Local Commentary

Editorial: Lacking the Obama Factor

Tuesday’s election in Virginia marked not only a victory for the Republican statewide slate and GOP advances in the state legislature, but it was a sharp departure from the pattern of voting in the state that prevailed from the 2000 victory of (now U.S. Sen.) Mark Warner as governor to Warner’s victory as a U.S. senator and President Obama’s victory one year ago.

Last year’s apex of the Democratic win streak in statewide races was underscored by the fact that Obama’s victory was the first for a Democrat presidential candidate in Virginia in 44 years.

But Tuesday not only ended that trend, it smashed it. We woke up yesterday morning feeling as if all that happened in the past decade was a dream. Republicans rule in Virginia again, and decisively. Moreover, the Republicans are of the type preferred by the GOP in this state, of the harsh right wing variety. Our best hope is that Governor-elect Bob McDonnell will carry his more magnanimous campaign style into the statehouse, and not revert to his Pat Robertson roots. For the sake of continuing Virginia’s progressive economic development posture, he must. Business and community leaders in Northern Virginia, in particular, will work hard to see that happens. It remains to be seen.

The numbers make it clear to us that Tuesday’s outcome had more to do with the fall-off in Democratic voters than with the Republicans’ efforts, however. Statewide, Democratic gubernatorial candidate State Sen. Creigh Deeds was able to bring out to the polls only 32 percent of the voters who won the state for Obama a year ago. On the other hand, McDonnell was able to bring out 68 percent of the voters who cast ballots for the GOP’s McCain-Palin presidential ticket in 2008. (Overall, as expected, the voter turnout was down from 75 percent statewide in the presidential election to 39.8 percent this Tuesday.)

While the City of Falls Church did not deviate in its Democratic preferences, delivering 64.78 percent for Deeds, compared to 69.5 percent for Obama, the result was dramatically different in the adjacent swing area of eastern Fairfax County, the 11th Congressional District, that was key to numerous Democratic statewide wins in the last decade. Winning for Obama with 57 percent last year, it went for McDonnell with 55.14 percent Tuesday. Deeds lost two-thirds of the Obama voters there, while McDonnell lost less than a third of McCain voters.

To whom or what belongs the blame for such a dramatic drop-off in Democratic voters, above and beyond the lower overall turnout? We hold that the failure to run an Obama-style campaign, with a lot of Obama’s personal presence, is the culprit. It’s hard to imagine such a popular political leader, so close at hand, was so overlooked in the race. It was reminiscent of how Al Gore rejected Bill Clinton’s help in 2000. By the time the Dems saw Obama electrify a crowd of 6,000 in Norfolk late last month, it was too late to overcome such a monumental error.