Democrats break a Virginia streak dating back to 1973

November 11, 2013

Terry McAuliffe, who has never held elected office, has just prevailed in the Virginia Governor contest, according to Fox News, over Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. In doing so, he’s done something that hasn’t been done since 1973, a sign that bodes well for Democrats in general and President Barack Obama in particular.

Four years ago, Republican Bob McDonnell followed up Barack Obama’s historic win by retaking the Virginia Governor’s mansion from Democrats, even though Obama won Virginia in the presidential race.

During George W. Bush’s two terms in office, a pair of Democrats won gubernatorial contests: Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Both are currently U.S. Senators from Virginia.

Both of Bill Clinton’s successful elections in 1992 and 1996 were followed by GOP wins in 1993 and 1997, courtesy of George Allen and Jim Gilmore, respectively.

During the Reagan-Bush years, where the GOP took three straight presidential contests, Democrats were in the driver’s seat in Virginia. Chuck Robb (LBJ’s son-in-law) followed Ronald Reagan’s 1980 win with a 1981 triumph, while Gerald L. Baliles did the same the year after Reagan’s reelection. And Democrat Doug Wilder became the first African-American elected Governor, which occurred the year after George H. W. Bush won in 1988.

Just as Democrat Jimmy Carter was celebrating his 1976 election win, John N. Dalton won the Virginia Governor’s seat in 1977 for the Republicans.

In fact, you’d have to go back to 1973 when Mills E. Godwin, Jr. of the GOP won the Virginia gubernatorial race, a year after Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection. But even then you’d have to put an asterisk next to that one, since Godwin used to be a Democrat.

To break that streak takes a lot of work. Was it Barack Obama’s coattails? The President campaigned for McAuliffe, and did take Virginia twice, but is experiencing his lowest approval ratings in two years.

Conservatives are calling it a win, claiming Cuccinelli lost “only by a little bit” in the polls, ignoring results from a PPP poll among Republicans where 49 percent wish Lt. Governor Bill Bolling (a more moderate candidate) had run. Bolling was shoved aside in favor of the more conservative Cuccinelli. Lt. Governor candidate E. W. Jackson, who is even more conservative than Cuccinelli, lost by 11 points.

And you also have to note that McAuliffe has never held political office before, and only ran one election in his life (having lost in a 2009 primary). He was hardly a strong candidate.

Given that both Virginia Senators are Democratic as well the party’s lead in the generic ballot across the country, it doesn’t bode well for a GOP that used to win the state in presidential contests from 1968 to 2004. As former GOP Representative Tom Davis warned “Virginia could go the way of California,” according to Emily Schultheis with Politico.