Commonwealth Clues: What 2009 Means

GOP Looks Toward 2010 Comeback

Posted November 4, 2009 at 6:44pm

Emboldened by the results of Tuesday’s gubernatorial race in Virginia, Republican officials are expressing renewed confidence about unseating one or more Democratic House incumbents in the Commonwealth in the 2010 midterm elections.

GOP strategists said the landslide victory of Bob McDonnell (R), a former state attorney general who won 59 percent of the vote in a state that President Barack Obama carried one year ago, is the most visible evidence to date of the political vulnerability of several Democrats in the delegation — namely Reps. Glenn Nye in the 2nd district and Tom Perriello in the 5th district — but also Reps. Rick Boucher in the 9th district and Gerry Connolly in the 11th district.

The election returns “should send shivers down the spines of four Virginia Democrats in GOP crosshairs next year,— the National Republican Congressional Committee said in a memorandum Wednesday morning, after a count of votes showed that of Virginia’s 11 Congressional districts, McDonnell captured double-digit victories in all nine districts that he carried ­— including the four that the NRCC hopes to target in 2010.

“Commonwealth voters delivered a stunning rebuke of the president’s reckless agenda and the Virginia House Democrats who insist on championing it in the face of dwindling public support,— said NRCC spokesman Andy Sere, who pointed to the losses of some Democratic state House members in the targeted Congressional districts.

But Democrats cautioned against reading too much into the results of a single election in which local issues rather than national ones prevailed and in which McDonnell didn’t emphasize his party affiliation or his long history of social conservatism in a race against a weak Democratic nominee, state Sen. Creigh Deeds.

Republicans “are definitely making a mistake, looking at the Virginia races and trying to make a fact based on an anecdote,— said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“To single out this one election,— Ferguson said, “and suddenly believe that their chances are any different, I think they’ll be sorely mistaken.—

Ferguson noted that Democrats won the state’s 2001 gubernatorial race but fared poorly in the 2002 Congressional elections.

Stephen Farnsworth, an assistant professor of communication at George Mason University and an expert on Virginia politics, said targeted Democrats “are not running against the 2009 electoral turnout.—

“The candidates who run in 2010 will not be hobbled by the very weak Deeds campaign,— Farnsworth said.

Still, the results are a reminder to Democrats to energize their base voters ahead of the midterms, when turnout will be substantially smaller than the 3.7 million electorate that voted in the 2008 presidential election ­— though not much higher than Tuesday’s turnout of 2 million. In the last midterm, 2.4 million Virginians voted in the 2006 Senate race, won by now-Sen. Jim Webb (D) over then-Sen. George Allen (R).

Connolly, who represents northern Virginia suburbs near Washington, D.C., said Tuesday night that “we have to take the data we see in this election seriously.—

“It’s an uncertain and not entirely happy electorate right now,— he said. “I think we have a lot of work to do at persuading independents as to the value of the Democratic agenda, and I think we have to take seriously the threat from an energized Republican base.—

Of the four Virginia Democrats targeted by Republicans, the least politically secure is Perriello, who narrowly defeated Rep. Virgil Goode (R) in 2008. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried the 5th district with 51 percent of the vote, though it gave McDonnell a more robust 61 percent vote share Tuesday, when 143,000 fewer district voters came to the polls than last year.

Perriello’s district, which includes Southside Virginia, is about one-fourth African-American and also includes a large concentration of younger voters in and around the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Turnout was down Tuesday among those two demographic groups.

State Sen. Robert Hurt (R) is the best-known of the handful of Republicans who are challenging Perriello.

McDonnell took 62 percent of the vote in Nye’s 2nd district, which includes the Virginia Beach area that McDonnell represented in the state Legislature for 14 years. Obama narrowly carried the district in 2008.

The top two Republican challengers to Nye are Scott Rigell, an auto dealership executive, and Ben Loyola, an engineering firm owner.

Nye spokesman Clark Pettig said the Congressman “is going to keep focusing on creating jobs and supporting military families and veterans. He’s looking forward to working with Gov.-elect McDonnell.—

Nye and Perriello no doubt were aided by the high turnout that boosted Obama to a statewide victory last year. But both of them exhibited some crossover political appeal by outrunning Obama en route to unseating GOP incumbents.

Republicans are also keeping an eye on Connolly’s northern Virginia district, a Democratic-trending area where McDonnell won by 10 points. Keith Fimian, a home inspection company owner, is waging a rematch of a 2008 race that Connolly won by 12 points, in a district that Obama carried by 15 points.

Connolly downplayed the importance of the gubernatorial race on his 2010 race and others in Virginia.

“Every election is different. Every election is going to have its own dynamic,— Connolly said. “I certainly am prepared for a vigorous challenge.—

The toughest seat among the quartet for the Republicans to wrest away from Democrats is the 9th, a socially conservative area of southwestern Virginia that Boucher has dominated during his 14-term tenure, never winning less than 59 percent of the vote in his past dozen campaigns.

Republican officials pointed to the defeat in Boucher’s district of a Democratic state House member by a GOP challenger whose platform included opposition to a climate change cap-and-trade bill that was supported by Boucher, Perriello and Connolly. Nye voted against it.

Phil Cox, McDonnell’s campaign manager, said that in southwest and southside Virginia, “some of the federal issues coming out of Washington, D.C., like cap-and-trade, had a huge impact— on Tuesday’s results.

“The Democrats are in a very difficult spot, and we need to press our advantage on those issues,— he said.

The GOP hopes that McDonnell’s strong showing in the 9th district — he won 66 percent of the vote, his second-best showing in the state — will entice state Del. Terry Kilgore to run. Kilgore, who was re-elected without opposition Tuesday, promises a decision soon.

Without Kilgore in the race, though, Boucher will be overwhelmingly favored to win another term. Democratic officials said Republicans have talked for years about beating Boucher but haven’t produced results.