Northern Virginians on Tuesday rejected the Republican view of Virginia politics as a simple matter of guns, God and gays.
Loudoun and Prince William voters shocked the state's political establishment by joining with a bracing majority in Fairfax and the reliably liberal residents of Arlington and Alexandria to elect Tim Kaine governor. Their vote was a demand that politicians focus on education, growth and development -- and, to a lesser degree, transportation -- rather than easy, emotional issues Republicans have recently relied on: the death penalty, abortion and gay rights.
This was neither an endorsement of Democratic policies nor a statement of affection for Kaine. Rather, it was a warning to Republicans that lawmakers in Richmond may no longer thumb their noses at the region that is Virginia's economic engine. Tuesday's vote tells Republican legislators it's not okay to rake in tax receipts from the Washington suburbs while gleefully sticking it to Northern Virginia with yahoo measures favoring unlimited growth, unrestricted gun rights and wide-open alcoholic beverage containers in cars.
Four Republican state House candidates who thought it would be clever and popular to insinuate that their opponents were gay or gay-friendly paid a price: incumbents Dick Black in Loudoun and Brad Marrs in Richmond (though his race remains tight enough to require a recount) and newcomers Chris Craddock and Ron Grignol in Fairfax.
Loudoun is hardly becoming liberal, but voters there easily approved $200 million worth of school and public safety building projects and cast their lot for Kaine and against Black. Loudoun even went for Leslie Byrne, the liberal who lost the lieutenant governor race. Voters at the red-hot core of hypergrowth said they are tired of being played for fools with easy, emotional appeals on the death penalty, illegal immigration and taxes. They want politicians to address the hard questions posed by growth: schools, housing, congestion.
In the state's urban and suburban population centers, Jerry Kilgore's seamy TV spots seeking to paint Kaine as a spineless wuss on the death penalty backfired. With no clear positive message from the GOP candidate for governor, voters saw through the technical beauty of those ads to the root cynicism at their foundation. Yes, negative ads work, but they're less effective where lots of highly educated voters live.
Kaine now gets to translate into deeds the oddly mixed message he put across in response to those ads -- that he will enforce the law despite his own moral opposition to the death penalty. Some Democrats dismiss questions about Kaine's two-step as somehow elitist, but in this region we're about to watch two men's moral values clash with the practical realities of politics:
Will Kaine really sign death warrants that he believes are wrong? Shouldn't he fight for what he believes even as he enforces the law? Across the river in Maryland, what will Lt. Gov. Michael Steele do now that his campaign for U.S. Senate frees him from subjugating his anti-death penalty views to Gov. Bob Ehrlich's zest for the ultimate sanction?
Kaine will find that despite his clear victory, he has little running room in Richmond. But around the state, and especially in the Washington suburbs, a reservoir of support awaits politicians of any party who embrace ideas that were once considered Republican: fiscal integrity, environmental conservation, using government as a check against big corporate power and protecting individual freedoms (even for women, gays and immigrants).
Kaine is more liberal than his campaign let on, but above all, he is a pragmatist. "I'm about measurable results," he told me some weeks ago. You won't see Kaine take the initiative on new roads because "in Northern Virginia, there hasn't been agreement on what should be done, and that has to come first. I'm not in this to fight quixotic battles."
So Kaine says don't look to him to crusade for a Potomac River crossing or to push against the death penalty. "My energy will go where I can make a difference, and I can do that in expanding pre-K for 4-year-olds."
If you need to slap a label on Kaine, try "realist," just like Virginia voters.
Join me at noon today for
"Potomac Confidential" at