November 10, 2005
The Impact of Virginia
WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert and the House Republican
campaign chairman, Rep. Tom Reynolds, were given a sobering warning
last week by senior GOP political operatives. They were told that
on Tuesday, Nov. 8, the Democrats were sure to win the governorship
of Virginia. After that, the warning continued, the watchword within
the House majority would be: Every man for himself!
of Democrat Tim Kaine over Republican Jerry Kilgore was the only
contest in scattered off-year elections that was carefully monitored
on Capitol Hill. For a liberal Virginian to win a Southern red
state signaled that cherished Republican majorities in both House
and Senate, plus all the perquisites they entail, could be lost
in 2006. Eyeing the Democratic landslide in suburban northern
Virginia just over the Potomac from Washington that gave Lt. Gov.
Kaine the governorship, Republicans in Congress envision their
to avoid that fate is to keep as far away from President Bush
as possible, a lesson underlined by the president's failed election
rescue mission for former state Attorney General Kilgore. The
consequences may be profound. As his approval rating dipped, Bush
increasingly has been treated in Congress as a lame duck. Tuesday's
Virginia outcome increases the propensity of Republican senators
and House members not only to avoid their president on the campaign
trail but also to ignore his legislative proposals.
off-year election outcomes do not approximate the clear warning
signal given Democrats 12 years ago when the 1993 flip from Democrat
to Republican for governor of Virginia and New Jersey and mayor
of New York presaged the 1994 GOP landslide. This year's expected
Democratic win in New Jersey and retention of a nominal Republican
in New York's City Hall did not constitute a national sea change.
message read on Capitol Hill came strictly from the Virginia governor's
race. How to explain that Democratic victory in a red state where
both U.S. senators, eight out of 11 House members and comfortable
margins in both houses of the legislature are Republican, and
Tuesday Republicans won for lieutenant governor and apparently
Kilgore's defeat on the dip of Bush's popularity in Virginia below
50 percent. After avoiding the president on Bush's recent visit
to Norfolk, a desperate Kilgore asked for his eleventh hour help.
The Monday night appearance in Richmond by a dispirited and exhausted
Bush, returning from his difficult Latin America trip, was a dud.
for the second straight Democratic triumph for governor of Virginia
go beyond Bush fatigue. "I'm not going to blame the president,"
Jim Gilmore, the last Republican elected to the governorship and
former national party chairman, told me on election night after
Kaine's victory was apparent. He added: "We have to stand
up for the taxpayer to present a firm and consistent message."
was elected in 1997 when Democrats opposed his promised repeal
of the hated car tax. Eight years later, Democrats transmuted
Gov. Mark Warner's tax increase by claiming the mantle of fiscal
responsibility thanks to Republican waffling on taxes. Kilgore
epitomized what was wrong with the Virginia Republicans by sounding
an uncertain trumpet on taxes and abortion.
no reason for Republican joy elsewhere on Tuesday. The party's
big win was the re-election landslide in New York City of Michael
Bloomberg, who governs largely as a Democrat. The easy victory
for governor of New Jersey of a flawed candidate, Sen. Jon Corzine,
represented the futility of relying on self-financed candidate
Douglas Forrester, who was despised by social conservatives. In
California, the defeat of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's ballot
issues represented a lost opportunity nationally to curb labor
union political power.
the blame. In the days immediately preceding Tuesday's elections,
Republican committee chairmen in Congress grew increasingly contemptuous
of their president. Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate
Finance Committee, dismissed Bush's Social Security plan as something
to be shelved until after the 2008 presidential election. Rep.
Joe Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee,
opposed Bush's requested $7 billion to fight bird flu. Thanks
to Virginia, the president can expect more of the same.
2005 Creators Syndicate