Notes on the State of Virginia

Coming as I do from Virginia, I like to keep an eye on the politics of the old country.  Virginia is one of the few states to hold its elections in odd-numbered years.  As a result, their elections are often seen as better bellwethers than the Congressional mid-terms.  (This is a little odd, inasmuch as, in the last 11 gubernatorial elections, Virginians have voted against the party in the White House.  Virginia governors can’t succeed themselves, but they can run again after sitting it out, and Mills Godwin holds the distinction of being both the last Democrat elected under a Democratic President, and the last Republican elected governor under a Republican President.)

This year, the Republicans entered the post-2010 Census elections with 58 seats in the House of Burgess- er, Delegate, and 18 seats in the State Senate.  Holding the governorship meant that they needed only one seat to regain control of the State Senate.

The results show the perils and power of redistricting.  Unlike in Colorado, state legislative redistricting is done by the legislature itself.  With a split legislature, the Senate and House agreed to draw their own maps for their own chamber, and to abide by the other house’s map.  So the Senate Democrats and House Republicans, essentially, got to draw the maps for the Senate and House, respectively.

The Republicans ended up taking an astonishing 67 seats in the House, but they could only manage a 20-20 tie in the Senate.  That’s good enough for control, but the Republican Lt. Governor will be spending a lot of time up at the state capitol building over the next two years.

These results mask the utter collapse of the Democrat party in the Old Dominion.  Though they’ll never say so, the Democrats made a strategic decision to sacrifice the House to try to hold onto the Senate.  Of seven Senate races decided by less than 10%, the Democrats won five, and came within half a percentage point of a sixth.  In the House, they lost all six.

Statewide, the Democrats received an aggregate 34% of the vote in the House, and just under 40% of the vote in the Senate.  The Republicans out-polled the Democrats roughly 3-2, and still ended up with only a tie.  Democrats didn’t even bother to run in 12 of the 40 Senate districts.  (Republicans vacated the field in only four.)   In the House, it’s even worse.  Republicans didn’t compete in 27 districts, but Democrats only ran in 54 districts.  Put another way, the Republicans could have lost in almost every contested race, and still won control of the House.

This may be a mixed blessing for the Republicans.  As Colorado House Republicans have found out over the last year, governing with a majority of one vote is often worse than being in the minority; in effect, you don’t have working control of the body.  You can kill and pass lots of stuff in committee, but when it gets to the floor, the minority can almost always count on standing together in opposition, while they need only pick off the squishiest member of your caucus on any given vote.  The net result for Virginia may be that the Republicans are perceived as having full governing authority, while not necessarily having full governing power.

For 2012, though, it’s probably very good news for Republicans.  I can’t imagine President Obama carrying the state, and even a popular ex-governor like Tim Kaine will be facing a daunting structural deficit (something Democrats are excellent at creating).


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