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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By Ed Kilgore
I ran across a quote from Kyrsten Sinema this week that made me angry, so I vented my spleen at New York.
In a cloying little exchange of pleasantries before Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema spoke from the podium of Mitch McConnell’s eponymous center at the University of Louisville on Monday, the Senate Republican leader called the Democrat “the most effective first-term senator” he’d ever seen. McConnell was probably being sincere given Sinema’s role, along with Joe Manchin, in saving the filibuster, the chief tool in the GOP’s obstructionist bag of tricks. He could have called her a “one-term senator” since her demise in 2024 seems all but certain after she alienated as many Arizona Democrats as she could, but that wouldn’t have been gracious. Instead, he went on to give her the highest token of his esteem, calling her a “deal-maker.”
For her part, Sinema noted that she and McConnell share a “respect for the Senate as an institution,” a statement she reinforced by calling for the restoration of 60-vote thresholds for executive and judicial-branch confirmations in the upper chamber, which were abolished by serial Democratic and Republican majorities in 2013 and 2017, respectively. Sinema is, you see, an old-school respecter of the Senate, which makes me sick to my stomach.
Anyone who spends time around the Senate (I worked there in the late 1980s and early 1990s and with Senate offices for years before and after that) is aware of the extremely high regard in which senators hold themselves “as an institution.” They don’t publicly bash House members as petty-minded, party-bossed parochial Lilliputians who have to spend all their time running for reelection. But the unstated though very real mutual disdain of the two congressional chambers is deeply rooted in the Senate’s distinctive constitutional role as an anti-democratic redoubt of entrenched privilege.
This is nowhere more apparent than in Sinema’s beloved filibuster, which in its most recent incarnation has made supermajorities a requirement for even routine legislation. But lest we forget, even if the filibuster went away, the Senate’s grant of equal power to all 50 states is profoundly undemocratic. The states themselves are not allowed to get away with such a gross misappropriation of legislative power. In the 1964 decision in Reynolds v. Sims, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, under the Equal Protection Act of the 14th Amendment, state legislatures had to respect the principal of “one person, one vote,” with seats in the upper as well as lower chambers being awarded in districts of equal population. As Chief Justice Earl Warren famously wrote in the Court’s opinion in a 8-1 decision:
“Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests. As long as ours is a representative form of government, and our legislatures are those instruments of government elected directly by and directly representative of the people, the right to elect legislators in a free and unimpaired fashion is a bedrock of our political system.”
The logic is the same with respect to the model for all those once-oligarchical state upper chambers, the U.S. Senate itself. But the Senate has its own separate, unassailable constitutional basis. The Article I, Section 3 provision of the Constitution providing for equal representation of states in the Senate is expressly exempted from amendment in Article V (“no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate”). So we are stuck with an anti-democratic chamber. But we don’t have to celebrate it.
It’s important to remember the two reasons we have a U.S. Senate. First, it represented a compromise with those in the founding generation who wanted an unelected body like Britain’s House of Lords to counteract “the people’s House,” the lower chamber. But more important, as James Madison made clear in “Federalist 62,” it was essential to the ratification of the Constitution that the country maintain its original character as a compact of states, not as a truly United States:
“It may be remarked, that the equal vote allowed to each state, is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual states, and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty …
“Another advantage accruing from this ingredient in the constitution of the senate is, the additional impediment it must prove against improper acts of legislation. No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then, of a majority of the states.”
This understanding of the country as a modified confederation of states with a stronger central government than it originally had more or less perished with the outcome of the Civil War and the ratification of the Civil Rights Amendments (including the 14th Amendment, that great and still-evolving guarantee of individual rights against states rights). But the Senate remains as a relic of the era when McConnell’s hero Henry Clay and a host of other patriarchal slaveholders held the Union temporarily together by engaging in “deal-making” at the expense of human dignity. The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913 and providing for the popular election of senators instead of letting state legislatures choose them, took the chamber as far toward democracy as a flawed Constitution would allow.
“Respect for the Senate as an institution” means contempt for democracy as a fundamental value. That is why those with respect for democracy — particularly those who profess to be a member of the Democratic Party — should do everything possible to minimize the Senate’s ability to function according to the Founders’ design instead of boasting about making the chamber even more susceptible to high-handed measures to frustrate the popular will.