Democrats in Virginia got their rear ends kicked far and wide in last week’s general election.
Not only did we lose the contests for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, but we lost eight House of Delegates seats.
While there were two Democratic pick-ups to make a net loss of six in the House, this was the most resounding defeat in recent memory in Virginia.
In the 1993 gubernatorial contest, Mary Sue Terry lost along with a net of five House seats. That was the highest past loss outside of redistricting.
The greatest loss of Democratic House seats came in the 2001 election following redistricting when 12 seats were lost due to the creation of more Republican districts.
To me, the reason for these loses is clear. To paraphrase Richard Nixon: We did not have George Bush to kick around any more.
Reason is Clear
My Republican colleagues told me that Bush hurt Virginia GOP candidates running statewide and in legislative races for six years.
The voting public, including Independents and moderate Republicans, were tired of his policies and took it out on Republican candidates.
That was what drove those same voters to Barrack Obama in 2008. Bush was not on the ballot, but he was still in office.
Of course, we Democrats were more than happy to remind voters of this devil in the White House during those years.
There was no Bush in the White House this year and Democrats did not have a devil to energize them.
But, Republicans did. They saw a Democratic devil in the White House and they were smarting from their drubbing last year.
Independents, on the other hand, saw a Democratic president who had not accomplished anything in the nine months he had been in office.
They also saw a Democratic Congress that voted to give big banks and lenders billions of dollars while they were losing jobs.
Not only that, but the conservative spin doctors had convinced a lot of Virginians that federal health care legislation was going to hurt them.
As you might imagine, money was a key factor in this year’s governor’s race as McDonnell outspent Deeds by $6.8 million.
In contrast, the winning Democratic candidates in the 2001 and 2005 gubernatorial campaigns outspent their rivals.
In 2005, Democrat Tim Kaine outspent his GOP competitor by $2.2 million. In 2001, Democrat Mark Warner spent $11.7 million more than his Republican challenger.
In each race, while the winning candidate spent more, the losing candidate had to spend millions of dollars to win a party primary.
Deeds spent $3.5 million in his primary victory, Republican Jerry Kilgore spent $6.5 million in 2005 to win the Republican primary, and Mark Early’s GOP primary win in 2001 cost him $3 million.
Not in Their Hands
In my view, neither man controlled his own destiny in this year’s election. It all depended on the economy.
I felt all along that if the economy improved by September, then Democrats would be looking good. But, if it stayed stagnant or declined, then we were in trouble.
While statistics may show that the recession is technically over, people are still losing jobs and few families have extra money in their pockets.
For Democrats, the loss of the governor’s race after successes in 2001 and 2005 also continues a phenomenon in Virginia.
Since 1977, the party that wins the presidential election losses the Virginia gubernatorial election the next year.