Leaders Consider Next Steps for Virginias GOP

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Losing the U.S. presidency, a second U.S. Senate seat and six out of 11 congressional races made Nov. 4 a tough night for Virginia Republicans, who dominated state politics just a few years ago.

This year follows a series of GOP losses in the Old Dominion the elections of Gov. Mark Warner in 2001, Gov. Tim Kaine in 2005 and Sen. Jim Webb in 2006, and wins last year that gave Democrats control of the state Senate for the first time in a decade.

Northern Virginia has served as the anchor for these Democratic triumphs, and political analysts and party leaders alike say Republicans must do well here, if not win, to take back state offices next year.

The economy killed Republican candidates hopes this year, said Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell (R), who is running for governor 09 will be very much different.

His running mate, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), said, The reason the Democrats have won and we havent won is theyve done a better job in the suburbs than we have. We need to reconnect with those voters.

The candidates listed Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax and Hanover counties and Hampton Roads as areas Republicans need to win to take over the governors mansion and put Virginia back in the red.

Its pretty clear, McDonnell said. One-third of the voters are from Northern Virginia. Weve got to do well there. The place where Republicans need to do well is in the burbs.

Northern Virginia was key to Webbs win in 2006 against incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen, whose macaca gaffe helped lead his campaigns demise.

Much more of the state went Democratic in Novembers Senate race between two former Virginia governors, Warner and Jim Gilmore (R), which Warner won by 31 percentage points.

Despite these recent trends, Republicans are not a lost cause, said Mike Baudinet, assistant to the director of University of Virginias Center for Politics.

I dont think Virginia has become a blue state, he said. Its more purple or maybe bluish purple.

McDonnell has an even chance to be elected governor, said Mark Rozell, professor of public policy at George Mason University, particularly because McDonnell appears to be the sole candidate of choice for the Republicans while the Democrats seem to be ramping up for a primary battle.

This 15-month head start … I think is going to be very important to us, Bolling said.

Republicans have the luxury of waiting to see who the opposition puts up.

Del. Brian Moran (D-Alexandria) has been angling for his partys nomination throughout this year, and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, a McLean resident, formed an exploratory committee for the governors race this week.

Creigh Deeds, who ran against McDonnell in the 2005 attorney general race, also has been reported to be weighing a run for governor.

Party primaries are in early June 2009.

The key to success for Virginia Republicans in 2009 will be to win back moderate Republicans, independents and conservative Democrats, Rozell said.

Republicans cannot win in this state merely by running a campaign that appeals to the base, he said. The Republican Party needs to return to its message of fiscal conservatism combined with supporting good government.

With its focus on illegal immigration and social issues in recent years, the face of the Virginia Republican Party appears extreme to many voters, Baudinet said, but he believes McDonnell and Bolling are the type of leaders who can alter that image.

Retreating further toward the social and military right will condemn [the GOP] deservedly to a deepening minority status, and eventual replacement by a new party founded on moderate conservatism, said Bruce Smart, former U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade under the Reagan administration. Despite his Republican ties, Smart an Upperville resident voted for Democratic President-elect Barack Obama.

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