'New Blood' Needed to Reverse GOP's Fortunes, Some in Party Say

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2007

RICHMOND -- The beating suffered by Virginia Republicans at the hands of Democrats on Tuesday has prompted a widespread debate within the state GOP over whether it needs new leaders to rejuvenate the party and salvage its electoral fortunes.

The Republicans not only lost the state Senate to the Democrats but also gave up House seats and several county government offices. Conceding they have been outmaneuvered by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and the Democrats, GOP elected officials and activists say the party must recast its message and find strong leaders to deliver it, especially in fast-growing and diverse Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

The internal debate, which prompted a round of phone calls among GOP activists after the election, occurs at a critical time in Virginia politics. Both parties are starting to gear up for a U.S. Senate and presidential race next year and a governor's contest in 2009, the outcomes of which could cement the Democrats' advantage in the state if the GOP does not respond.

"A lot of activists say we need new blood. We need someone else to carry the message," said Del. Christopher B. Saxman (R-Staunton), who some analysts say is a possible future statewide candidate.

GOP activists and party leaders are growing increasingly worried about their stunning decline. Just 6 1/2 years ago, Republicans held the governor's mansion, both U.S. Senate seats and the state House and Senate. The attorney general and lieutenant governor were also Republicans.

With former governor Mark R. Warner (D) an early favorite to capture the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. John W. Warner (R) next fall, the party could enter the 2009 governor's race with the fewest number of top elected officials since the early 1990s.

Although GOP officials believe Virginia is still a Republican-leaning state, Tuesday's election revealed that the party continues to lose touch with the suburban voters who are quickly becoming the state's dominant political force.

In Fairfax County, Democrats unseated Republican Sens. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis and James K. "Jay" O'Brien Jr. Democrats also picked up a House seat in Fairfax and another in Prince William County. In the Tidewater area, Democrats picked up two Senate seats and two House seats.

And in another possible sign of trouble for the GOP, Democrats have made gains in local offices, including capturing control of the Loudoun, Stafford and Montgomery county boards of supervisors and picking up a seat on the Fairfax board.

Sen. Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover) noted that the news isn't all bad for the GOP. Dels. Timothy D. Hugo and Thomas Davis Rust were reelected in Fairfax. Democrats failed to pick up any legislative seats in rural Virginia, despite Kaine's and Warner's efforts to do so. But McDougle, 36, who might run for attorney general in 2009, said the GOP has "not articulated a concise message about why people should vote for us as a party."

McDougle and other GOP leaders say it's time for the party to hone its principles, refocusing on controlling taxes and spending while developing new ideas for transportation, education, health care and controlling growth.

But mapping out a unified strategy that will appeal to suburban voters has proved difficult because of divisions between the party's conservative and moderate wings.

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