Virginia's New Dominion

By Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect - June 9, 2013

By the summer of 1864, Confederate armies were hitting the limits of their strength: short on men, short on supplies, and losing ground in key theaters of the war. A reinvigorated Army of the Potomac, led by Ulysses S. Grant, had inflicted heavy casualties throughout the spring, pushing closer to the Confederate capital of Richmond. To regain the initiative, Robert E. Lee directed Lieutenant General Jubal Early to assault the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia, clear it of Union troops, then move on to Maryland and force Grant to defend Washington, D.C. The plan worked, but the fundamentals of the war hadn’t changed. The Confederacy was still weak, and Grant still had more men, more supplies, and a talented corps of experienced generals. At most, Lee had managed to delay the inevitable.

Today’s political situation in Virginia resembles those Civil War dynamics from 1864. Barack Obama’s landmark victory in 2008 made him the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, establishing Virginia as one of the South’s new battlegrounds. Democrats’ long-term prospects in the state are bright, with population trends pointing to a lasting progressive majority, but Virginia Republicans won’t cede their turf without a determined fight. The GOP countered Obama’s 2008 win by dominating the state’s off-year elections in 2009, electing conservative Bob McDonnell as governor and picking up seats in the assembly. This year, on the heels of another decisive Obama victory in 2012, Republicans hope to again signal that Democrats have not yet won the war.

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