What to Watch in Virginia, Even as Republicans Sweep

Barring some dramatic turn of events, Republican Bob McDonnell will be elected governor of Virginia Tuesday. Polls show the Republicans running for lieutenant governor and ...
by | October 29, 2009
 

Barring some dramatic turn of events, Republican Bob McDonnell will be elected governor of Virginia Tuesday. Polls show the Republicans running for lieutenant governor and attorney general also leading by double digits.

I wouldn't completely rule out a last-minute ticket-splitting impulse tightening the down-ballot races, but, nonetheless, Republicans appear destined to sweep Virginia's three statewide elections. Given that likelihood, is there any good reason to follow the Virginia returns on Tuesday?

I can think of two reasons. One is to see the magnitude of the Republican wave in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Earlier this year, the question was whether Democrats could win control of the House of Delegates. With Republicans holding a 53-45 lead in the House (with two Republican-leaning independents), they seemed to have an outside chance.

Now, the question is only how big of a majority Republicans will have. But, it's very much an open question.

Virginia's odd-year election calendar means that there are no congressional contests -- nothing much to motivate voters other than the statewide races. Democrats in the state weren't motivated to begin with, but they've seemed to become less motivated as Creigh Deeds has fallen further behind. And Deeds falling further behind has made them less motivated still -- you see the dangerous positive feedback loop.

As a result, there's no telling how poor Democratic turnout could be and, therefore, how big Republicans gains could be in the House of Delegates. One recent poll gave Republican a 10-point edge on the generic ballot for the House, but it's not clear what kind of majority that would translate into. Large gains would give the G.O.P. a solid cushion for future years. Democrats are lucky that in the state Senate, where the party has a 21-19 edge, there aren't any seats up this year.

The other thing I'm watching is whether, assuming Republicans do sweep, any of the losing Democrats do well enough to remain viable as statewide candidates in the future. I think it's safe to assume that Deeds isn't running statewide again, but if either Jody Wagner (the candidate for lieutenant governor) or Steve Shannon (the candidate for attorney general) keep one of their respective races close, they may be able to argue that they deserve another shot. That's especially true for Wagner, who is facing an incumbent.

Virginia politics really are shaped by the unique rule that governors only can serve one term. That means the parties always are looking for new candidates for governor. It also means that the attorney general and lieutenant governor often are running for governor, creating open-seat opportunities down the ballot.

If Republicans sweep, Democrats won't have obvious frontrunner from which to choose for any of the statewide offices. A candidate who didn't lose too badly might look good in four years.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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