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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Why Virginia Could Be a Harbinger

There have been two story-lines in a lot of the recent talk about Virginia’s off-year elections next week. One is that the likely victory of Terry McAuliffe, which would represent the first time since 1973 that the candidate of the party controlling the White House has won a Virginia gubernatorial contest, reflects a reaction to the government shutdown that will still echo in November of next year. And the second is that “purple” Virginia is in general a harbinger for a Democratic House takeover in 2014.
TNR’s Nate Cohn published a column pushing back on both these story-lines, noting that Ken Cuccinelli was in trouble long before the government shutdown, and that the kind of GOP-controlled House seats Democrats would have to win to retake control of the chamber are much “redder” than Virginia and are occupied by well-funded incumbents.
But at Washington Monthly I offered some reasons Virginia might indeed be a harbinger, depending on how the November 5 balloting goes:

What I’ll be most interested when the votes are in next Tuesday are turnout patterns (normally an off-year election like Virginia’s is even more skewed towards pro-Republican older white voter than a midterm) and whether McAuliffe did unusually well in demographic groups that went Republican in 2009, 2010 and 2012. If the Republican hold on old white folks is fading, that’s good news for Democrats in 2014 even in districts labeled solidly Republican due to their partisan character in 2008 and 2012.
Truth is, after 2010 confirmed the heavy shift to the GOP of the groups most likely to turn out in mid-terms and off-year elections, I figured it would be a good long while before a Democrat would win the governorship in a “purple” state with off-year elections like Virginia. There’s got to be a non-trivial reason for McAuliffe’s apparently easy win, and while it may perhaps be personal to Cuccinelli, there’s no reason to conclude that without post-election evidence.

Two polls out just today–one from Quinnipiac and another from Rasmussen–show the Virginia race tightening (though a third, from Roanoke College, has McAuliffe up by double-digits). So we’ll just have to wait and see. But again: any Democratic statewide win in an off-year election is potentially significant.

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