Ask, and Voters Just Might Provide Answers

By Raw Fisher
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From Marc Fisher's blog, Raw Fisher

L ast week's elections provided some answers to the seven questions I posed on election morning.

1. Is a hard-core appeal to social conservatives no longer a path to victory for Virginia's Republican Party?

The GOP's future looks gloomy, not only because John McCain and Senate candidate Jim Gilmore lost and not only because the Republicans lost at least two and most likely three House seats, but also because of where they lost and by how much. Mark Warner beat Gilmore by jaw-dropping margins both inside the Beltway and in such once-securely-Republican outer suburbs as Prince William and Loudoun counties.

Some Virginia Republicans say the answer is to hew closer to a message of low taxes and Virginia values. But many Northern Virginians say the party must move to the center, embracing voters' cries for more transportation funding and reaching out to ethnic minorities.

2. Is it just party and personality that made the difference for slots in Maryland?

No, it was more than that. Slots won everywhere. Even liberal Montgomery County, which the stereotype says never met a tax it didn't like, voted for slots, though it was close: 52 percent to 48 percent.

Neither the moral arguments against slots nor the fairness question -- is it right to balance the budget on the backs of the primarily lower-middle-class residents? -- deterred voters from embracing a plan that promised to avert more tax increases.

3. Will Rep. Frank Wolf become the last Republican to represent any part of Maryland or Virginia inside the Beltway?

Yes. Wolf's powerful victory over two-time Democratic challenger Judy Feder was a sweeping statement that a moderate Republican who steers clear of most social issues can still win inside the Beltway. Voters in the 10th District have now twice rejected Feder, who, despite heavy funding, managed to be left behind by the Obama wave. That's a tribute to Wolf's attention to local concerns such as road projects and power lines but also evidence that Feder's academic manner and a campaign that often seemed uninterested in local issues were not right for Northern Virginia.

4. Was it party affiliation or political positions that kept Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in office for so long in Maryland's 1st District (Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel County)?

Democrat Frank Kratovil finally appears to have defeated Republican Andy Harris, but in a contest as close as this was, it's hard to argue that voters sent a clear message. Gilchrest, the nine-term incumbent who was one of the last of the vaguely liberal Republicans left in Congress, lost the GOP primary to conservative Harris. Gilchrest then turned around and endorsed Kratovil, a local prosecutor.

Gilchrest fell victim to a primary system that has evolved into a polarizing machine for both parties. Eastern Shore residents part ways with the national GOP on issues such as the environment and development, but primary elections are fought closer to the ideological edges.

5. Will the D.C. Council, deeply frustrated by Mayor Adrian Fenty's end runs around them on issue after issue, embark on a more confrontational or obstructionist path over the next two years?

Yes. The election of Michael Brown to an at-large seat tips the council's balance, strengthening those members who are finally frustrated enough by Fenty's solo forays into policymaking that they're ready to sprinkle some tire spikes onto the road that the mayor travels. But Fenty remains enormously popular, and he still has allies on the council -- some who believe in much of what he does, and some who fear the mayor's popularity.

6. How close can Mark Warner come to sweeping every county and city in Virginia -- and, if he does, what does that mean for next year's race for governor?

Very close, but not quite. Warner lost in just four rural counties, but not by much. But there's no Warner in next year's governor's race; rather, it's Attorney General Bob McDonnell against one of three Democrats, none of them well-known. Clinton-era Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe yesterday joined Del. Brian Moran of Alexandria and state Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County in that race, which is likely to be shaped in part by the legislature's struggle this winter over making ends meet in a troubled economy.

7. Who will do better against Obama in rural Virginia, McCain or Hillary Clinton?

When Obama and Clinton faced off in the Democratic primary in February, Obama won handily. But Clinton demolished Obama in rural areas. So the question last week was whether Obama's repeat visits to the region made much of a difference.

They seem to have helped quite a bit. Obama didn't win in rural counties where Clinton trounced him, but he came much closer against McCain than he had against Clinton. In Lee County in the southwest corner of the state, Clinton beat Obama, 86 to13 percent. This time, McCain won by a margin of 63 to 35 percent. Given the closeness of the Virginia contest, Obama's visits -- message: I care -- might have provided his winning edge.

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