Monday, December 29, 2008

The Shape of Things to Come

If my first blog post didn't reveal it already, I'll come out and say it: I'm a numbers guy.

And, ultimately, no matter how much I like a candidate, what matters most is if they are electable. Someway, somehow.

But to understand the concept of electability, Virginia Republicans need to understand the New Dominion that has replaced the Old.

I noted that 2008 saw an increase of over half a million voters overall in Virginia, 524,893, with that voter growth favoring Obama by almost two to one. There was no question for first time voting in the 2004 exit polls, but the raw vote totals showed Bush picking up 279,469 votes from his 2000 showing and Kerry picking up 237,452 over Gore. From 2000 to 2004, the number of voters in Virginia grew by a little less than half a million: 458,920. This indicates that not all of Kerry's gains over Gore came from new voters, some were certainly Nader voters.

Two elections cycles, both with similar increases in total voters. But two very different stories. In 2004, both parties dug down and managed to expand their base by similar numbers. With Virginia tilting Republican, it wasn't enough for John Kerry to pull off a win. But four years later, Obama pulled out almost 330,000 new voters, while McCain fell behind and increased his base by less than 200,000 new voters. Add on top of that the swing of 125,000 odd Bush-Obama, and Virginia went blue for the first time in decades.

What went wrong?

First, with Bush's historically low approval ratings, it's understandable that the Republican Party brand was tarnished in Virginia as in the rest of the country.

Second, Barack Obama's campaign knocked the socks off of John McCain's in voter registration and mobilization.

But if John McCain had had the resources to invest in boots on the ground, would he have been able to match Obama for the surge in new voters?

Or, have the Republicans in Virginia tapped out their base? Maybe there just aren't new voters out there for the current GOP to mobilize?

That's a worrying thought for Virginia Republicans.

But let's set that thought aside, for just a moment.

Looking ahead to 2009, it's helpful to look back at 2001 and 2005.

In 2001, voter turnout dropped from 2000's 68% to 46%. In 2005, turnout dropped from 71% in the 2004 election to 45%. In 2008, voter turnout in Virginia hit 75%. I mentioned that there are some who are optimistic that the Obama side of the turnout surge will fade away without Obama on the ballot. But voting can very quickly become a habit. Turnout in the 2009 election will probably be in the mid to high 40s, with the total number of voters topping 2 million.

The 2009 election will be a lower turnout affair. In many ways, it will be a contest over mobilizing the base. But with the New Dominion tilting Democratic, the Republican Party has a higher hurdle than in the past in order to win.

I'm sure that some will make the argument that the Obama voters are temporary, that McCain failed to "activate" non-voters sympathetic to the GOP, and that all we need to do in Virginia is tap into the base. 2009, 2010, 2011 will have lower turnout and without Obama on the ballot, the GOP will out compete the Democrats. By the time 2012 comes around, we'll have a new Republican nominee who will be able to match Obama's cult of personality with his (or her) own appeal to the mysterious Republican non-voters of 2008.

Because the next three elections in Virginia will not feature Obama on the ballot, giving Democrats their own concerns about how to mobilize their base without the Messiah leading them, the prescription is not entirely a bad one. But Virginia Democrats won without Obama in 2005, 2006, and 2007. There's more to worry about than just Obama. Obama winning Virginia in 2008 is not a warning, it's not the first sign of trouble. It's the end result of years of ignoring a growing problem.

I attempted to outline some of the problems with the Republican Party of Virginia in an old blog post at the Next Right. Long story short (a story I will continue to come back to as I blog), the Republican Party failed to define itself as offering an alternative to the Warner tax hikes. Ever since, the Democrats of Virginia have ran as "Mark Warner Democrats" that focus on solutions, while the Republicans are cast (by the Democrats and a willing media) as do nothing defenders of the old status quo.

Going forward, the Republican Party of Virginia should focus on connecting with its base and mobilizing conservative voters for the next three election cycles. Conservatives need to be mobilized not by defending the status quo, but applying conservative principles and conservative values to solving today's problems. But there also needs to be due diligence paid to exploiting cracks in the Democratic coalition in order to win over voters.

Ol' Virginny is Dead

The opening days of 2009 are just around the corner, and with this new year comes a new blog: my blog, this blog. 2008 was an eventful year for politics in the Commonwealth of Virginia, bringing with it the death of "Ol' Virginny" and my first adventure into blogging. After some thinking over the holidays, I have decided I want to try blogging on my own.

I want to start blogging because we need more voices on the right that come to bury ol' Virginny, not to praise it. If there's any state where the rightroots can help rebuild the once Grand Old Party, it's Virginia, a state where where the left's netroots have already shown power and influence in the candidacy of Jim Webb. My due diligence as a citizen and a conservative is to help put Virginia and the GOP back on track.

First things first, ol' Virginny is dead. Virginia's GOP cannot be allowed to fool themselves into believing that they can simply bounce back from Barack Obama winning the Commonwealth in 2008. It's the same tom foolery that made them overconfident of McCain's chances of holding the state before the election.

Take a look at the numbers.

In 2004, George W. Bush defeated John Kerry by 1,716,959 to 1,454,742. An assortment of other candidates pulled in 26,666 votes. Four years later, John McCain brought home a very similar number to Bush, 1,725,005. But Barack Obama's vote total surged ahead to 1,959,532. The rest of the gang pulled in 38,723 votes, for a total of 3,723,260. The 2004 election had 3,198,367 total voters.

An increase of over half a million voters. John McCain received a grand total of 8,046 more votes than George W. Bush. Barack Obama brought home 504,790 more than John Kerry. Young voters, African-Americans, new transplants to Virginia, etc. New voters by this rough estimate made up 14% of voters.

The exit polls suggest a similar story, with 13% of the voters saying it was their first time voting ever. They favored Barack Obama over John McCain 63% to 35%.

The argument, propelled by the results of the Georgia Senate Runoff and the results of the Louisiana House Races, is that these new voters, devout followers of the Cult of Obama, will slowly fade away, make a brief reappearance in 2012, but will generally not impact races outside of the Presidential. That's a possibility nationwide, but it ignores the rest of the exit poll in Virginia: 87% had voted before, and they split evenly between Barack Obama and John McCain 50% to 49%.

Take away the new voters, roughly half a million split two to one in favor of Barack Obama, and you're still looking at a pool of 3.2 million voters in Virginia evenly split between Obama and McCain. That's a shift from the 2004 results, where Bush finished ahead of Kerry by 8 points. We have around 125,000 Bush-Obama voters floating around statewide, probably more when you consider the Kerry-McCain voters in Southwest Virginia. Virginia Republicans can't just wish the new voters away, they have to figure out how they lost voters to the Democratic Party.

To pretend that it's just new voters that will disappear ignores the trends in Virginia politics in recent years. Mark Warner in 2001, dragging along Timmy Kaine into the LG's spot. Kaine's own election in 2005. Jim Webb in 2006. The State Senate in 2007. Barack Obama, Mark Warner, Gerry Connolly, Glenn Nye, and Tom Perriello in 2008.

The problem is (almost) statewide, not confined to any one region (almost).

1st District:
McCain: +4,856 over Bush
Obama: +56,671 over Kerry

2nd District:
McCain: -4,372 behind Bush
Obama: +40,681 over Kerry

3rd District:
McCain: -7,053 behind Bush
Obama: +71,261 over Kerry

4th District:
McCain: +6,669 over Bush
Obama: +53,631 over Kerry

5th District:
McCain: +6,306 over Bush
Obama: +35,402 over Kerry

6th District:
McCain: +5,440 over Bush
Obama: +33,651 over Kerry

7th District:
McCain: +1,676 over Bush
Obama: +49,623 over Kerry

8th District:
McCain: -4,064 behind Bush
Obama: +44,678 over Kerry

9th District:
McCain: +6,562 over Bush
Obama: +6,558 over Kerry

10th District:
McCain: -2,873 behind Bush
Obama: +60,223 over Kerry

11th District:
McCain: -5,101 behind Bush
Obama: +52,411 over Kerry

The 9th District is the only silver lining, if that. Everywhere else, Obama picked up significant gains over John Kerry and left McCain either behind Bush or posting only minor gains.

The Democrats now control the Congressional Delegation from Virginia. They have both Senators for the first time in decades, and control six out of the eleven House seats. Two Democratic Congressmen, Boucher and Perriello, represent districts that voted for McCain. The rest of the Democratic delegation hails from districts that voted for Obama. Republicans Wolf and Forbes represent districts that voted for Obama.

So, the Republican Party of Virginia is at a low point. If they aren't careful, it could get even lower. A lot is on the line in 2009, the last round of state elections before redistricting. If the Democrats control redistricting, or at least are able to negotiate from a position of strength, their gains Congress could be reinforced and the 10th, the 4th, and perhaps even the 1st could be put into danger in 2012. The state legislature would shift even more to the left. Virginia's welcoming business climate would fall apart, leaving the state economically dependent on the federal government. Not that the Democrats would mind.

But there is also a great opportunity for the Republican Party of Virginia. They could start to turn the tide in 2009. The next few election cycles could return a Republican to the Governor's House, turn back the trend of Democratic gains in the House of Delegates, take back seats in the House of Representatives, defeat Jim Webb, and even turn Virginia red in the presidential election.