Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Now GOP Has To Solve Intractable Problems

Republicans in Virginia cruised to a big victory last night after a decade long losing streak. It was a bad night for Democrats, erasing several years of hard fought gains in the House of Delegates and giving Republicans control of the coming reapportionment process.

While part of the blame goes to Creigh Deeds for running a poor campaign, there is plenty of blame to go around. First, history was never on the Democrats' side this time around: not since 1973 has the party in power in the Presidency won the Virginia governor's mansion. Still, that's not enough to explain a landslide 59-41% drubbing.

"Governor" Tim Kaine--who's real job of late has been DNC chairman--can take part of the blame. Democrats have held the governor's mansion for the past 8 years, yet Virginia's main problems have been pretty much the same, especially for the past 4 years. True, those problems are largely in the domain of the legislature, but try telling that to voters.

Another factor is exhaustion after the Obama victory in Virginia. Democrats worked hard for Obama to carry Virginia and give it two Democratic senators and a majority Democratic delegation to the U.S. Congress. With George Bush gone, there just wasn't the enthusiasm among Democratic voters this time around, as reflected by turnout. Meanwhile, conservatives who were lukeward to John McCain last year are now energized, while McDonnell & Co. managed to avoid the kind of divisive campaigns that their predecessors have waged (i.e., appealing to hard core conservatives at the expense of moderate independents).

Nonetheless, Deeds was a big factor, as evidenced by his loss even of Democratic leaning Fairfax County. It was clear throughout the campaign that Deeds had no real understanding of Northern Virginia. He lacked the sophistication of a Mark Warner, or Jim Webb, or Tim Kaine, whereas McDonnell, for all his truly conservative views, still projected that sophistication.

You can blame Terry McAuliffe in part for this. Had he not jumped into the race (and yes, we did support him in the primary, although we always had big reservations) Brian Moran would have won and done much better in NoVa (probably preventing the loss of at least three legislative seats).

There is a silver lining in all this, however. With their sweep of statewide offices and their large majority in the House of Delegates, Republicans now have to prove they can govern. It won't be easy. Their party is still badly divided between myopic small-county cultural conservatives who could give a damn about Northern Virginia's growth problems, and more practically minded pols who realize they have to solve problems if they want to continue in office.

With the far right punishing anyone who even thinks about raising taxes, McDonnell will find his options severely limited. The logical way to fund transportation improvements is to raise gasoline taxes. Those taxes are low in Virginia and have not kept up with the inflation of gas prices. McDonnell says he has a plan to improve roads without raising taxes, but his plan won't work. The bottom line is that it takes revenue to build roads.

Apart from transportation, the Commonwealth faces a dire budget situation that will be painful to resolve. Although an improving economy nationwide will help, McDonnell will again face tough choices with very limited options.

Finally, the culture warriors on the right will no doubt push McDonnell, Cuccinelli and their brethren in the general assembly to enact unpopular laws that will reignite the left.

Unfortunately, Democrats are still faced with the nasty prospect that McDonnell and his cronies will control the upcoming reapportionment process, which will make all that more difficult for Democrats to gain legislative seats in the coming decade.

Democrats now need to find some new leadership at the statewide level. We hope that out of chaos, strong new leaders will emerge!

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