Why Virginia Doesn't Elect Governors of the President's Party

In eight consecutive gubernatorial elections, Virginia has never elected a candidate from the president's political party. Larry Sabato looks at this phenomenon more closely (...
by | September 18, 2009

In eight consecutive gubernatorial elections, Virginia has never elected a candidate from the president's political party. Larry Sabato looks at this phenomenon more closely (emphasis his):

Here's the surprise: All the presidents except for Bill Clinton in 1993 and George W. Bush in 2005 had healthy national job-approval numbers, ranging from the mid-50s (several chief executives) to the 80s (George W. Bush after 9/11 in 2001). These moderately-to-strongly positive ratings for the White House party did not stop the opposition party from winning the governorship. Even Bush's stratospheric ratings had no impact. In 2001 Democrat Mark Warner handily defeated Republican Mark Earley.

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It is easy to see why unpopular presidents would send their party's nominee into a tailspin. But why can't popular presidents get their nominee elected?

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It is not just disillusionment. That age-old, Founding Fathers-induced American impulse to "check and balance" kicks in. Voters of the president's party are less satisfied and motivated. Voters of the opposition party are energized, concerned, and sometimes outraged by the president's actions. The people who show up on Election Day are disproportionately members of the opposition party, and they want to send Washington and especially the White House a message.

While I suspect the presidential jinx in Virginia is at least partially coincidence (it's not like the president's party is always losing gubernatorial elections in other states), Sabato offers the most plausible explanation I've seen.

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

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