A year ago the Virginia Republican Party held the Governor’s office, the Lieutenant Governor’s office and the Attorney General’s office. In 2012, Virginia Republican Governor Bob McDonnell was considered as a strong potential running mate for Mitt Romney. He was also billed as a possible presidential candidate for 2016. At the 2013 state GOP convention, delegates selected a slate of conservative candidates to run in the fall election that included Ken Cuccinelli for Governor, E.W. Jackson for Lt. Governor and Mark Obenshain for Attorney General. All three of them lost and their offices switched from red to blue.
However, last night the GOP had a chance for a small measure of redemption. In a special election to fill newly elected Attorney General Mark Herring’s old seat, and party control of the State Senate at stake, the Republicans at least had an opportunity to halt the bleeding. Although Virginia’s 33rd Senate District leans Democratic, Republicans were hopeful that a low turnout special election in the midst of a winter snowstorm, would give them a chance to win the race and secure a Republican majority in the State Senate.
Voters decided otherwise. Democrat Jennifer Wexton coasted to a resounding 53-37 victory over Republican John Whitbeck. Joe T. May, a former Republican, running as an Independent garnered the remaining ten percent. The Republicans still hold a majority in the state’s lower house (the House of Delegates), but Wexton’s victory gives Democrats control of the upper chamber, although the 6th District race won by Democrat Lynwood Lewis is still undergoing a recount.
With last night’s demoralizing defeat, the collapse of the Virginia Republican Party is nearly complete. Republicans won Virginia in ten state Presidential elections from 1968 to 2004. Barack Obama swung the commonwealth into the blue column in 2008, but the GOP regained their footing in 2009, sweeping the statewide races of Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General. The revival proved short lived however. Now Bob McDonnell is more likely to find himself living in a prison cell than in the White House. Democrats not only control the state offices of Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General, but they also hold both US Senate seats. A recent poll shows Incumbent Senator Mark Warner (D) leading GOP challenger Ed Gillespie by a daunting 29 points, 50-21.
Yesterday’s special election merely underscored what has already become obvious to many political observers. The Republican message is falling flat on its face in Virginia. The state is turning blue and there is no evidence that it has any intentions of turning back.