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Published:November 8th, 2006 12:34 EST
Virginia's sudden turnabout gives Democrats a chance

Virginia's sudden turnabout gives Democrats a chance

By

Pending a recount in a close but uncontroversial race, Democratic senatorial candidate Jim Webb will take George Allen out of the Senate and continue the suddenly crucial transition of Virginia to a blue state. Leading by 8,000 votes in a key senatorial race that drew 65 percent of registered Virginia voters to the polls, Webb is a rookie senatorial candidate who was a Republican Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration. A surprise contender against Virginia`s perpetual government advocate, Webb epitomizes how Virginia is changing from a southern Republican stronghold into a moderate Democratic haven.

If there were any thoughts of the past two governors races being flukes, those thoughts are now extinguished. Electing Mark Warner and Tim Kaine after the sovereignty of Allen and fellow Republican Jim Gilmore may be no coincidence.

Warner was shaping up as a contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008 before he withdrew his name from the hat. He may still be on the ballot as a vice presidential candidate who will be a popular strategic choice. His business tactics made government spending much more efficient and led to a dramatic economic upswing in Virginia during his tenure.

Kaine, his lieutenant governor, followed Warner by fending off Republican candidate Jerry Kilgore, electing a second straight Democratic governor. Meanwhile, Virginia`s federal representation remained strongly to the right. Conservatives John Warner and George Allen represented Virginians in the Senate, walking in step with President Bush.

Virginia`s typically Republican mindset has not been changed; rather the demographics of the state have been altered by extreme growth in two particular areas of the state. Northern Virginia`s Loudon, Prince William and Fairfax counties added 209,600 residents between 2000 and 2005, over 13% growth rate. With the growth, that part of the state, which had a Democratic tendency before, turned dark blue, and now had the population to counter the rest of the state. The Hampton Roads area, consisting of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton and Chesapeake has also grown dramatically. This second Democratic stronghold added over 37,000 residents in that same time period.

Richmond`s quickly growing suburbs of Chesterfield and Henrico have also grown by over 20,000 residents each and have subsequently, their inevitable Republican votes have been turned into near dead heats.

Leaving only lesser populated south-western part of the state as a Republican guarantee, the tremendous growth of suburban areas has changed the political demographics of Virginia.

Suddenly, Virginia is changing its alignment, making a shocking revelation in choosing Webb over Allen and greatly contributing towards the Democratic cause in a federal election. The new demographics of Virginia are not going to fade back into the red any time soon either. Skyrocketing growth in both Northern Virginia and the suburban tidewater regions will only continue to support the moderate Democratic feel.

With the majority of the geographic map of Virginia being red, but the population centers and main government being blue, some Republicans have even moved towards the middle due to relative prosperity under Warner and Kaine.

However, Virginia is nowhere near liberal, but it sides on the middle left, and its transformation will likely be a major point for both parties when looking at the 2008 Presidential elections. Most of the Democratic population still stands to the right on the most polarizing issues, as shown by Virginia`s 65 percent affirmation of the Marriage amendment, stating that marriage can only be between one man and one woman, and also conservatively defining the boundaries of marriage. Of course that likely means that at least 15 percent of the voters for Webb supported this amendment.

Strong supporters of the troops, Virginia was likely encouraged by the fact that Webb`s son has recently served in Iraq as a Marine. Most Virginians see the war as a major issue, but were not completely against it to begin with.

As this transformation occurs, Virginia will be a constant battleground state. When senior Senator John Warner`s term expires, he has hinted at retirement. Mark Warner has expressed interest in running for Senate.

Furthermore, the nominations for 2008 will likely be strongly influenced by Allen`s sudden downfall in a state that was previously a Republican lock.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton would need Mark Warner as a running mate to have any chance at winning Virginia. Barack Obama would fit the bill, hoping to moderate the polarizing issues that divide the parties.

For the Republicans, Allen`s fall should take him out of Presidential discussions. John McCain could certainly compete in Virginia due to his war hero perception, but former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is the Republican`s best chance of taking the Old Dominion.

With Webb`s sudden, out of nowhere surge to Capitol Hill upon his moderate principles, it sets up an interesting battle for Virginia in 2008. The Presidency is likely to hinge on the Democratic performance over the next two years as they control Congress, an opportunity to prove their worthiness that would not have happened without Virginia bolting for the left against expectations and experience.