- Last Updated on Thursday, 29 January 2009 03:03
- Published on Thursday, 29 January 2009 03:03
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The Democrats in Virginia are riding high. Election 2008 was the culmination of one of the greatest comebacks in political history. Just a few years ago it looked like the Democratic Party of Virginia was headed for permanent minority status. However, beginning in 2001 things started to change. They captured, then held the governor’s mansion, took both U.S. Senate Seats, a majority of the State Senate, closed the gap in the House of Delegates, and last year, captured a majority of Virginia’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives. They also managed victories in dozens of local elections throughout Virginia.
The Democrats found a formula for victory and have managed to make it work in several successive elections. However, taking my Latin lessons from the movie Patton, they should remember the phrase “Sic transit gloria mundi.” It translates loosely into this bit of wisdom. “All glory is fleeting.” The advice is sound and applies just as well to politics as it did to ancient Roman generals. The tide in politics can change rapidly, and over confidence and even arrogance, something I sense in the party at the moment, can speed up the process considerably.
Election 2009 is supremely important to both parties. The Republicans want a comeback and the Democrats want to maintain their hold on state government. This is particularly important with redistricting coming up. The tide, for the most part should be towards the Democrats, but politics isn’t always that predictable and the Democratic Party is in a more vulnerable position than they seem to realize.
The big race this season will be for the Governor’s mansion. The Republicans, by virtue of winning the so-called down ticket races four years ago, have an advantage. They have a ready front bench of candidates who have already run statewide. What’s more, their only contested nomination is for Attorney General. Bob McDonnell, the current Attorney General is running for Governor, and Bill Bolling is running for reelection as Lieutenant Governor. It’s all pretty much decided.
The Democrats on the other hand are in the midst of a contentious primary. It looked like a simply fight between Delegate Brian Moran and Senator Creigh Deeds. Neither is a household name, but both are credible candidates. Moran understands Northern Virginia, and Deeds has a base in the southwest. But, then, and this is where the race took a turn for the weird, Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton intimate, and former chair of the Democratic National Committee decided he wanted to be Governor. He has no experience in Virginia politics and for that matter has only limited knowledge of the state itself. But he is in the race, he is energetic, and he can probably raise more money for the primary than both of his opponents combined.
However, he is, if the Democrats think about it, just about the worst potential choice they could make. Democrats in Virginia, as a rule, are moderate and when they run candidates who are moderate, they tend to win. This, by necessity, involves keeping a little distance between themselves and the national party. It can be argued that Virginia’s support for Obama in 2008 is a sign that things are changing. It probably is, but it’s doubtful that Virginia has changed its entire political culture overnight. When it comes to state politics, a moderate Democrat, running on a platform focused on statewide issues, the budget, schools, and transportation, is still the party’s best choice. Running a well known national liberal with no ties to the state just doesn’t seem like a good idea.
There is also the decision by the Governor to become Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He says it is a part time job and it won’t affect his performance as Governor. Maybe it won’t, but the perception that he is taking time away from his duties as Governor, while the state is struggling sounds like good campaign fodder for the Republicans. Frankly, from a mildly partisan perspective, and if you haven’t figured this out yet, I lean towards the Democrats, I wish he hadn’t taken the job.
The Democrats still go into this election with a lot of advantages. Their coalition, anchored in the Northern Virginia inner and the outer suburbs, as well as support in the Hampton Roads area, has held. However, the Republicans running as outsiders in a tough period for the state and refocusing their message to be more sympathetic to Northern Virginia interests could prove to be powerful opponents. The Democrats need a strong candidate and a focused campaign. They can’t afford to take their success for granted or to assume that a winning streak can’t be broken. Because, in the lesson they gave to the Republicans, they proved it can be.