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Just How Blue Is Virginia?

Terry McAuliffe, former DNC Chair and longtime Clinton friend is running for Governor in Virginia, but doesn’t seem much concerned that the electorate for a gubernatorial race may more closely mirror prior Virginia elections than the 2008 presidential race. If it’s the former, his identification as a hyper-partisan liberal Democratic operative may be a problem. For now he’s putting up a good face, not appearing particularly defensive about his lack of state roots or being branded a “national Democrat.” As this report notes:

At the core of McAuliffe’s campaign is the presumption that he can place firmly in the past several long-standing rules about Virginia politics: that successful candidates must have deep roots in Virginia, that they must spend years cultivating support in local and state party organizations and that, if they are Democrats, they must stay connected with conservative-minded Virginians by keeping their distance from the national party.

But some are skeptical as to whether this is going to fly:

“Virginia has a long history of electing people who have served in elected positions in the community for a long time,” said Fairfax Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee), who is supporting [McAuliffe primary opponent Brian] Moran. “They don’t look kindly on people who come in from Washington or other areas and waltz in and think they’re going to run for the top spot in the commonwealth.”

Many longtime Democratic activists snicker at McAuliffe’s recent gaffe in Prince William County, where he mistakenly referred to the research institutions and universities as those “we have here in Florida.” Some have tartly remarked that neither Moran nor Deeds needs a “listening tour” to understand the issues important to Virginia. About 200 supporters gave Moran a two-minute standing ovation at a recent evening meeting of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, an unsubtle rebuke of McAuliffe’s entrance into the race.

We’ ll find out whether the Obama era has changed all that. If the general election turnout in November is anything like 2008–a huge turnout among African Americans, new arrivals to the state, and young voters–chances are that McAuliffe won’t have any problem with his image. But if not, the strategy used so successfully by prior Democratic Governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (e.g. pro-gun, social moderation, rural appeal, distance from the national party) might not be so safely jettisoned.

And this certainly will be a test of the new President’s impact on national politics. With his close ally and still-Governor Kaine as the head of the DNC, the Virginia race, even more than many previously expected it to, will be nationalized. We will see, in a year in which the economy most likely will not have snapped back, whether the Democrats can run effectively under the Obama banner and succeed, even in a state which has only recently swung Blue.



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