Virginians share lesson learned: GOP in power not so bad

He's also in search of something he has lost: the adoration of the American people.
By Rosalind S. Helderman
Saturday, October 30, 2010; 12:12 AM

President Obama and other Democrats are going around the country making the same argument as party leaders made in Virginia last year: If you elect Republicans, they'll drive the car right back into the ditch.

Virginians overwhelmingly ignored that advice, and a year later many say they have few regrets and are generally pleased - if not ecstatic - about what Republicans have done.

Voters, including some who didn't back him, credited Gov. Robert F. McDonnell with working hard and engineering deep budget cuts from a generally fractious General Assembly with relatively little heartache. The result of those efforts was a narrow surplus by the end of the fiscal year, achieved through bipartisan action and without the tax increase that Gov. Timothy M. Kaine proposed before leaving office.

"This state hasn't gone backwards," said Steven Herborn, 55, of Chesapeake. He has supported candidates in both parties over the years but wants Republicans to take over Congress next week.

"Nothing bad has happened," he said. "The schools are no worse. The roads? We've always had a problem with the roads in Virginia."

Despite dire warnings from Democrats about what will happen if Republicans take over, the message doesn't seem to be sticking. In a Washington Post-ABC poll this month, 50 percent of Democrats said a GOP Congress would be "a bad thing."

And more than a dozen independent voters in Virginia who backed Obama in 2008 said in interviews that they didn't think the state had moved backward under McDonnell and Republicans in the past year. A few who didn't vote for him still gave him credit for working hard and focusing on the right priorities.

McDonnell is "making an effort," said Charlottesville retiree Ross Crebbs, who voted for the governor's opponent, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D). "That's what he was elected to do. He's visible. He's trying. And, agree or disagree with him, we can see it."

The right direction

A handful of polls taken in recent months also suggest that Virginians are broadly satisfied with McDonnell's performance and the state of their state. One poll released this summer showed that only 12 percent of Virginians thought the governor was doing a poor job. And the polls show that more Virginians think their state is headed in the right direction than in the wrong direction - the reverse of what voters say about the nation.

But Virginians don't think the state has been driven into a ditch, nor do they feel that all that much has changed in their own lives. They remain deeply pessimistic about the direction of the state and country and are convinced that both parties have become corrupted by money and are addicted to partisan infighting.

Those interviewed also said they're leery of some of the culture war issues that have accompanied the return of the Republicans.

In April, McDonnell issued a proclamation in honor of Confederate History month, a gesture that had been halted under Democrats and one that remains divisive in a state that still suffers the wounds of a war fought largely on its soil.

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