Virginia Gubernatorial Election as Bellwether

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on June 10th, 2009

RNC Chair Michael Steele and others have suggested that Virginia’s gubernatorial election this fall will be the next test of the President Obama’s strength.  However, the race is not terribly likely to offer a proxy referendum on President Obama’s agenda.  Tuesday’s primary suggests this.  There was no Republican primary.  The GOP’s candidate in the race will be former Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, a conservative Republican.  McDonnell grew up in Northern Virginia, but represented the Virginia Beach area in the Virginia House of Delegates.  The Democratic Party’s candidate will be Creigh Deeds, a state senator and conservative Democrat from Bath County in the western part of the state. Though McConnell may be a proxy for the current Republican Party, Deeds is not a proxy for Obama’s Democratic Party.  Certainly, Deeds fits comfortably within the conservative wing of the party.  However, he does not appear to represent the median of the party.

In addition to the fact that the candidates are not well-matched proxies for the Republican and Democratic Parties, the two candidates have a history of their own.  The 2009 gubernatorial race is replay of the 2005 attorney general race.  That race was essentially a photo finish with McDonnell edging Deeds by fewer than 500 votes.   That makes this race squarely about Deeds and McDonnell rather than about the parties.  Deeds can beat McDonnell by putting together his prior coalition and adding a few voters who may vote on issues unrelated to how the country is doing or the direction in which it is heading.  Conversely, McDonnell can beat Deeds by keeping his prior coalition and adding voters based on the name recognition that comes from having been attorney general for three years before he resigned to run for governor.   Thus, it is quite possible that neither a McDonnell nor a Deeds victory will have much at all to do with President Obama’s policies or the direction that America is taking.  To be sure, both parties will likely pour significant money into the race because both would like to win and this is an off-cycle election.  The money should help ensure that the race will be great theater.  However, the money may help create so much sound and fury in a race that has its own distinctly Virginia flavor.


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