Sad Truth: A lot of Virginians just don't care...
The discussion of what Sen. Herring's blowout win over Mick Staton means has begun over at Commonwealth Conservative, which links to similar discussions.
There'll be lots of opinions, each right in its own way, and each also wrong. So with that as a preamble, here's my take:
There's an old saw in politics: In any given election, each side will win 40% of the vote, and the contest is over that middle 20%. Certainly this is true in Loudon County, which even though it supported Kaine was (until recently) a solidly Republican County. So when one candidate gets less that 40%, it's a sign something is seriously wrong.
However, unlike in some other special elections, here I don't think the problem was necessarily an ideological split within the Republican Party. If anything, it was a problem with how Republicans have been approaching elections recently, both here in Virginia and nationally.
It seems as though Republicans can't help but nationalize every election. During the governor's race, we couldn't talk about anything except abortion and the death penalty (which sounds a lot like 2001, when you think about it). The Democrat talked about fiscal solvency, transportation, etc. Both times, the Democrat won. In the special election, even though Staton tried to talk about transportation, even the conservative blogs couldn't help but talk about Dick Black.
At some point, Republicans are going to have to realize that, while the base loves talking about abortion, the death penalty, and other social issues, the "center" (especially in Northern Virginia) honestly doesn't care. All they want is to be able to get to and from work, not pay too much in property taxes, and be able to send their kids to decent schools. That, and the trips to soccer practice, baseball practice, swim lessons and church on Sunday, and that's all most people have time/energy to care about.
It may be hard to believe, esp. if you believe abortion is murder, but the reality is the "center" just doesn't care that much about it. "Legal but infrequent" probably sums up the position. Unless Republicans learn how to talk to people who really don't care that much about politics again, we are going to continue to lose -- maybe not all at once, but slowly over time.