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June 30, 2008

Democrats Can Dream, But Here’s Why Barack Obama Will Lose Virginia


There is nothing that has fascinated Democrats this election cycle more than the prospect of their nominee winning Virginia in November. It would indeed be the Democrats’ first time to do so in more than 40 years, and the idea of cutting into the Republicans' hold on the south is, understandably, extremely exciting for them (although if they have set foot in Northern Virginia, which contains a third of the state's votes, they would understand the foolishness of interpreting a Virginia victory as anything resembling the takeover of a “southern” state.)


Nonetheless, that is all they are talking about. They are, however, quite off in their expectations. Despite the groupthink-generated excitement, an objective look at Virginia most likely leads to the conclusion that Barack Obama does not, in fact, have that much “hope” of winning the state.


The Democrats have been basing their hopes of winning Virginia on the gubernatorial victory of Tim Kaine in 2005, the senatorial victory of Jim Webb in 2006 and former Governor Mark Warner’s poll lead in the upcoming election to fill retiring Sen. John Warner’s Senate seat.


But let us not forget that, first of all, the three are quite conservative by Democrats’ standards. Webb, in fact, endorsed George Allen in 2000, the same Republican he defeated six years later. Obama, on the other hand, is the most liberal member of the Senate, and as such will not be able to dip into the same constituencies upon which the centrist Democrats were able to rely.


This is of course not to mention that the victories of even these centrist Democrats were quite narrow, and Webb's was razor-thin – so close, in fact, that judging by the behavior of Democrats in recent years, George Allen would have dropped his classiness to demand a recount had he himself been a Democrat.


Further, the Republicans' gubernatorial candidate, Jerry Kilgore, was far from the best that the Virginia GOP could come up with, and more importantly, ran an awful campaign. As for George Allen, he held a 20-point lead before making the "macaca" comment that was unnecessarily exploded by the media. Had it not been for this unique low point in American political history, Allen would have cruised toward reelection and most likely toward a competitive bid for the Republican presidential nomination.


The Democratic optimists must also not forget that the results of previous presidential elections are far more reflective of a state's future presidential picks than smaller state-wide races will ever be. And in that department, Virginia is solidly Republican. George W. Bush won it by 8.1 percentage points in 2000 and slightly increased his lead to 8.2 percentage points in 2004.


In 2001, in between the two Bush victories, Democrat Mark Warner won his gubernatorial race by over five percentage points, which is far greater than Kaine’s and Webb’s narrow victory margins in 2005 and 2006. Warner’s victory said virtually nothing about how the state would vote in 2004, and there is no reason to believe that even less impressive Democratic victories would say anything about 2008.


In addition to basing their optimism on the recent victories of their candidates, Democrats are looking at two additional factors that they hope would work in their favor. One is the rapid growth of Northern Virginia, which, they have noticed, has been leaning left in recent years.


But this is far from a new phenomenon. Northern Virginia in 2004 went solidly for John Kerry, who had greater than two-to-one margins in Arlington County and the city of Alexandria, and smaller victory margins in Fairfax County and the city of Fairfax. These counties and cities grew enormously between 2000 and 2004, yet Bush still won Virginia by a slightly greater margin in 2004 than he did in 2000. The growth has since slowed significantly in these areas, and the electoral effect will be even smaller in 2008. The main exception is the still fast-growing Loudoun County, which Bush won narrowly in 2004, but it simply remains too small to contribute significantly to an Obama victory in November.


The second additional factor to which Democrats are clinging is the state’s significant black community, which makes up 19.6 percent of Virginia’s population. In 2004, however, Virginia blacks cast 21 percent of the votes, and 87 percent of them went to John Kerry. Judging by their voting numbers, Virginia blacks were already enthusiastic in 2004, so how much more enthusiastic can they be this November? And how many more of them could Obama win over? There simply isn’t much room left in the black community for the Democrats to expand their lead in 2008. Besides, any negligible gains they do make among blacks will be far outweighed by John McCain’s absorption of Virginia’s huge veteran vote and its rural white population.


In short, Barack Obama will lose Virginia because it is still a conservative state, and because the situation has not improved as much for the Democrats as they would have us believe. If Obama wants to win in November, he would be better off focusing on true swing states.

© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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