Virginia may very well prove to be an early predictor of results on Election Day 2012. Obama desperately needs to hang onto Virginia's 13 electoral votes in order to be reelected. Although he would still have a path to victory, especially if he manages to retain a Pennsylvania or Ohio (although I am putting them in the GOP column at this point), it would create greater pressures on his chances in North Carolina or Florida. I still firmly believe this race will come down to Florida, especially since they get two extra electoral votes in 2012. However, the vital importance of Virginia cannot be taken for granted.
In 2008, Obama won Virginia with 52.6% of the vote. A close analysis of that election indicates that there was a lot of red territory on the map of this state. Where Obama concentrated on was the more "liberal" areas of the DC suburbs and other growing urban areas of the state. The only highly populated counties he won outside the DC area were Ablemarle in the north central part of the state and Montgomery County in the southwestern part of the state. Obviously, this will be his strategy going forward in 2012. Any Republican inroads in these areas will eat away at that 52.6% vote count and spell trouble for Obama. Polling out of the DC suburbs especially must be closely monitored. Also, note that the GOP does not have to win these areas, just make them close to prevail.
With a hotly contested Senate race coupled with some interesting House races along with a fairly popular Republican governor and an Attorney General at ground zero in the Obamacare case, Obama has a lot of work to do in Virginia. When assigning these electoral votes, I generally look to approval ratings from a variety of sources in the particular states. For Virginia, he stands at 47.5%. Generally, that is close enough to push him over the 50% of the vote threshold for victory. The trend in Virginia mirror those nationally. Not to burst the bubble of anyone, but at this point I would have to assign Virginia's 13 electoral votes to Obama.
The Senate race was made interesting when incumbent Jim Webb decided not to run. There were inklings since he ceased fund raising. Some polling indicated that he would have problems in light of GOP gains in 2010. Some polls even showed him trailing George Allen. That then left the door open for Tim Kaine to enter the race. He is the former head of the DNC and also a popular former Governor of Virginia succeeding Mark Warner. His tenure as governor certainly does not cast him as a liberal, but more of a centrist. He opposes abortion, but does not call for over-ruling Roe vs. Wade. Although opposed to capital punishment, he resided over 11 executions. His accomplishments as mayor of Richmond cannot be overlooked either. Still, his electoral history is one of winning close elections on a statewide basis.
With minimal token primary opposition, Kaine should enter the general election rather unencumbered. He has a rather sizable war chest and his connections when head of the DNC should provide additional money as needed. Since he was tapped by Obama to run the DNC, that could have its advantages, or disadvantages depending on which way the political winds are blowing in October 2012 in Virginia. Only Courtney Lynch, a consultant, has been mentioned as a possible outsider type roadblock to his candidacy especially since the more popular ex-congressman, Thomas Perreillo declined to run after Kaine announced he would run.
On the Republican side is former Governor, congressman, and Senator George Allen. In 2000, he won the Senate seat by defeating incumbent Chuck Robb. His voting record was fairly conservative while a Senator. In 2006, he ran for reelection against Webb and was moving towards another term until the infamous "macaca" incident. It will not be recounted here as I am sure it will throughout this campaign. Technically speaking, Allen fits the mold of a good fit also for Virginia. The only real knock on him is these comments- some real, but others unsubstantiated.
Unlike Kaine, Allen will face a tougher primary challenge. Some polls put Allen way up, even against the generic "more conservative" choice. Bob Marshall of the Virginia house of delegates is one person. However, the one I find interesting and intriguing is the head of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots, Jamie Radtke. From everything I have heard and read, if I were a Virginia resident, I would give her a good long look (and I am not necessarily a booster or cheer leader for the Tea Party). Since Virginia opted for a primary, the advantage goes to Allen. Still, keep an eye on Radtke in the future.
In hypothetical polling thus far, there is tremendous back and forth. Interestingly, when a state senator, Allen represented Ablemarle County and that could pull votes from Obama there. Of course, both candidates are well known to Virginia voters. Many decisions will be last minute. However, if I had to, I think the advantage at this point currently lies with Kaine. Thus, and this could change with the wind, the seat should remain in Democratic hands.
The current House delegation is 8-3 Republican. Population changes within the state mandated changes in boundaries with the overall effect being not a GOP over reach, but making sure incumbents were protected. The 1st District, comprised of the Tidewaters region, gained Caroline County, but lost Hampton and Newport News. Incumbent Rob Wittman should win reelection here. Likewise, Randy Forbes in the 4th is more safe as his district now extends from the North Carolina border to the suburbs of Richmond, but loses the Democratic stronghold of Petersburg and parts of Suffolk. Robert Goodlatte's 6th District extends along the West Virginia border and includes some of the most conservative areas of the state including Lynchburg. Eric Cantor will win in the 7th. Finally, 10th District representative Frank Wolf has an area that stretches from the DC exurbs to the West Virginia and Maryland borders. He received more conservative territory, but some that could open him to a primary challenge in the future, or a strong Democratic challenger. In 2012, it will a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, John Douglass.
That leaves three Democratic districts and three held by freshmen Republicans. Bobby Scott's Third District is the only minority one in the state. Before redistricting, it was 53% minority and 60% afterwards. That has brought on a chorus of subtle racism innuendo and assertions that the state is concentrating blacks in one district. However, that district was 64,000 under the ideal and thus added Hampton, Norfolk and Newport News as well as Petersburg. The 8th- the bulk of the DC suburbs including Alexandria and Arlington- should be an easy win for Jim Moran. And Gerry Connolly's 10th, which includes Fairfax and the far western suburbs of DC, became more Democratic.
As for the freshmen Republicans, the 2nd changes little and includes the western shore and Virginia Beach. Scott Rigell, the strongest of the freshmen, remains vulnerable to a strong Democratic challenger in the future, but not this year. The 5th- held by Robert Hurt- grew and now extends from the North Carolina border to Fauquier County, a fast growing suburban county. Finally, the Ninth is represented by Morgan Griffith and comprises the southwestern area of the state which is very conservative territory and should remain in his hands.
In conclusion, this is a state so close on the edge that a minor event one way or the other can change outcomes. Although I predict an Obama win in Virginia, it will be very close. If the electoral vote is very close, the results in Virginia may be fodder for a recount. Also, I think Tim Kaine will prevail, again by a very small margin. The only area where a prediction can be made with any confidence is with the House races where the current 8-3 makeup should prevail.
Running count thus far:
Obama with 246 electoral votes to 223 for the GOP
net gain of 2 Governors;
net gain of 4 Senate seats, and;
net loss of 7 House seats.
Next: North Carolina