What’s With Virginia Republicans?

Yesterday I said that it’s highly unlikely that states will actually adopt the “Pennsylvania plan” in which Republicans take advantage of GOP unified government in states which vote for Democrats in presidential elections to change the electoral vote allocation in those states, either to a district scheme (like the Maine/Nebraska system) or a proportional plan.

So as soon as I posted that, Dave Weigel reports that a Republican state senator from Virginia is pushing a district-based allocation there (and apparently it’s spread to Ohio, too).

Well, we’ll see.

As Steve Benen points out, Virginia has only gone to the Democratic presidential candidate three times in the last 60 years. It’s even worse than that, however: in both 2008 and 2012, Virginia was still more Republican than the national tipping point. Basically, if the nation had moved five points toward Romney (with current rules and uniform swing), Virginia would have gone Republican, with Obama winning 272-266. As it happens this time around, either Pennsylvania or Colorado was next up, with either of them giving Romney a win. But wait! If it was neither PA or CO but next in line New Hampshire that flipped, Romney wins 270-268…and if Virginia had adopted the district allocation scheme, Obama gets four or five of their 13 electoral votes and wins the election.

The same thing, by the way, with Ohio, which is usually slightly more Republican than the nation as a whole. In the election we actually had, a district or proportional plan in Ohio would have given a few meaningless votes to Romney, but in a closer election Obama would be the one benefiting from the split.

If Republicans could force a district plan across the whole country, they would benefit. But doing it in selected states is extremely risky.

So what’s happening in Virginia?

One possibility, the one that Benen draws out, is that Republicans are just very pessimistic there; they believe that soon it will be a solid Democratic state, and so they want to lock in rules that will work for them in those circumstances before they get a chance.

A second possibility is that Virginia Republicans, or at least some Virginia Republicans, are very stupid and do not realize that their partisan hardball is very likely to backfire.

And a third possibility is that Virginia Republicans have no intention of doing this, but that one state senator figured he could get some mileage out of proposing it.

My bet is on door #3. But who knows? I guess we’ll see what happens, but I’ll stick with what I said yesterday: I strongly suspect nothing will happen anywhere on this one.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.