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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

More Slicing and Dicing of Virginia

For those of you who, like me, just can’t get enough of the November 8 gubernatorial election in Virginia, there’s a significant quantity of sliced and diced analysis piling up, much of it focused on Tim Kaine’s impressive performance in Virginia suburbs and exurbs.The Big Study everyone’s citing comes from Robert Lang and Dawn Dhavale of Virginia Tech, which (1) divides Virginia into four regions, and shows Tim Kaine improving on John Kerry’s 2004 performance across the board; and (2) provides a detailed analysis of the Northern Virginia suburbs, segmenting them into Urban Suburbs (Arlington and Alexandria), Mature Suburbs (gigantic Fairfax), Emerging Suburbs (Loudon and Prince William) and true exurbs (Fauquier and Stafford).Kaine carried three of four of this study’s major regions (Northern Virginia, the Capitol Region and Tidewater) and lost the fourth, sprawling Shenandoah (which includes The Valley, Southwest, Southside, and the central Virginia Piedmont). Within NoVa, he won all but the “true exurb” counties and cities. While the big news was Kaine’s overwhelming victory in NoVa and the Richmond area, the study suggests he ran ahead of Kerry uniformly across the state.The major shortcoming of the Tech study is that it mainly compares Kaine’s performance to Kerry’s, but not to Mark Warner’s in 2001. That comparison would have shown Kaine running far behind Warner in Shenandoah, and a bit ahead in Tidewater, but doing impressively better in the other two urban-suburban regions, and especially in the areas outside the urban cores of Richmond and Arlington-Alexandria.I understand why the Hokie researchers did what they did: Everybody’s interested in Kaine’s win as a possible leading indicator of Democratic gains between 2004 and 2008.But personally, being focused a bit more on Virginia as a leading indicator for 2006, I’m interested in the 2001-2005 trend, and in the ability of Democrats to put together new and different majority coalitions in difficult terrain, just as Mark Warner did in 2001 and Tim Kaine did this year.There’s a Washington Post analysis of the “emerging suburbs” category of voters that includes data from a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner study of Loudon County, interpolated somewhat dubiously with national data on the unhappiness of moderate Republicans.The GQR study showed that Loudoun voters cared a lot more about transportation and education issues than about the death-penalty and immigration topics Jerry Kilgore emphasized down the home stretch. And they preferred Kaine by 23 percentage points on education and by 16 points on transportation.The Post‘s national data on moderate Republicans, while of questionable relevance to the Virginia race, are still striking: between August and November, moderate GOPer approval ratings for Bush’s job performance dropped from 85% to 59%, with the percentage registering strong support being halved, from 60% to 30%. That’s a big and important trend.Ruy Teixeira offers a good general summary of the evidence supplied by Virginia. But it’s important to keep straight the in-state and national trends we are talking about.For a bunch of reasons, Tim Kaine could not replicate Mark Warner’s stunning 2001 coalition of rural, urban and suburban voters. He had to do better in the suburbs, and he did, lifted in part by Warner’s popularity; in part by a national suburban trend against the Bush administration and the GOP generally; and in part by his own suburban-friendly message of smart growth management and educational improvements. Democratic “red state” candidates in 2006 need to look at all aspects of the Kaine victory, and look back, where they can, to Warner’s strategy as well. They may benefit from a national tide against Republicans, and may batten on expanded “blue” areas of the suburbs. But they need to exploit rural and small-town opportunities as well, just as Mark Warner did four years ago.The national GOP meltdown means Democrats can become competitive, or at least more competitive, everywhere, and it’s everywhere that they should look for new votes.

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