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Virginia Continues Blue Trend

Virginia has long been considered a Republican hotbed — the last Democrat to win the state’s Electoral College vote was Lyndon Johnson in 1964 — it has now elected two Democratic governors in a row, has a Democratic Senator and may be about to have two. Last night, Democrats gained four seats to take control of the Virginia Senate.

Democrats wrested control of the Senate from the Republicans in yesterday’s legislative elections, picking up the four seats they needed to give them a majority of at least 21 to 19 and end a decade of GOP dominance in the chamber.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) claimed victory in a celebration at Tysons Corner. The Republicans retained control of the House, but the Democrats also gained seats there. The party’s surge will help the governor advance much of his agenda during his last two years in office, including investing more in education, health and the environment.

[...]

The Democratic gains offered further evidence of a closely divided electorate as both parties gear up for next year’s presidential and U.S. Senate races. Although Democrats made advances in rapidly changing, diversifying Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, the GOP held on to several Senate seats in more rural parts of the state.

[...]

For most of the year, Republicans have been worried President Bush’s unpopularity could become a drag on their candidates. Several Democratic candidates, particularly in Northern Virginia, sought to make their race in part a referendum on GOP policies in Washington. The message appeared to be particularly effective in Hampton Roads, where Democrats won two seats over conservative Republicans.

[...]

The victory in the Senate marks the largest gain in that chamber by one party since 1991, when Republicans picked up eight seats during the administration of former governor L. Douglas Wilder (D).

Despite attempts to nationalize the election, most contests were fought on local issues: taxes, roads, and growth. Still, this is obviously a worrisome trend for the GOP.

The Commonwealth’s senior United States Senator, John Warner, is retiring. Popular former governor Mark Warner, a Democrat, is the odds-on favorite to succeed him (53%-37% over former Republican governor Jim Gilmore in one recent poll). A recent Rasumussen survey shows Rudy Giuliani barely edging out Hillary Clinton, 46% to 43% — within the polls’ margin of error.

Part of the explanation is that Virginia Democrats have done an excellent job in recent years of recruiting moderate candidates who are less vulnerable on the “family values” and crime fronts. Virginia Democrats, like Southern Democrats generally, have long been much more conservative than their national counterparts but that trend has continued.

Mostly, though, the trend is a function of the explosive growth of Northern Virginia, the suburbs and exurbs of Washington, D.C. This part of the Commonwealth is much wealthier, more urban in its thinking (mostly owing to traffic issues that the rest of Virginia largely escapes), and more beholden to the federal government for their livelihood. Despite the routine victories of “slow-growth” candidates (mostly Democrats, ironically enough) this shows no sign of abating.

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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. yetanotherjohn says:

    There is absolutely potential for moderate democrats to win in the south. The question is if the far left of the democrats will allow this or insist on ‘purity’.

    Lieberman could have taken “red” states, including those in the south, in 2004 with a “fight terrorism but otherwise liberal” agenda. The democrats chose Kerry instead.

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  2. Dave Schuler says:

    If you think it’s Blue now, just wait until 2009.

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  3. Triumph says:

    This is disgusting.

    Virginia is continuing its downward slide into unabashed liberalism that began on that dreadful 10th of April 1865 at Appomattox.

    Ever since then, the condition of the great commonwealth of Virginia has deteriorated.

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  4. Fairfax Moderate says:

    James, you are certainly right that “the trend is a function of the explosive growth of Northern Virginia.” But it isn’t like Fairfax (by far the largest jurisdiction with 1 million plus people) has always leaned Democrat and now just represents a bigger percentage of the vote. Fairfax used to be reliably Republican, and it isn’t just the influx of new voters who are changing that. Long-time residents who voted Republican for years are leaving the party at least temporarily, not so much because they are now more interested in “urban” issues like traffic, but because they feel like the Republican party has left them. Look for example, at areas like Langley and McLean, close-in suburbs that aren’t growing much because they filled out a long time ago and where traffic isn’t as big of an issue because it isn’t that far to DC. These are classic fiscal-conservative, socially-liberal areas of people who used to be called Country Club Republicans. (Fairfax has the highest median household income of any county in the nation, and these are rich by Fairfax standards). These precincts are now voting Democratic too. I think that says more about Bush and the remaking of the Republican party than it does about traffic. And it isn’t just that Fairfax is voting for “moderate” Democrats like Warner and Webb — John Kerry won the county, the first Democrat to do so since Lyndon Johnson won everywhere.

    The same thing has happened in some similar areas, like parts of New Jersey and Connecticut. I’m guessing Orange and San Diego Counties will head this way too, even more so than they have already. The Republicans get some of these votes back or more in other more socially conservative parts of the country.

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  5. Virginia has had alot of Democratic elected state officials since 64. Robb, Wilder, Bailes were all Governor. Robb was also senator. The state has has had Democratic governors 16 out of 20 years from 1982 to 2001. Put aside the Warner held Senate seat, Democrats have held the other seat for as long as the GOP beween 1983-2006. Two terms each.

    Some states are red in national elections, but elect Democratic governors and sometimes senators.

    Bill

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  6. James Joyner says:

    I think that says more about Bush and the remaking of the Republican party than it does about traffic.

    But the GOP threw off its country club roots with Reagan in 1980, not with Bush in 2004.

    Some states are red in national elections, but elect Democratic governors and sometimes senators.

    That’s a fair point. Virginia Democrats aren’t national Democrats but, yes, the state has been competitive for both parties for quite some time at the state and local level.

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  7. M1EK says:

    But the GOP threw off its country club roots with Reagan in 1980, not with Bush in 2004.

    No, in 1980 they grew FROM those roots to encompass more of the electorate; but in 2000-2008, Bush has severed those roots. Big difference. The country club guys liked Reagan (and I could live with him again, that’s for sure).

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  8. Fairfax Moderate says:

    Virginia Democrats aren’t national Democrats but, yes, the state has been competitive for both parties for quite some time at the state and local level.

    My point, especially about Kerry, is that Northern Virginia voters do appear to be on their way to becoming national Democrats. If these trends continue that has electoral college implications down the road.

    Also, I definitely agree with M1EK’s comment. Very big difference.

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  9. JustADude says:

    Something that could affect the Warner Senate race in a big way is from looking a lot at the left side politics sites I am starting to see a movement growing suggesting that Warner could be tapped for VP under a Dem run for the White House to give it some southern flavor to spike into the red leanings of the south.

    Like it or not that does have a bit of logic to their line of thinking.

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  10. Paul says:

    Warner is a good guy, but he isn’t from the South, he is from NoVA which is Mid-Atlantic like Maryland, Philly, etc. Yes, he did fairly well with southern VA voters but he’s no Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter to carry lots of other states in the actual south, especially from the #2 spot, unless it is a total landslide nationally.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    Warner is a good guy, but he isn’t from the South, he is from NoVA which is Mid-Atlantic like Maryland, Philly, etc. Yes, he did fairly well with southern VA voters but he’s no Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter to carry lots of other states in the actual south, especially from the #2 spot, unless it is a total landslide nationally.

    I agree that the power of VPs to bring along states, let alone regions, is way oversold. Still, Warner knows how to do the family values rap well and comes across as reasonable and, more importantly, competent.

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