4 Days to Election Day: Virginia

Unlike North Carolina to the south, the situation for Romney in Virginia will be much more difficult. In North Carolina, he only has to overcome a 21,000 vote disadvantage from 2008. In Virginia, Obama won by 262,000 votes in 2008. Realizing that the margin of victory will be nowhere near that for him this time around, the swing in votes from 2004 to 2008 is exceptional. In 2004, Bush won by 300,000 votes. This represents a 562,000 vote swing. If we split the difference in the swing of votes- a very real possibility- Obama would lose 281,000 votes this time around giving Romney a narrow 19,000 vote margin of victory. But, where will those votes come from? We can generally agree that the immediate DC suburbs of Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax county, along with the cities of Hampton and Newport News will go for Obama. But, he will be hard pressed to replicate his wins in Loudon, Prince William or Suffolk counties or even Chesapeake or Richmond city. Coupled with a weakening of his gains in counties like Fauquier and Stafford (he lost them to McCain, but performed much better than Kerry) and heavy losses in the western and southern portions of the state- coal country- it should allow Romney just enough leeway to slip through.

Most experts concede that voter turnout will be lower this year and that will be to the benefit of Romney. That being said, there are currently two things standing in the way in the best of scenarios for Romney. The first is voter enthusiasm. Looking internally at polls- something this writer rarely does (I don’t care about “gender gaps” and such)- among those respondents who intend to vote for Obama, 94% are somewhat or very excited about their choice while 89% of Romney voters share similar sentiments. Generally speaking, this goes against findings in other states where there is greater enthusiasm for Romney among Republicans than there is for Obama among Democrats. But, the gap is not that great and can be overcome at the last minute. It is one reason why Romney and Ryan have spent a lot of time in Virginia. And naturally, the Democratic strategy is to get out as many voters as possible and boost turnout above that 60% level to give Obama a better chance.

The second factor is the presence of third party candidates on the ballot. In August, a federal judge ruled that a state law which required that the presenters of petitions (you need 10,000 signatures to get on the ballot) be from Virginia was a restriction on political speech, subject to strict scrutiny, and therefore unconstitutional. The petition at issue involved former Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode who is running on the conservative Constitution Party ticket. There is no doubt that the Virginia Green Party, already on the ballot, aided these efforts. This works to the advantage of Obama in Virginia especially since Goode formerly represented a very conservative area of southern Virginia, including the Charlottesville area- all territory that Romney needs. Historically, third party candidates take about 30,000 votes in Virginia which, if they all were Romney voters, would evaporate that small margin discussed earlier. And it is a possibility given the “enthusiasm gap.” However, some polls indicate that when third party candidates are included in the mix in these polls, they actually affect Obama to a greater degree than Romney. Why? The answer lies in the more liberal northern counties surrounding DC. Here, votes for Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein were votes that were never going to Romney in the first place. Where Goode can “hurt” Romney is in those sparsely populated southern and western counties, but that loss is more than offset than Obama’s losses in the more populous northern counties. At this point, this writer believes that Mitt Romney will win Virginia by a margin that may dictate a recount and could be this year’s Florida 2000.

But there is a third complicating factor. As mentioned earlier, voter turnout is an important factor. Higher turnout will help Obama more than Romney, especially in the liberal, Democratic northern Virginia counties. One surefire way to increase turnout is a barn burner of a Senate race between two well-known political forces in Virginia. Jim Webb won election to the Senate in 2006 over George Allen amidst a totally different national political environment. It was not a great year for Republicans in general. But Webb never seemed to really have a taste for Washington politics and when he almost ceased fundraising in anticipation of 2012, the writing was on the wall that he would not seek reelection. Tim Kaine, the former Governor of Virginia and head of the DNC and early Obama booster in 2007, became the Democratic nominee. On the Republican side, George Allen, the man who lost to Webb six years ago, won his primary. Incidentally, a name to watch in Virginia politics going forward is Jamie Radtke, a Tea Party activist who got 23% of the vote and finished second to Allen. Like Massachusetts, this race has been back and forth with neither candidate putting consistent, significant distance between themselves. Thankfully for Allen, the infamous “macaca” comment has been a non-issue in this race. And in a way, this writer believes that a Kaine victory could have a silver lining.

Specifically, I think the GOP would trade a Romney victory in Virginia for an Allen loss in the Senate. And that may very well be a possibility. In a close election, presidential coat tails have little to no effect. In fact, they may have the opposite effect where the party that loses the presidential race wins the lower ticket race. And even so, Kaine would hail from a basically conservative state (except the DC suburbs) and he would hopefully heed the wishes of his constituency. Hence, it would appear that Tim Kaine has the inside track. And one final thought on these races and the relationship between them: the influence of popular Governor Bob McDonnell in this state in this year will be closely watched and could determine his stature and influence in the party.

The current House delegation favors Republicans 8-3. All incumbents are running and only two are considered of interest. Covering the eastern shore area, it extends south to Virginia Beach and snakes into the Republican precincts of Norfolk City. Hence, although Obama won Norfolk and Hampton overall in 2008, McCain won these precincts handily that now are redistricted into the Second District. This district has traditionally produced some of the most competitive races in Virginia with its control changing party hands regularly in the recent past. Currently, GOP incumbent Scott Rigell won in 2010 with 53% of the vote. His opponent will be Paul Hirschbiel of Virginia Beach. He has worked closely with popular centrist Democratic Senator Mark Warner in the past and is considered a protege of Warner. That could be bad news for Rigell as Warner carried the 2nd District in 2002 with 84% of the vote.

The other race of interest is in the Tenth District currently held by Republican Frank Wolf. He has held this seat since first winning it in 1980. Lying along the northern border of Maryland, the district lost portions of the more Democratic DC suburban county of Fairfax and pushed deeper south into more Republican-friendly territory. This was done in an effort to bolster Wolf’s incumbency. Ironically, by doing this, they inadvertently bolstered Democrat Gerald Connelly’s chances in the 11th District. Republicans may have had a chance there in 2012 give the fact that Connolly won in 2010 with less than 50% of the vote. Now that Connolly is running against a general unknown traffic engineer, winning the 11th district for the GOP now seems remote. But the trade off is that Democratic hopes of picking up the 10th district are now decidedly diminished. They will run political newcomer Kristin Cabral against Wolf in what will likely be a losing cause for this Fairfax County attorney. If there is to be any changes in the make up of the Virginia delegation to the US House, it would actually be a Democratic pick up in the 2nd District.

In conclusion: Unfortunately, unless something dramatically changes, we will go deep into the night to determine the winner of Virginia’s 13 electoral votes. Even then, it may require a recount or wrangling. However, just based on some anectdotal reports and stories out of Virginia, support for Romney or, more accurately against Obama, is nowhere near what it was in 2008. In the end, I believe Romney will take the 13 electoral votes. But, the news is bittersweet for the GOP because those coat tails in a close presidential race will not extend down ticket and Tim Kaine will win probably with about 52% of the vote. Personally, I believe all incumbents will be returned to Congress, but looking at a worst case scenario, would not be surprised if the Democrats pick up the 2nd District.

There are two rather non-controversial questions on the ballot. The first would allow the delay of a legislative veto session by up to one week in order to acommodate the possibility of holidays. The second would prohibit the use of eminent domain for private enterprise, generating greater tax revenue, job creation, or economic development. This proposal is in response to the hideous Supreme Court decision known as Kelo.

Running totals thus far: Obama leads the electoral count 243-242. Republicans lead in the Senate 48-46. They also lead in the House 207 to 181 putting them 11 seats from maintaining control of the House and two seats from winning the Senate.

Next: Florida