Virginia’s Gubernatorial Election: A sign of ‘Change’ in 2010

Editor’s Note: This Essay was slated for publication in the Fall 2009 issue, but unfortunately was lost during the production process. The Staff of Vanderbilt Political Review regrets this error.

Last November, the Nation witnessed the historic election of President Barack Obama as the first African-American President of the United States of America. The election of a Democratic President was portrayed by many (certainly most of the media) as a referendum against eight years of Republican governance in both the Executive and Legislative branches. Riding the wave of momentum created by Barack Obama, a number of newly-elected Democrats flooded Congress.   Throughout the Nation, incumbent Republican congressmen lost their seats to the challenging Democrats. This electoral result was seen by many as a sign that the Nation, angered by the policy choices made in the Bush Administration, wanted ‘change.’ However, if the 2009 Gubernatorial election in Virginia provides any evidence, support for the GOP may be swiftly on the rise after only a year-long experiment with liberal Democratic leadership in Washington.

In keeping with the theme of ‘change‘ that defined the 2008 election cycle, the State of Virginia broke with tradition by voting for a Democratic Presidential candidate for the first time since 1964.[1] Coupling the onset of the largest financial crisis experienced since the Great Depression of the 1930s with the Bush Administration’s deeply -divisive decision to send troops to fight in the Middle East, Virginians also succumbed to the idea of ‘change’ that Obama preached.

But barely one year later, the citizens of Virginia (perhaps closest to the chaos spewing out of Washington) acted to express their view that the ‘change’ they voted for last fall, was indeed not the ‘change’ they either expected or wanted. Controversial Health Care legislation that began boiling over in Congress during the summer months caused many headaches for congressmen during their August recesses as they faced the angry outcry of Americans in their districts. Additionally, citizen frustration mounted as the unemployment rate continued to rise in spite of the massive American Relief and Recovery Act (ARRA) passed earlier in the year by Congress and signed by the President.

This legislative action itself faced much criticism from citizens who considered it to be merely wasteful government spending mainly used to fund ’pork’ projects. The insertion of a $30 million dollar earmark inside the $ 789 billion dollar ARRA to protect an endangered salt harvest mouse in Nancy Pelosi’s own district added more fervor to those claims of irresponsible spending. The philosophy behind the ARRA stimulus legislation, as the name implied, was to inject capital in those sectors of the economy deemed to be failing in order to help them to recover. Earmarked spending of an exorbitant amount of money to protect a small rodent with no apparent bearing on America’s economic recovery caught the eye of many as the definition of wasteful government spending.

Amidst all the controversy that surrounded the implementation of the Stimulus legislation (remarkably a large portion yet to be spent) and the on-going Health Care Reform debate, the election of Republican Bob McDonnell to the governorship in Virginia on November 4th served as a clear repudiation of the policy choices championed by the Obama Administration. McDonnell’s election demonstrates a resurgence of the GOP and discontent with the standing Democratic leadership in Washington, given that for the previous eight years Virginia’s Governor had been a Democrat and The Old Dominion’s congressional Democratic candidates had been extremely successful in the State’s election cycle last year.

McDonnell repeatedly won districts in this year’s gubernatorial election that had supported Democratic congressional candidates last year. The voting results from the 5th and the Hampton Roads congressional districts, respectively, provide an example of the changing political winds. Both districts were claimed by Democratic candidates in the 2008 election; but on Tuesday November 4th, McDonnell convincingly garnered the majority of the votes in both districts[2].

Opposition to a proposal, largely unknown to the Nation at-large, but one which negatively affects the citizens of Hampton Roads, also contributed to the impressive electoral success McDonnell. Voters in Hampton Roads, a community with close ties to the military, were angered by the proposal that would shift the home port of the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier from Virginia to Florida[3]. Bill Nye, the Democratic representative from Hampton Roads, who owed his election victory last fall to Obama’s campaign presence in the district, saw his constituency overwhelmingly support McDonnell this year[4].

Similar economic concerns were expressed by those living in Virginia’s 5th district. Heavily influenced by the proposed Cap and Trade environmental legislation that many believe will further burden manufacturers in an area that boasts the State‘s largest unemployment rate. fragment -Emily Megan Morgenstern 11/10/09 5:01 PM Tom Perriello, the Democratic representative from the area, gained victory in his district last fall by a mere 727 votes (the lowest margin of victory in the country).[5] But McDonnell this November carried 61.4% of the vote in the 5th.

With a host of races heating up throughout the Country in anticipation of 2010’s congressional elections, the resurgence of the GOP in a state such as Virginia, previously under solid control of the Democrats, provides evidence of a tilt back towards conservative governance.

McDonnell’s victory speech, highlighting the goals of lower taxes and reduced spending, clearly was aimed at an electorate that in large measure was angered by the perception and fact of ’big government‘[6]. It’s fair to say that in 2010 the Nation may witness more change. Contrary to the 2008 phenomenon, this next cycle of ’change’ may well result in Republicans replacing Democrats and regaining influence in Washington.

Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele notes that the victory in Virginia serves his Party as a “springboard for 2010.” With all the seats in the House of Representatives up for grabs, and more than 35 Senate seats being contested, a challenge awaits incumbent Democrats next year[7]. Leaders amongst the Democrats are already advising colleagues to “ get ready, fasten your seat belt, because this is going to be a tough cycle.” [8]

Unlike 2008, 2010 may not reward those citizens who support the Blue Donkey over the Red Elephant.

Garrett Sweitzer
College of Arts & Science
Class of 2012

[1] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704013004574517924229019190.html
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[4] Ibid
[5] http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/blogs/beltway-confidential/Lessons-from-the-2009-election-results-69054827.html
[6] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/11/03/democrats-republicans-prepare-possible-legal-battle-new-jersey-race/
[7] http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/news/state_regional/state_regional_govtpolitics/article/GOVS041_20091104-001202/303560/
[8] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/11/03/democrats-republicans-prepare-possible-legal-battle-new-jersey-race/

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