In 2012, Virginia will host a number of important election battles. As key state in the race for electors, President Barack Obama will try to once again win the red-leaning state and hold off probable challenger Mitt Romney. Republican George Allen looks to take back the US Senate seat he lost 6 years earlier, setting up a likely battle between two former governors. And Republicans look to maintain or build upon their strong hold on congressional seats, where they currently hold an 8-3 advantage.
Virginia is poised to be a top battleground state in 2012. By voting for Barack Obama in 2008, Virginians broke a four decade trend of voting for Republican presidential candidates. Prior to that, Virginians had voted for every Republican since Richard Nixon in 1968 and was one of the few states to vote against Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996. As the likely nominee, Mitt Romney looks to continue the recent string of victories for Republicans in the state.
US Senate Battle
George Allen is the leading contender for the Republicans. A former popular Governor and one-term senator, Allen is looking to win back the seat he lost in 2006. After one term, Democrat Jim Webb has called it quits and former Governor Tim Kaine has stepped in to challenge Allen. Kaine also served as Chairman of the Democratic Party from 2009-2011, and the GOP will be certain to remind voters of that throughout the campaign.
Recent Electoral Trends
President Obama broke a heavy Republican winning trend in 2008 by taking 53% in the presidential election over John McCain. Previously, the state was won by George W. Bush twice (53% in 2000, 54% in 2004), while even Bob Dole managed to beat Bill Clinton by 2 points in 1996.
The US Senate is one of the lone bright spots for Democrats in the state of Virginia. In 2008, popular former Governor Mark Warner easily won election to the Senate with 65% of the vote. If anything, his coattails probably gave Obama a big boost in his presidential contest.
Two years earlier, in 2006, Jim Webb landed a victory in what was a strong Democratic year. Webb trailed his opponent, incumbent Republican George Allen, by double digits in most polls until a somewhat bizarre and overblown controversy turned the momentum into Webb's favor. In what was quite the upset, Webb defeated Allen by less than one-half of one percent.
Mostly Red, Occasionally Blue
Before voting for Obama in 2008, the last Democratic president Virginia voted for was Lyndon Johnson. After voting for Obama, Virginians rebelled in dramatic electoral fashion in every state election since his inauguration and the subsequent passage of Obamacare.
In 2009, Republicans swept all three major statewide races as Bob McDonnell (Governor), Bill Bolling (Lt. Governor), and lead Obamacare opponent Ken Cuccinelli (Attorney General) all won their races with at least 56% of the vote. Meanwhile, in the Virginia House of Delegates, Republicans currently hold 67% of the seats following huge gains in recent election cycles. In 2011, Republicans wiped out a 4-seat advantage by the Democrats to break even in the State Senate.
After taking a 6-5 lead in the state's US congressional delegation in 2008, Democratic incumbents were pushed out of office and the GOP took an 8-3 lead in 2010. Republicans control nearly every aspect of the government in Virginia at this point, while Democrats currently hold the two US Senate seats.
Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has been a major opponent of president Obama's Health Care overhaul and filed a legal challenge against the bill. Obama's active health care policies were a major catalyst in the rise of the tea party nationwide and led to huge victories for conservatives in Virginia following Obama's election. Likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and senatorial candidate George Allen will certainly run on pro-repeal platforms.
As of January 2011, Virginia's unemployment rate stood at 5.8%, exactly where it was when Obama assumed office. While an unemployment rate under 6% would be a welcome figure for many states, Virginia saw rates in the 2-3% range for most of the 2000s. Taxes, the economy, and jobs will be a major voting consideration for many Virginians.
Democrats had a pair of good years in 2006 and 2008. But the Bush era is long gone, and Virginia is, at its core, a Republican leaning state. Polling has predicted that both the presidential and senate contests will be tough. But unless something dramatic happens, it should be favorable territory for Mitt Romney.
Republicans have had major gains in three straight election cycles (2009, 2010, and 2011). The statewide Republican officeholders remain popular. Democrat Mark Warner offered a big boost to Obama in 2008 and probably helped him land the victory, but the left has been otherwise ineffective since then.
Kaine will be riding on the same ticket this go around, and he is considerably less popular than Warner was. Leading the Democrats for over two years while Obama was President might actual hurt his chances in the state.
If voting trends of the last three years continue, Democrats could be swept in the elections for the fourth straight year. Obama would need for lightning to strike twice to win Virginia once again. In 2008, Obama was able to position himself as a moderate during the campaign, a task that will be much more difficult this time around.