The last few years have not been kind to the Virginia state Republican Party. They’ve managed to lose both U.S. Senate seats, all three statewide elected offices and the presidential race twice (LBJ was the last time Virginia voted Democratic in the presidential race).
But, with Ed Gillespie in the Senate race and Obamacare front and center, hopes are high that the election will be competitive and in a solid GOP year could pull Virginia along. Republicans who recall the days in which the GOP dominated, or even was competitive, have high hopes for Ed Gillespie. Tucker Martin, a communications director for Gov. Bob McDonnell, tells me, “A policy-focused, positive Republican candidate can make inroads anywhere in Virginia. Just have to look back to 2009 to see that.”
Gillespie is doing his best to focus attention on the disastrous health-care roll out and, even more, the White House’s attempts to defend it. A Congressional Budget Office report gave birth to the White House defense that fewer jobs was good since people would have more choices. Gillespie told Right Turn, “One of the most disturbing things about this administration’s policies is not just that they’re killing jobs, but that they’re undermining the American work ethic.” With regard to the latest delay in the employer mandate, he said that “this latest, unilateral action to delay one more devastating impact of Obamacare is not only constitutionally suspect, it reeks of contempt for the voters, who will see through this transparent attempt to save Senate Democrats like Mark Warner who just a few years ago were rallying support for this disastrous policy.”
Indeed, the White House is making life difficult for the Democratic incumbent senator who has been defending Obamacare. Tim Miller of the GOP research group America Rising said about the CBO defense, “When the only message you can conjure up in response to a CBO report is that you want to liberate people from having to work, the news is not good at all. And no matter the semantic dispute that Democrats offer up, 2+ million fewer people in the workforce is a disaster both from an economic and a political perspective.” As for Warner in particular, he recalls, “Mark Warner ran as a political ‘moderate.’ Then in the Senate he voted down the line with Obama, was a key vote on Obamacare, voted multiple times for tax increases, and has no real bipartisan accomplishments to highlight. What exactly is his argument for reelection?”
Warner’s campaign has yet to get meaningfully underway, so it isn’t clear what he’ll do other than attack Republicans. Meanwhile, Gillespie is going full tilt.
Martin predicts that the “Gillespie campaign will compete across the entire board.” The campaign is taking that seriously, starting in voter-rich Northern Virginia. With the exception of McDonnell’s blowout victory in 2009, Virginia Republicans haven’t been winning Northern Virginia counties of late; but if they can be competitive and keep the vote differential down, the electorate in more conservative areas may be able to carry Gillespie across the finish line. Last night, he turned out 200 young professionals in Arlington County. In Northern Virginia and elsewhere, he is making an effort to reconnect with voters whom the GOP lost in recent elections. According to an adviser, Gillespie has already done an event with the Vietnamese community at Eden Center in Falls Church and spent Martin Luther King Day at an event with the African American community in Richmond.
Virginia is not at the top of the likely states to flip to the red column in November. But it is an example of what a good candidate, a strong message and a health-care statute on its last legs (defended by increasingly bizarre arguments) will do for Republicans. In a good year, Gillespie and other Republicans in previously safe seats have a fighting chance.