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.