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.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Having spotted an argument for stubborn bipartisanship on voting rights, I decided to respond at New York:
Right now, voting rights in America are subject to a condition of partisan gridlock in Washington that preserves Republicans’ ability to wreak havoc on voting and election laws in the states they control. So long as centrist Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema refuse to consider a carve-out for voting-rights legislation to liberate it from the Senate filibuster, that’s where things will stand at least through the 2022 elections, in which the GOP has a very good shot at busting up the current Democratic trifecta.
The Manchin-Sinema position is that voting-rights protections must be enacted by a bipartisan coalition to instill confidence in the system given the Trump-induced mistrust that metastasized during and after the 2020 elections, inspiring the attempted and ongoing MAGA coup to challenge or overturn the results. The central question now is what happens when (it’s no longer really a matter of “if”) it becomes unmistakably clear that Republicans won’t cooperate with “compromise” efforts like those in which Manchin has engaged twice this year.
At the invaluable Election Law Blog, Ohio State University professor Ned Foley answers the question by suggesting Democrats might just want to let the GOP do its worst for a while, assuming the “worst” doesn’t fall below some hypothetical “floor” of “minimal conditions necessary for an election to qualify as being small-d democratic.” His basic argument provides sort of a theoretical underpinning for Manchin’s reflexive belief (sincere or merely tactical, given the very red political coloration of his state) that election reforms that aren’t bipartisan simply aren’t worth enacting.
Before addressing Foley’s take, I will emphasize that his counsel of strategic surrender for Democrats is contingent, not absolute: If Republicans violate the hypothetical “floor” that Foley discusses but does not define, then he says Democrats have no choice but to override GOP voter-suppression measures if they can, even if such partisan action exacerbates the GOP’s “electoral McCarthyism” (his term for the Big Lie ideology of pervasive but never documented “voter fraud” claims).
But Foley pretty clearly thinks that what Republicans are doing in states like Georgia and Texas isn’t so very bad, and concentrates his argument on the importance of keeping Republicans from falling into an authoritarian pit forever:
“[W]hen as now the especially dangerous and distinctive paranoid conditions of electoral McCarthyism have taken root, and are growing, it seems as if that kind of one-party imposition of its electoral policy preference upon the other party that suffers from the paranoia of electoral McCarthyism has the potential of being extremely counterproductive. Indeed, it risks propelling forward the possibility of a reaction that would cause the society to fall below the floor of what’s essential for small-d democracy, thereby bringing out the circumstance that is exactly desired to be avoided.”
It’s less obvious how Foley (or Manchin) would ameliorate “electoral McCarthyism,” other than this very wishful thinking:
“Might it not be a smarter strategy to let Republicans write the rules for upcoming elections (as long as they remain within the realm of adequacy in terms of casting and counting votes), and then be able to say to them after they have lost, ‘Hey, we conducted the process exactly how you wanted it; what possibly gives you a basis for complaining with the result just because you lost?'”
There are two pretty big and obvious problems with this surrender strategy. The first is the most obvious: What if Republicans don’t lose in 2022 or 2024? If they win, they may very well be convinced that making it harder for their enemies to vote saved them, and ask for more helpings of the same satisfying meal. They will, moreover, have the power to do just that in more states, and to thwart Democratic voting-rights efforts in Washington for the foreseeable future. A Democratic surrender on voting rights that produces defeat would be accurately viewed as a betrayal of the loyal minority constituencies that lifted Democrats to victory in 2020.
The second flaw in the surrender strategy is it relies on the premise there is some silver bullet that will slay the Big Lie; that there is a single item feeding Republican “mistrust” of the electoral system that can be disproved by letting them indulge their malign fantasies. There really isn’t.
Yes, some Republican base voters believe without evidence that there is currently rampant “voter fraud” that can be prevented with greater vigilance. Others think voting by mail is inherently corrupt; since it hasn’t been outlawed anywhere, wouldn’t reestablishing the traditional Election Day — part of the lost America Donald Trump promised to restore — be an important agenda item to be pursued with renewed vigor? Still others think the problem is easily herded minority voters who want to vote themselves government benefits (the heart of Mitt Romney’s famous “47 percent” remark); they might favor a return to literacy tests or polls taxes. Some “constitutional conservatives” reject any electoral outcomes that undermine “natural rights” (e.g., to property or to fetal “personhood”) that they regard as having been established by the Founders and God Almighty. They aren’t going to wake up and recommit to small-d democracy.
And then you have the people who exist in both political parties, and indeed every political party from the beginning of time, who don’t bother with theories or evidence or “rights” at all and simply favor whatever electoral arrangements improve their chances of victory. What makes today’s Republicans distinctive in that respect is that their leader, the 45th president of the United States, exemplifies that attitude as much as Jesus Christ exemplified the Golden Rule. Indeed, winning at any cost is Donald Trump’s Golden Rule.
Even in the more “reasonable” precincts of the Republican Party, among people who don’t promote the Big Lie and all but visibly roll their eyes at Trump’s excesses, there is currently an iron and nearly universal opposition to the enhancement of any federally established voting rights, even those (most notably those protected by the Voting Rights Act of 1965) that their own party accepted and even celebrated until the U.S. Supreme Court began tearing them apart in recent years. So even if Foley is right and the current passion for vitiating voting rights at the state level burns itself out, does that mean bipartisan support for establishing a durable national floor for voting rights via federal legislation will magically return? There’s no reason to think so.
It’s regrettable that purely partisan avenues are the only ones available to Democrats right now on this and so many other crucial questions. And yes, wherever possible, Democrats should exhibit reasonableness unilaterally as the sole custodians of small-d democracy. A voting-rights bill imposed by a filibuster carve-out or (even less likely) budget reconciliation need not include every conceivable or advisable reform, so as to enable Republican claims of a “power grab.” Restoring the Voting Rights Act to its original dimensions might be enough, along with modest measures to clarify how post-election challenges work so the courts don’t have to litigate them endlessly.
If today’s wave of voter suppression in the States grows worse next year and after the midterms, the folly of Manchinism will become more evident than ever. You cannot restore bipartisanship, on voting rights or anything else of significance, by giving power to your extremist opponents in hopes they will come to their senses or become glutted with too much winning.