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There was a long time when the way Virginia voted in presidential elections wasn’t debated or wondered about. It was taken for granted.
After going for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, everything changed in Virginia when the national Democratic Party embraced civil rights legislation. Most white segregationists took their racism to the Republican Party or became independents, as did the Byrd family. It was the beginning of the end of the old Byrd Machine in Virginia.
From the ‘70s right through the 2004 election, everyone knew Virginia would vote Republican (for a while, John Kerry thought he had a chance here, but withdrew his campaign staff in September).
That began to change with shifting population demographics, not just in Virginia but across the country. By 2008, a credible Democratic presidential candidate could look lustily upon an increase in minority demographics, especially in Northern Virginia.
Many of those were young people who were well-educated (and, again, educated people tend to be more liberal). Minorities who are only a generation or two from immigrants don’t respond well to the anti-immigration sentiment on the right, either.
The votes of these ethnic minorities, and of young people, helped Democrat Jim Webb sneak past George Allen into a Senate seat in 2006. Two years later, the Obama campaign took advantage of the new demographics and launched a massive new voter registration effort in this state.
Speaking of Allen, one little-noticed remark from his “macaca” moment spoke volumes. Allen felt comfortable using a racist word at an Indian-American in 2006 because he saw that he was almost totally surrounded by white people.
“This is the real Virginia,” Allen said. No, it wasn’t, and it never will be again.
Conservative Republicans can no longer take this state for granted in a presidential campaign. So, the Old Dominion is back in play. Obama and Romney will be here a lot between now and November.
Lately, polls show about a 5-point lead for the president over Romney in Virginia, but those polls won’t matter much until after Labor Day.
Romney’s weakness here is the same he’ll have all over the country. He practically sold his soul to the loud extremists in his party to get the nomination. He has betrayed his own moderate background in order to reach this point in his ambitions. Many people, left and right, wonder what he really stands for.
No thanks to Governor Ultrasound, Virginia’s unemployment rate is still lower than the national rate. But most women in Virginia want no part of the national Republican obsessions with abortion and contraception. The war on women won’t sell here any better than anywhere else.
Obama’s appeal to young, educated voters, and baby boomers who have stood for something in their lives (for civil rights, or against war, etc.), remains. We all know that whatever he has tried to better the country has been viciously and hatefully opposed by the GOP.
The future does not seem to lie in tired, old conservative myths, marketed these days – not with the friendly appeal of a Ronald Reagan – but with the kind of arrogance and contempt put forth by Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, Eric Cantor, and the others who almost literally foam at the mouth as they attack the president and his supporters.
How do you win a national election when your top mouthpiece goes on national radio and calls an intelligent girl “a slut?” Or, how do you explain to people struggling with low wages in retail jobs that “corporations are people?”
Mitt’s got his work cut out for him in Virginia, as he does everywhere else. But it’s good to see our beautiful and historic state playing such an important role. We should relish it.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.