The GOP and Northern Virginia--Still Separate Planets
So the Virginia Republican Party's idea of appealing to northern Virginia voters is to feature Fairfax Sen. Ken Cuccinelli as its candidate for attorney general in 2009, while Virginia Beach's Bob McDonnell heads up the ticket as the gubernatorial nominee and Bill Bolling of suburban Richmond seeks to stay on as lieutenant governor.
For a party that is steadily and surely losing votes in the Washington suburbs to spurn the idea of geographic diversity and choose as its sole representative of the region one of the most conservative and polarizing figures in the state's legislature sends a clear and troubling message about the much-discussed NoVa/RoVa divide: The Republicans are staking their future on winning strong enough support in the rest of Virginia that the ever-bluer northern tier of the state won't matter to their electoral fortunes.
Cuccinelli's announcement yesterday that he will seek the top legal job in the state appears to pave the way toward a unified Republican front for next year's elections--a ticket that may well win the party's nominations without much in the way of convention challenges. Almost immediately after last week's announcement of the cozy arrangement between McDonnell and Bolling to share the top spots, Prince William County chairman Corey Stewart, who had been preparing to run for lieutenant governor, yielded and bowed out. Cuccinelli may yet face significant challenges for the nomination, but at this point, close-in northern Virginia's only Republican state senator is the leading figure in the race.
This early display of likely GOP unity contrasts sharply with the emerging Democratic contest for the nomination to succeed Gov. Tim Kaine. Alexandria Delegate Brian Moran and state Sen. Creigh Deeds, who represents a swath of central Virginia from Charlottesville to the western border, will likely face off in a primary next year, and both are traveling the state, seeking to sell themselves as moderates in the Mark Warner mold. (The Dems could end up with a geographic imbalance of their own, what with Moran running for the top spot, Fairfax Sen. Chap Petersen being touted as a possible lieutenant governor candidate, and Fairfax Del. Steve Shannon talking about moving up to attorney general.)
But however the presidential race goes in Virginia, the trends of the past few years demonstrate that Republicans have lost their touch in the Washington area, consistently failing to sell voters on the idea that a tough anti-tax stance is solving the state's transportation, education and social service problems. Cuccinelli won reelection in Fairfax last year only because he had a remarkably weak Democratic opponent who failed to capitalize on widespread discomfort with Cuccinelli's principled, activist positions well to the right of his district on social issues.
Republican bloggers are hailing the McDonnell-Bolling-Cuccinelli ticket as a dream team that instantly demonstrates more stature and experience than anything the Democrats are likely to put together. But at least one northern Virginia Republican blog notes that "it's hard to imagine a more conservative ticket" than McDonnell-Bolling-Cuccinelli and wonders whether a Democratic ticket of Deeds and Fairfax Sen. Chap Petersen might be a formidable opponent to that GOP lineup.
The departure of Rep. Tom Davis from the Republican scene in northern Virginia and the strong challenge that Rep. Frank Wolf is facing this year from challenger Judy Feder illustrate the party's increasing sense that the Washington suburbs are a lost cause for the GOP. But the demographics of Virginia lend little credence to the notion that Republicans can win statewide by giving up on the Washington area. This is where the economic and population growth in the state is centered. A political party that chooses to move away from the center--either ideologically or geographically--is one that is choosing partisan purity over electoral viability.
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