The Commonwealth of Virginia's Ultimate Blog

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What's Wrong With NOVA?

Now before all you NOVA-ites get mad about the title of this post, let me be up front by saying that I have very little idea how to even begin addressing this issue. I lived in Alexandria for two years a while back, but I won't begin to pretend that I understand the ins and outs of NOVA. All I know is that the GOP has been performing pretty damn poorly in NOVA recently and I fail to believe that it is just because there aren’t enough Republicans there.

Clearly something must be done in Northern Virginia. Courtesy of the State Board of Elections here are the results of the ‘97, ‘01, and ‘05 Gubernatorial races in the counties of Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William.

1997- Fairfax: Gilmore (129,038) Beyer (114,697)
Loudoun: Gilmore (20,997) Beyer (13,697)
PWC: Gilmore (32,049) Beyer (18,110)

2001- Fairfax: Earley (120,799) Warner (146,537)
Loudoun: Earley (24,372) Warner (20,907)
PWC: Earley (30,543) Warner (27,297)

2005- Fairfax: Kilgore (103,287) Kaine (163,667)
Loudoun: Kilgore (27,539) Kaine (31,074)
PWC: Kilgore (32,178) Kaine (33,364)

Folks, this is a problem. Not only are Republican Gubernatorial candidates losing ground in NOVA, but we haven’t even begun to talk about the losses of folks like Mick Staton, Delegate Dick Black and Michael Golden, for seats in the General Assembly. So what is the issue here?

One argument is that each of these races simply comes down to the candidates and that each of the losing Republican candidates was weak in some respect. In some cases this may be true, but it certainly cannot explain our losses across the board. Some may argue that Mark Earley was at a disadvantage because Mark Warner was from NOVA, yet NOVA ties didn’t help Don Beyer, nor did the lack of them hurt Tim Kaine. At the more local level, Delegate Black certainly didn’t help himself with his sometimes outrageous comments and what was perceived by many to be nasty campaigning against his opponent. However, even taking that into consideration does not fully explain what looks like a vast erosion of support for Republican candidates throughout NOVA.

Alternatively, some have asserted that the problem is a massive influx of Democrats into these suburban counties. While we all know, and the voter numbers bear this out, that these counties are growing exponentially from year to year, I have trouble believing that the demographic shift leans as heavily Democratic as such a theory would suggest. Rather, I believe it is more likely that the majority of these new residents are part of the “swing voter” category that must be convinced which side to vote for from election to election.

If this is the case, then the question must be asked, “How do we convince these voters to vote for Republicans?” The answer is at once very obvious and also very complicated. The obvious answer is that we must talk to the voters in Northern Virginia about things they care about. We must recognize that suburban voters are concerned with kitchen table issues such as personal and financial security, education, and particularly in NOVA, transportation. This is not at all to say that we should not nominate social conservatives in NOVA, in fact, I hope that we would. However, it is to say that I believe that our local candidates in NOVA should also be individuals who can speak intelligently on issues that affect their potential constituents’ daily lives as well as on broader societal concerns.

At the statewide level, I believe that it is important for statewide candidates to make Northern Virginia feel accepted. It seems that statewide Republican candidates have been increasingly focused on running up big numbers downstate in hopes of offsetting Democratic gains in NOVA. I do not think that ignoring NOVA is a winning strategy. Our statewide candidates must be competitive in NOVA in order to win.

In terms of increasing Republican competitiveness in NOVA, I am encouraged that RPV has developed the Northern Virginia Strike Force to specifically target this area for development of Republican grassroots, leaders and candidates. What concerns me is the emphasis that some seem to put on RPV’s role in this area. Many Republicans seem quick to blame the State Party for failures in NOVA without first looking at their own local Republican committees. In order to be competitive in NOVA, the party must be built from the ground up. Local activists must become involved, reach out to their communities, recruit volunteers and candidates and keep tabs on new developments. The rapid growth of that region makes it vitally important to stay on top of voter identification and recruitment. RPV can help in many ways at the “macro” level of political organization, but the “micro” level work must be done by those on the ground in those communities.

Winning in NOVA may not always be easy for Republicans, but it is absolutely necessary and it is certainly possible. There may be many more things that we should consider as part of the equation for victory in this ever-growing region of the state. I hope that this will be only the beginning of that discussion and that Republicans across the State can work together to find the answers.


Blogger James Young said...

Isn't it funny that the largest margin was won by (arguably) the most Conservative?

In PWC, at least, Gilmore was also the high-water mark. As I recall, George Allen's margin was only 12,000 votes, whereas Jim Gilmore's was 14,000.

3:30 PM

Blogger GOPHokie said...

Many argue that Gilmore did exceptionally well b/c his car tax plan helps NOVA alot (they have more cars to get rebates for).
Earley and Kilgore did not have a message that resonated nearly as well.
The margins havent shifted that much if you look at federal election results for the last 10 years. Its only state elections.
The race this year with George Allen could provide a peek at whther that trend still exists or not.

5:07 PM

Anonymous fmr-va-hack said...

Extremely important post....great job. And I want to piggie back on what GOP Hokie said. Gilmore benefited from the cartax discussion--many of the tax bills in NOVA are due in October. Many will remember that when those notices went out in the days before election day, Gilmore pulled ahead. But, since then, Earley AND Kilgore failed to put forward a coherent and consistant message as they battled against Warner and Warner's stepchild, Kaine.

Republicans lost great opportunities to build on '93 and '97 when they lost ground in NOVA in the two following elections. The focus on terrorism and national security should have helped the Republican candidates in an area that was a target for terrorists. Instead, anti-gay marriage, abortion and a weak discussion on transportation were all the candidates had to offer in their "Vote for us because I have an R beside my name" style campaigns while Warner offered solutions and Kaine feigned the ability to continue his predecessors work.

Whats lost in the process? Grassroots strength, strong GOTV lists, special elections and downticket races that provide the backbone to any statewide efforts. This is a defining moment for RPV. I just hope Kate and Co. have more to offer than TV appearances and task forces.

5:28 PM

Blogger BVBL said...

The one bright spot in NoVA is Manassas (City Of). Under the leadership of Tony Kostelecky, the Republican Committee in Manassas has managed to deliver every race in local, state and Federal election cycles. His committee generally executes by consensus, and hasn't fallen victim to the infighting that has plaged other units in NoVA, and down in Richmond. If you want to know how to win elections in NoVA, ask Tony. His record is perfect.

5:38 PM

Blogger James Atticus Bowden said...

Variation on the themes above. Every election is about candidate-issues-campaign. One weak link relative to the opposition can lose an election.

The losing state elections in NoVa lacked the issues that make a majority. Gotta have a reason for non-ideological folks in the middle 20% to vote FOR you.

What were the 3 reasons to vote for Earley or Kilgore? uh...

Both Warner and Warner II ran as conservatives - fiscally - and side stepping on social issues. They promised in the first case and winked in the second to NOT raise taxes.

NoVa isn't the problem. As the great philosopher, Pogo, said, "We've met the enemy and they is us."

7:06 PM

Anonymous Julia said...


NoVa is a combo of 1) 25% bluer-than-blue, 2) 25% vivid red and 3) 50% purple.

The "purple" group is composed of folks who are generally fiscal conservatives (but not rabidly so) and social moderates. They do not appreciate or have much tolerance for candidates of either party who are excessively "in one's face" (a la Black's stunt with the fetuses).

While Gilmore may have been the "most conservative" to insiders, that is NOT what the public perceived. Many Northern Virginians heard one thing, and one thing only - no more car tax.

The RPV would be well served if the "Strike Force" commissioned a serious poll - without leading questions - of the voters of Northern Virginia to determine where they stand, who they voted for, and why. It would be money well spent. I think the RPV may hear some things that their foot soldiers don't want to hear - NoVa is purple, and basing campaigns on abortion and gay marriage is a losing proposition.

Of course, every time I write something like this - whether on a blog or in letters to the editor in years past - the Republican party members always turn up, tell me how very wrong I am, insist that it's just because true Republicans stayed home from the polls "last time" and then go on to lose again.

Unfortunately, I don't think it will be many election cycles before all of NoVa is blue if the Party doesn't cease jousting at windmills and take an honest, pragmatic look at the voters and the candidates we are giving them.

12:46 AM

Anonymous Freddie said...

From my observations, there are five big problems that cause the bad showings for Republicans in Northern Virginia. These are not in order.

1. Influx of new Democrats. Yes, there have been a large number of new Democrats in Northern Virginia. If you doubt this, drive on Route 7 inside the Beltway. Republicans even have problems with Vietnamese.

2. National issues. In Northern Virginia, voters, both Ds and Rs pay more attention to what's happening in Washington. Currently Democrats are united in hating (that is not too strong a word) the President. Republicans generally support the President, but that is not, by any means, a unanimous opinion for Republicans.

3. Mark Warner, since at least 2001, has worked hard at party building in Northern Virginia. He has expended vast amounts of money and sweat in Northern Virginia in voter ID and other projects. Republicans have expended some of sweat, and little money, in Northern Virginia.

4. Roads in Northern Virginia are a horrible mess. This is a problem that has been building for 40 years. The primary causes are Democrat NIMBYs and the Democrats in the General Assembly, and the Democrats in the local board of supervisors, but the current Republican General Assembly majority gets the bulk of the blame.

5. We have problems with the local Republicans Parties. The worst is the Fairfax Republican Party. It is falling apart.

1:01 AM

Blogger too conservative said...


and the FURTHEST back in years.

8:37 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do think the demographics of the area are changing. An indicator of this is the cost of housing: I live in a condo which (judging by what the other units in the building are selling for) has approximately tripled in value in the last five years.

This means that the core of the GOP electorate--the families with children--cannot afford to live here any more: so they are moving much further out. I know people who, a few years ago, would have lived in NoVa, who now live as far away as Fredericksburg.

This, BTW, is in spite of the fact that there is enormous development going on in Arlington and Alexandria: everywhere you look, there's construction, and when people buy houses in North Arlington now, it's to tear them down and build MacMansions (no insult intended, just descriptive).

I haven't looked at the numbers for the exurban counties, but ISTM that we have to consider the question of NoVa demographics more holistically: what's going on in Fauquier, Stafford, and places like that?

10:13 AM

Anonymous NOVA Scout said...

2005 was the last election in which the Republicans can even think about thrying to "lose close" in Northern Virginia and then run up the score downstate. Those candidates and consultants who have been surviving on that tactic will have to hang it up or change their game. It's not just a matter of changing demographics, either.

Although the demographics are volatile (it seems you can almost see things move in places like Loudoun) and threatening, but Zach makes a good point in that Republicans still get elected even in the heart of Northern Virginia. Tom Davis, Frank Wolfe and Sean Connaughton are all very popular in the region. Wolf and Connaughton are very conservative, Davis somewhat less so. But they all command strong electoral support even across party lines.

Which brings me to the conclusion that while it's not disqualifying to be a conservative Republican, it's not sufficient to get elected. Our candidate selection has been abysmal. Republicans can get elected in Nothern Virginia, but they can't be one-dimensional Republicans. They have to have a compelling record of accomplishment either in prior political positions or in business, the military or something else. Whatever is going on with the influx of new voters in the northern counties, they are looking for candidates who convey some assurance that they know what they're doing, and are honest, fair and reasonable. A guy who has never held office but who feels really, really strongly about abortion or about immigration, or about taxes, just can't hack it up here. He can have those strongly held views and get elected if he can make an obvious case that he's got the skills to serve effectively in state or local government.

Look at some of the GOP guys who have run in (or, in two cases, been victorious) GA primaries in the past year. What is it about their accomplishments in non-political life really inspires confidence that they can be trusted with the levers of governance? They get through a primary with sweet nothings, but the general election voters expect real capability.

The region is crawling with outstanding citizens with impressive resumes. We do a lousy job of exploiting those riches. It's really hard to get high calibre people to put up with what has become the frequently unsavory ambience of some of our local and state GOP discussions.

The Northern Virginia "Strike Force" is a joke so far. They can redeem themselves if they really hone in on why we are getting hold of such dismal candidates. We do ourselves no favors and really make it easy for the Dems when we dredge these folks up.

Conservative Republicans can get elected up here. but they have to be a lot mroe than Conservative Republicans.

4:26 PM


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