Yes, Virginia is up for grabs this fall

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By Rick Howell

For many years Republicans have taken comfort in the dependable idea that Virginia will always vote GOP in presidential elections.

Obviously, there's plenty of evidence for that. Here, one has to trot out the old familiar fact that no Democrat has carried the state since 1964.

Bill Clinton's loss here in 1996, by two points to Bob Dole, is the closest Democrats have come since. John Kerry's campaign thought for a long time in the late summer and early fall of 2004 that it might win here. But the polls began to go in the other direction, and they pulled out most of their paid staff before the end of September.

Just a week or so ago, Dr. John Barnhart was comforting his fellow conservatives that Virginia was still a reliably Republican state. Jim Webb didn't beat George Allen, he said. Allen beat himself.

It's true that Allen's frat boy persona caused him to get too giddy in front of a nearly all-white crowd of Republicans, where he uttered the now infamous racial slur. But to ignore the growing trend of increasing Democratic votes being cast in this state, going back to 2001 (excepting 2004), is to ignore reality.

Perhaps if the doctor didn't spend so much effort slapping those petulant quotation marks around the words Democrat and Democratic, he'd have more energy for a deeper analysis.

It would show that in Northern Virginia (NOVA) in particular, but also in Tidewater, the percentage of Democratic votes has consistently gone up since the start of this decade. (You can get all the figures on the State Board of Elections Web site, and from other sources that track election results by states and regions.)

This factor has helped to elect Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Jim Webb. In last year's legislative elections, all four of the state senate seats Democrats gained - which they used to take control of that chamber - came from those two regions.

The National Committee for an Effective Congress (NCEC) has named Virginia as one of several traditionally Republican states that should be very much in play for the Democrats this year. Imagine, too, the impact of the very popular Mark Warner - who will almost certainly win election to the Senate - campaigning in vote-rich NOVA and Tidewater with our party's nominee.

So, who's voting in Northern Virginia? It?s basically a combination of federal government workers (most of whom are reliably Democratic), college-aged people (another Democratic demographic), and large numbers of immigrants.

Oh, boy?.I said the word, didn't I? Yes, immigrants who have only registered in recent years after their acquisition of citizenship have mostly chosen the Democratic Party over the Republicans. That's because of what can only be described as the nativist hysteria that boils from the GOP on the subject of illegal immigration.

Yes, illegal immigration is a serious problem that must be confronted. But to listen to some Republicans you'd swear that the first person to live on this continent was a white guy in a business suit who founded a Christian church and a bank at the same time. America, alas, was built by immigrants.

Illegal immigration has become the new race card in the GOP, and newer citizens from other lands know it. But, again, this is only one factor in what will make Virginia very competitive in 2008.

The failures of George W. Bush have horribly tainted the GOP?s prospects. Democrats are excited; Republicans are worried. In the Iowa caucuses, about 239,000 Democrats participated, compared to about 116,000 Republicans. To my fellow Democrats I say this: We're going to have fun, and we're going to win; maybe even in Virginia!

Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.