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Is Virginia turning blue? It's possible

December 16, 2007 12:36 am



THE PRESIDENTIAL election campaign has people pondering "the bluing of Virginia." Could a Democrat claim the commonwealth's 12 electoral votes next November? Even if it's a woman named Clinton?

What a concept. Virginia hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, but it has elected two Democratic governors in a row, and five of the last seven. And these are not your old, Byrd-style, pay-as-you-go, status-quo-loving Virginia Democrats, but progressive Democrats who offered voters just the right touch of Virginia conservatism to get elected.

This week's special election held to complete the term of the late Rep. Jo Ann Davis proves once again the GOP's stranglehold on the First District. Del. Rob Wittman won easily, but at least this time the Democrats had a viable candidate to put out there in Philip Forgit.

A year from now, Virginia appears poised to replace Republican Sen. John Warner with former Gov. Mark Warner, completing the conversion to a Democratic Senate delegation that was wholly Republican until just a year ago. Warner, the Democrat, gets credit for brokering a bipartisan tax plan in 2004 that closed a huge state budget gap and preserved Virginia's credit rating.

Though the Democrats elected in recent years won because their platforms and personalities resonated with Virginia voters, they were given a leg up by Republican candidates and a GOP that self-destructed.

Former Sen. George Allen gave away his seat to James Webb in large part due to his "macaca" comment during a campaign rally. Now Allen has resurfaced as a possible candidate for governor in '09. While Virginians still give his previous term high marks, that was long before his Senate career crashed and burned last fall.

Former Gov. Jim Gilmore, whose car-tax-repeal mantra catapulted him into office in 1997, thought he could do that without replacing the lost revenues. The ensuing near-calamitous aforementioned budget shortfall should have catapulted him into obscurity, but here he is prepared to serve as the GOP's sacrificial lamb in a Senate run against Mark Warner.

Gilmore says that since he doesn't have the personal bank account that Warner does, he'll have to run on his record. Yikes. Virginians should demand a special box on their touch-screen ballot that lets them vote



Virginia's familiar stair-steps-to-the-governor's-mansion routine would put both Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Bob McDonnell in the hunt for the GOP nomination in 2009.

But Bolling's name has scarcely been mentioned since his 2005 election victory, and when it is it's a knee-jerk reaction against raising taxes--something more and more Virginians understand is necessary once in a while.

Let's face it, taxes help the rest of Virginia tap the economic vigor of the state's "urban crescent." Those devil-incarnate Democrats with their tax plans understand that when traffic congestion inhibits commerce in the population centers, economically challenged regions of the state suffer as well.

A.G. McDonnell's voice was most recently heard criticizing Gov. Tim Kaine for cutting abstinence-only sex-ed program funding. McDonnell refuses to accept that abstinence-only doesn't work, but does fail to provide students with information on contraception and life-saving disease prevention. Is McDonnell setting the stage for a platform that panders to the extreme right? Bad plan.

There are other reasons for the GOP's downward spiral in Virginia and the rise of a more progressive agenda.

Voters haven't forgotten the Nixonian behavior of Edmund Matricardi III, the former director of the state Republican Party who pleaded guilty to a federal felony count of wiretapping in 2003.

His eavesdropping on private Democratic conference calls in 2002, also subsequently besmirched the names of former House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. and former state GOP Chairman Gary Thomson.

The Virginia GOP may not recover as long as political anachronisms like Del. Robert G. Marshall litter the political landscape. Prince William voters keep returning him to office despite his retro-conservative agenda. For the outspoken Marshall, the only good bill is one that intrudes on people's private lives in the name of God.

Marshall, whose name has been floated as a dark-horse gubernatorial candidate, recently suggested Gilmore is not conservative enough. Yikes, again. He ought to hire some earthbound advisors.

Virginia became bluer in an instant with the death of the Rev. Jerry Falwell earlier this year. With Falwell pontificating from Lynchburg, and Pat Robertson salivating for the Second Coming in Hampton Roads, it was as if they were rocking the cradle of political evangelism across Southside Virginia. Their views, and the politicians and constituencies they would attract, only deepen the GOP's reputation for intolerance and spread it unjustly to the party's moderate contingent.

Short of realizing that religion has no place in public policy, Virginia Republicans' best bet is to build on former Sen. John Chichester's legacy of fiscal reason and social common sense, and keep Virginia on an progressive path. The adventure would no doubt take a step back along the way, but taking two steps forward would matter more.

Richard Amrhine is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star. Reach him at ramrhine@freelance

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