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After consecutive pummelings, Virginia Democrats hunt for path back to power

Americans cast their ballots Tuesday in House, Senate and statewide races.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 6, 2010; 9:36 PM

RICHMOND - After two straight years of crushing electoral defeats, Virginia Democrats know they need to do something to start winning again - they're just not sure what.

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Some party leaders and activists say Democrats should keep the focus on the same policies, but also must do a better job of communicating with Virginians.

"I think the problem is the message is not getting out,'' said C. Richard Cranwell, the outgoing chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. "We've got to overcome the disconnect."

Others say Democrats need to concentrate more on policies that Republicans have been advocating: creating jobs and cutting spending.

"If you talk about issues, the rest will take care of itself,'' state Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond) said.

But all of them insist that Democrats will return to prominence in a state where for decades, political power has tilted back and forth between the two major parties. The Democrats just need to figure out how to get voters enthusiastic enough to go to the polls on Election Day and, more importantly, to vote for their candidates.

"Back in 2008, people were wrong to write the obituary of the Republican Party,'' House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong (D-Henry) said. "And they're wrong to write the obituary of the Democratic Party now."

Last week, Republicans toppled three members of Congress and nearly defeated a fourth, leaving Democrats with just three of the state's 11 House seats.

Tuesday's election came a year after Republicans swept all three statewide races - governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general - and picked up six seats in the House of Delegates. Virginia Democrats' only remaining base of power is the state Senate, and all of those seats are up for grabs in November 2011.

But the party's problems in Virginia are larger than electoral losses.

A party divided

Much like Republicans, who have spent years trying to solve a split between moderates and anti-tax social conservatives, Democrats face a similar division between the establishment and grass-roots, moderates and progressives.

With no Democrat in the governor's mansion, the Virginia party has no obvious leader, and activists are squabbling about who should be the next party chairman and how that person should be chosen.

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