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.