is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Rob in CT:

    These people thought they’d won and the conversation was over (except amongst people they could dismiss as irrelevant moonbat leftists), and now it turns out the argument wasn’t actually over.

    That nails it.

    No doubt there were liberals in the 80s who were similarly freaked.

    Not that I recall. Tip O’Neill and RR worked together on many things. There were alot of things that Reagan did that I did not agree with but nothing that pulled my short hairs other than his anti-union policies and I was right about that.

    The thing is, Reagan was open to compromise. Today’s GOP…. You get my drift.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. Andre Kenji says:

    @gVOR08:

    So…the moral of this story is that VA is just like every other state, a few big, blue cities and in between, Alabama.

    No, Virginia has Hampton Roads on the East, West Virginia to the West, Connecticut on the North and Alabama in the Middle.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. wr says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: “There were alot of things that Reagan did that I did not agree with but nothing that pulled my short hairs other than his anti-union policies and I was right about that.”

    For me, it was the training and arming of mass murderers in Central and South America in the name of combatting Communism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @wr:

    For me, it was the training and arming of mass murderers in Central and South America in the name of combatting Communism.

    Yeah, but he had a strong bipartisan precedent to follow. Maybe I was more of a cynic then. Nahhhh. I am just as much a cynic now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. Al says:

    California’s GOP went through the same death spiral twenty years ago. As the state got bluer the GOP pursued the hardest of the hard core conservatives who were reliable enough to show up to the polls. The whole thing culminated with the Minuteman movement which gave the GOP some victories, albeit Pyrrhic ones like proposition 187.

    Now that the Minutemen movement has gone national in the form of the Tea Party it’ll be a race to see who pancakes first, the national party or Virginia’s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. Jim Henley says:

    By the way, I’m trademarking “Indigo state” to describe places like VA that are technically purple but shading blue. You can use it – you should use it – but you have to pay me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. legion says:

    @gVOR08:

    They’re classist. If you’re not wealthy, they got no time for you; black, brown, white, green, all the same.

    You are 100% correct here, BUT there is one other aspect. True, I think the GOP has shown that they will welcome a rich black man or hispanic or asian quite readily, but the GOP’s guiding platform is built around a concept of specifically ending class mobility – if you’re born rich, their policies make it easier for you to stay rich and get richer while doing less work and putting less (if any) of your own wealth at risk. If you’re born poor, or even middle-class, you’ll never be better than hired help to the aristos the run the show. So I would say the the GOP is not racist by _intent_, but it is racist _in effect_, since their policies will never allow for that many poor/minority families to become wealthy (and therefore acceptable).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. swbarnes2 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    James, do you still want to call it “your Party”?

    It doesn’t matter what James wants or doesn’t want, or how he feels about Republicans. Sometimes, the feelings of prosperous white guys are not the most important consideration when trying to answer a question, and this is one of those times.

    He votes for them. Whether he does it with deep enthusiasm, or whether he does it robotically out of inertia, it is his party if it gets his votes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0