Offensive GOP Words Might Speak Louder Than Va. Transit Deal
Monday, January 22, 2007
RICHMOND -- First came "macaca," followed by Virginia Sen. George Allen's angry response to a question about his Jewish heritage.
Then U.S. Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., a Republican whose district stretches from Charlottesville to Danville, generated headlines over his comments about keeping Muslims out of Congress.
And now Del. Frank D. Hargrove Sr. (R-Hanover) is on the defensive after saying last week that blacks "should get over" slavery instead of pushing for an official state apology. He compounded the incident by asking, "Are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?
Taken together, the string of perceived racial and ethnic insults has led some Northern Virginia Republicans to say the GOP's image has been badly tarnished. They wonder whether the party's candidates will have trouble winning votes this fall in the diverse, well-educated region even if an agreement on transportation funding is reached.
"It is important that Northern Virginia Republicans be able to come home with something meaningful accomplished with transportation. However, that alone won't settle the November elections," said John Mason, the former Republican mayor of Fairfax City. "The tenor of the debate and the verbal mistakes that have been made will come back to haunt some Republicans in Northern Virginia."
The GOP's image problems in Northern Virginia, which mirror its troubles nationally, are magnified by the agenda of social conservatives, who are pushing legislation to ban abortion, kick illegal immigrants out of public schools, make it harder for married couples to divorce and redefine adultery.
Moderates say they are worried that their party still hasn't learned the lessons of Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's win in 2005 and Democratic Sen. James Webb's victory last year.
"There is an erosion of Republicans" in Northern Virginia, said Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr., a Republican who represents the McLean area. "The Republicans are taking these far right-wing stances, and it's doing them in."
Like all 140 members of the General Assembly, Callahan is up for reelection this year. He said he is expecting a strong Democratic challenger as Kaine zeroes in on Northern Virginia races to attempt to build a Democratic majority in the General Assembly.
Northern Virginia Republicans say they are banking on a possible deal on transportation to improve the party's prospects in the region this fall. On Thursday, after years of squabbling, House and Senate Republican leaders agreed on a proposal to raise taxes and fees to generate more than $1 billion annually in new revenue for roads and mass transit.
"There are elements of both parties that are turnoffs. We all have our issues. . . . But in the local elections, the overriding issue is transportation. All the other stuff is a distant second," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va).
Besides transportation, Republican leaders want to change land-use policies to slow growth and toughen laws against child predators, both issues they believe will resonate with suburban Virginia voters.