Koelemay’s Kosmos/ Doug Koelemay – Blow Against the Wind?


Virginia election results from November 6 continue to prompt comments on everything from issues to campaign strategies. Depending on which spokesperson one hears, for example, the election was either all about the illegal immigration issue or totally not about the illegal immigration issue. But coloring the results by the numbers is a better way to understand the cold, hard trends at work. The inevitability of the numbers in electoral politics often prompts Paul Simons lyrical question, Who am I to blow against the wind?

Election morning, for example, Democrats actually woke up with the majority in the 2008 Virginia Senate. Before a vote was cast, it was clear that 16 Democrats either had no opponent or were assured of reelection. 15 Republicans had no opponents or were assured of reelection. Those hard numbers meant that both Democrats and Republicans had to win five of the nine races considered in play on election day: Ds to take a 21-19 majority and Rs to get to the 20-20 tie that would allow a Republican Lt. Governor to break what otherwise would be an organizational tie when the Virginia Senate convenes in January 2008.

Democrats won that best five out of nine election by holding the Prince William seat of Sen. Charles Colgan and winning two seats each from Republicans in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Three of those four seats threw out Republican incumbents. Get ready to learn more about Democrats George Barker, Donald McEachin, Chap Petersen, John Miller and Ralph Northam as they are sworn in as Virginias newest senators. And dont forget about Republican newcomers Ralph Smith, Richard Stuart and Jill Vogel, who prevailed in tight races to hold the seats of retiring or retired Republican incumbents.

Republican leaders in the House of Delegates started with a little easier draw on Election Day. Speaker of the House William J. Howell could count on 48 of the 100 seats in the House being filled with Republican candidates, who either were unopposed or heavily favored to defeat their opponents, plus two GOP-leaning independents. House Democratic leaders Ward Armstrong and Brian Moran were confident that they would hold the 40 seats they had. That left ten competitive races considered to be within the margin of error of tracking polls. Democrats had to pick up all of those ten seats to threaten the Republican majority in 2008, but instead picked up four of the ten. That two of the four seats lost were in Northern Virginia could be shrugged off by many Republicans. That the other two seats lost were in Virginia Beach, however, continues to prompt questions.

After electoral politics, of course, the numbers drive governing. Take those new numbers for the Virginia Senate one more step and one sees not only new Democratic committee chairmen named Colgan, Houck, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsh, Miller, Saslaw, Ticer and Whipple, but also a radical change in the way the chairmen look. Women are likely to hold seven chairmanships. African-Americans are likely to chair four Senate committees.

As ranking minority members in years past, most new committee heads have worked smoothly with a Republican counterpart. New budget conferees from Senate Finance in 2008, for example, are likely to include Charles Colgan, Edd Houck, William Wampler and Walter Stosch, just as in 2007, and one other Democrat in place of long-time Chairman John Chichester, a Republican who is retiring. But coloring by the numbers also points to large swings in committee membership.

There will be at least three new Democratic members of that all-knowing, all-powerful Senate Finance Committee, for example. There will be at least four new members of Commerce and Labor, four new members of Rules, five new members of Transportation, five new members of General Laws and Technology and six new members of Privileges and Elections (which among its other duties will be responsible for redistricting after the 2010 census). Even with continued Republican control of the House of Delegates, at least five committees will be getting new chairmen and the ratios of Republicans to Democrats are likely to tick toward Democrats by one. Cue the Bob Dylan lyric now, The times, they are a-changing.

Underneath all the immediate results, of course, pulse changing demographics and medium-term trends in fundraising and vote-getting that will drive elections next year and in 2009. These trends, not just issues of the moment and the November 6 election results, concern a number of Virginia Republicans.

Despite his failure to achieve reelection as a United States Senator in 2006, for example, Republican George Allen thumped challenger Jim Webb in seven of the eleven Congressional districts in Virginia. Allen rolled up huge margins in the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Districts, margins that once would have been large enough to ensure victory. Now Senator Webb only edged out Allen in the Tenth District (Northern Virginia), but rolled up an almost 200,000 vote margin in the Eighth and Eleventh Districts (Northern Virginia) plus the Third District (stretching from Richmond to Hampton Roads) to win the election.

Experts point out that former Gov. Mark Warner will start with similar margins against any Republican nominated in the 2008 race to replace Sen. John Warner, who is retiring, for the other Virginia seat in the U.S. Senate. Mark Warner knows, too, that he also beat the Republican nominee for Governor in 2001 in the Fourth, Fifth and Ninth Congressional Districts and that he left office with approval ratings approaching 80 percent. Those numbers are why experts see Mark Warner as the gold standard in future Virginia electoral politics.

The trends already have serious implications for 2009 Virginia elections as well. Population growth and participation rates by voters, for example, suggest that almost half the votes to be cast in 2009 are likely to come from only 10 jurisdictions. One out of seven votes could come from Fairfax County alone and 25 percent from the Northern Virginia combination of Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington Counties. Another 11 percent could come from Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Norfolk and 10 percent from Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond.

That means successful candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general will need to be able to roll up large majorities in at least half of those counties or cities to be successful.

As they did in 2007, the battlegrounds for control of the House of Delegates again will occur in those population centers in 2009. Looking ahead two years is why the Democratic gains of four Senate and four Delegate seats in Fairfax, Prince William, Virginia Beach and Norfolk are of special concern to Republicans. It is also why certain officials, whose strengths are centered in those areas, may be more optimistic than others in considering statewide races in 2009. Because of the numbers, the races for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General already have begun.