Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Virginia, A Republican Problem

Virginia, A Republican Problem
by Timothy Naftali

Tim Kaine has just been elected Governor of Virginia and national Republicans should be concerned. All week in Charlottesville, Virginia, a Democratic echo chamber in the center of the state, there was serious pessimism that the Democratic candidate would win, despite the popularity of the current Democratic governor, Mark Warner. Traditionally a Democrat needs to be ahead by 6 or 7 points in the last poll before any election to have any chance to carry the state.

A seasoned local Democratic pol explained this by telling me that Virginian Republicans tend to lie to pollsters about who they are planning to vote for. Leaving that possibly partisan sociology aside, Mark Warner's victory in 2001 was indeed a lot narrower than had been predicted by the polls. With Kaine leading by only a couple of points going into today's vote, he seemed to be a likely loser. Kaine had run on the theme of good government, while trying to stay away from social issues and many of his supporters believed that his campaign was too lackluster. His opponent, Jerry Kilgore, though a weak campaigner enjoyed the enthusiastic support of Virginia's powerful and wealthy religious right. Moreover, in recent days, the Kilgore campaign mounted a mischievous effort to split the Democratic vote by encouraging progressives to support an independent candidate. A flyer entitled "Official Democratic and Progressive 2005 Voters Guide" appeared at the doorsteps of registered Democrats. It featured a donkey and gave reasons why the independent candidate, Russ Potts, was more pro-gay and pro-choice than the Democratic candidate. Only a careful reader could see the fine print that the flyer was developed and paid for by state Republicans. Meanwhile telephone banks started calling registered Democrats to tell them that the independent candidate was more committed to womens' issues than Tim Kaine. When some of the recipients of these calls looked up the organization that claimed credit for giving this progressive advice, they found that it was a Republican PAC. Democrats shook their heads and until tonight worried that these ploys might succeed.

Despite all of these apparent advantages, Kilgore lost by five points. Indeed Kaine's margin of victory was larger than his lead in recent polls and despite the Republican eve-of-the-election trick, the independent vote collapsed with the Democrat the sole beneficiary. This is not supposed to happen in Virginia. And, by the way, this week President Bush made a last-minute campaign stop here to help Kilgore. That was also supposed to help in a Red state.