The Virginia GOP is in a unique kind of tailspin.
They hold a majority in both houses in the Virginia General Assembly, hold an 8-3 majority in the House of Representatives delegation, and have split the last four statewide races with the Democrats, and almost won a statewide race where the incumbent GOP candidate repeatedly under cut himself. Incumbent GOP congressmen Frank Wolf and Tom Davis in Northern Virginia were both reelected with comfortable to large majorities made more impressive by the national discontent with President Bush. Incumbent GOP Representative Thelma Drake in Va2, despite being targeted by every Democratic group from the DCCC to Moveon.org, won reelection against a strong challenger.
Yet with all this the Virginia GOP is seen as being in eclipse. The local party catches the brunt of the ill-will toward the national party. The Democrats have won the last two marquee races in Virginia, and population growth in Northern Virginia threatens to give the Democrats a built in and potentially unsurmountable edge in statewide elections. Partisan ideological threatens the foundation of even the strongest incumbent.
What is to be done? Well, as the Advance kicks off this weekend let me offer some ideas…
Geographic Division: Bad Governance and Bad Politics
The first path on the road back was seen in a recent Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post. Titled “One Virginia or Two?” the writer said:
Having traveled more than 68,000 miles by car throughout Virginia last year, I can guarantee that more things unite Northern Virginia and the rest of the state than divide them.
All Virginians want quality education for their children, so each child can reach his or her full potential. They want jobs that reward the dignity of work and respect the worker. They want a transportation system that functions so getting to work isn’t a job in and of itself. They want clean air and water. They want safe communities. When they get old, they don’t want to be pushed into the shadows and forgotten or abused. They want to live secure and healthy lives. They want a government that listens to all citizens, not just those with the fattest wallets.
I could go on, but you get the idea. If you look for differences, you will find them. If you look for bedrock values that unite us, you will find them, too.
The author? Former Democratic Representative Leslie Byrne.
Unfortunately, the state GOP has for too long looked at the metropolitican areas of the state as once sacred ground that has been stolen from outlanders who don’t appreciate Virginia ways and traditions-you know, like the Yankees taking over Arlington.
The GOP must recognize the Commonwealth is a living entity that stretches from Big Stone Gap to the Atlantic, and from South Boston to Ballston. It does not stop at the Chopawamsic Creek. Mrs. Byrne is correct…everyone who lives in this state wants the same things, and aspires to make their lives better. To try to govern otherwise leads to bad decisions and bad governance.
This path also is bad politics. If the GOP continues its strategy of ignoring Northern Virginia, it will find itself in the same plight as a poker player trying for an inside straight, needing one particular component to come in just right in order to win. A whole contest, dependant on one card. Is this any way to build a consistent coaltion? Can you win year and year out when the most populous part of the region is ready to go 3-2 against your candidate?
Bread and Butter trumps ideology; vision trumps murky
Political parties have agendas, so it is not surprising that those who are heavily involved in political parties have strong views on the agenda items. The rest of the world may not place as much emphasis on those same issues. The Virginia GOP must return to offering real issues and real answers to the day to day problems our people face. By getting tied up in struggles over ideology as opposed to everyday issues the Virginia GOP creates perceptions that it is out of touch with the world. Ideological purity is nice, but not at the cost of ignoring day-to-day issues that folks are most conerned about
Just as important is crafting a world vision of where and how they want to the state to move forward. If you offer a vision, if you explain the big picture of where they want to move the state, the GOP will create a framework that supports all issues by presenting a consistent and coherent view of how the various GOP politicies and positions tie together. Without this framework, the GOP looks like a rag tag collection of single issue zealots, bound together soley by a desire for political pull.
Play Smart, Be Sharp, Welcome Innovation…
Remember the Redskins in the 1980’s? Solid football, great ground game, and smart ballplayers-they did not beat themselves. Bobby Beathard found ways to work the system and find and keep good players. The GOP in Virginia has to do the same. GOP candidates in 2006 came around too late too often to the benefit of the internet and of bloggers, while Democrats have been using the same technology to great advantage in the last two elections. All the new uses of new technology-from online fundraising and blogging to googlebombing-have been worked hard by the Democrats. The GOP is still quite skilled in traditional ground game politics, but they have to be able to deploy all possible weapons-and not just ones they are comfortable or familiar with.
By the same token, they must be willing to not beat themselves. Since the GOP took the majority in the General Assembly, they have been the victim of series of self-inflicted wounds:
- Vance Wilkins, the man who built the party to majority status, resigns as Speaker in a sexual harassment scandal.
- Candidate for Governor wins on a promise to repeal the car tax, and doesn’t get it done…and now the car tax is inching back.
- GOP staff violates wiretapping laws, leading to the loss of talented workers.
- Given a choice between a State Senator from a populous area or a relatively anonymous delegate from a much lower population county who had been working the party, the GOP tabs the delegate…and we know how that turned out
- Kilgore 2005: The Death Penalty advertisement
- Allen 2006: Overconfidence leads to death by a million cuts.
The GOP didn’t used to make stupid mistakes like this. The Democrats have yet to prove they are really in the ascendancy-they just have to sit back and wait for the GOP to self destruct.
…and Make Your Case
The GOP has for too long relied on now out moded messages. They cannot simply call the Democrats “Liberal” and expect to win. Once the GOP has figured out the framework, then it has to spell out what it means and how this benefits the Commonwealth.
My state Senator is a perfect example. Ken Cuccinelli is a Republican, a man of principle, and seems like a good guy. But when it comes to taxes, all he can say is how people are having to pay too much in taxes. But if we are paying too much, where is the money going? Where can the cuts be made? What economy measures can be put in place? We get the spicy mustard-“No New Taxes!“-but we don’t get the hamburger, the substance of why new taxes are not needed.
Yes, there would have been a surplus without the last tax increase. Yes, the Warner administration made a $137 million accounting error. So What? Tell us what you believe should be done with this extra money and why! Tell us what programs to cut so the state can fucntion on current revenues!
Bottom line to the GOP: Tell us what you believe, what your vision is, how you will improve life for all people in the state, and how you are going to get us there.