Why Virginia Might Matter

TNR’s Nate Cohn, who seems determined to stamp out any grounds for Democratic optimism about prospects for regaining control of the House in 2014, has penned a piece pouring preemptive cold water on any effort to treat the impending Terry McAuliffe win in Virginia as in any way prophetic. He does this by approaching the contest from opposing angles: (a) Ken Cuccinelli lost the race a long time ago via a perfect storm of “scandal and extremism,” and is not losing because of a government shutdown backlash that will hit his fellow-Republicans next year; (b) Virginia’s statewide electorate is more positive ground for Democrats than the districts of the kind of Republicans who would have to lose to give Democrats control of the House.

What I’ll be most interested when the votes are in next Tuesday are turnout patterns (normally an off-year election like Virginia’s is even more skewed towards pro-Republican older white voter than a midterm) and whether McAuliffe did unusually well in demographic groups that went Republican in 2009, 2010 and 2012. If the Republican hold on old white folks is fading, that’s good news for Democrats in 2014 even in districts labeled solidly Republican due to their partisan character in 2008 and 2012.

Truth is, after 2010 confirmed the heavy shift to the GOP of the groups most likely to turn out in mid-terms and off-year elections, I figured it would be a good long while before a Democrat would win the governorship in a “purple” state with off-year elections like Virginia. There’s got to be a non-trivial reason for McAuliffe’s apparently easy win, and while it may perhaps be personal to Cuccinelli, there’s no reason to conclude that without post-election evidence.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.