Thursday, June 11, 2009
Elections are always great for providing answers to questions that seem impossible to predict before polls close but are absolutely obvious afterward.
This is a weekly column that runs Thursdays but must be completed by Tuesdays. That means we can set out the factors that political observers thought would decide this week's election. And you, the readers, can decide whether the observers got it right.
Here are eight key questions we hope will be answered by Tuesday night's results.
1. Did last year's presidential campaign pump up voters for a Virginia election or tire them out?
The race between Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz) not only drew record numbers of Virginians to the polls, but it also got people excited and got them to volunteer their time to talk with neighbors. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe built a campaign around the idea that Obama had made politics cool again and that people new to the process would want to be involved again, if they were asked.
But gubernatorial primaries are entirely different animals. For starters, they are held in June, when people aren't used to thinking about elections. In interviews, many voters have said they did their part last year and were not pleased to find it was campaign season again already. By early this week, the conventional wisdom had settled on the idea that turnout would be low, probably less than 10 percent of registered voters. The outcome of the election will depend on just how low.
2. Does a candidate have to hail from Northern Virginia to win?
Northern Virginia, the state's economic engine and largest population center, has helped determine the outcome of many statewide elections in the past decade and is in part responsible for the state tilting blue. One of every five voters in the state live in Northern Virginia, and the region's residents made up more than 40 percent of the electorates in 2006 U.S. Senate primary. The last two successful statewide candidates, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Jim Webb, hail from Northern Virginia. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) is from Richmond.
But even though McAuliffe and Brian Moran are from Northern Virginia, it has been R. Creigh Deeds of tiny Bath County who generated all the buzz in the days before voters went to the polls. Win or lose, Deeds has proven that even someone from rural Virginia can compete. He has done that partly by talking about statewide issues in addition to proposals important to specific areas, such as pledging to tackle Northern Virginia's transportation problem in his first year in office.
3. Do voters require candidates to have a Virginia record?
Two candidates in this race have lengthy ones, and one has none. Deeds spent nine years in the House of Delegates, then eight in the Senate. Moran stepped down from the House to run for governor after serving since 1996. He had traveled the state on behalf on Virginia Democrats seeking election to the House and helped Warner, the governor, build a coalition to support tax increases in 2004.
Meanwhile, McAuliffe is friends with governors across the country and counts former senator Tom Daschle and former president Bill Clinton among his backers. He says that being an old hand to politics but a novice in Richmond would help him import the nation's best ideas to Virginia.