Michael Barone--for my money, the nation's best political pundit--has been analyzing results of Tuesday's elections around the country. He calls the Virginia and New Jersey governors races a wash, and I tend to agree. The victorious Democratic candidates in each state (Tim Kaine in Virginia, Jon Corzine in New Jersey) won about the same percentage of votes as their predecessors in 2001. However, Barone sees some troubling results in Northern Virginia and Richmond-area suburbs (once solidly Republican or leaning toward the GOP) that fell into the Kaine column on Tuesday.
As someone who spends much of his time in the Old Dominion, I followed the political races closely, and watched in disbelief as Republican Jerry Kilgore's campaign slid off the road over the last two months of the campaign. While Kilgore ran a series of questionable television ads criticizing Kaine's stance on the death penalty (he personally opposes it, but promises to enforce it as governor), I believe Kilgore's most serious problem was his plodding campaign style. He struck many voters as a latter-day Thomas Dewey, the well-cuffed and coifed "man on the wedding cake" who failed to connect with voters on a personal level. If you need proof of that, consider this: Kilgore carried the Virginia Beach area by less than two percentage points. With its huge active-duty and retired military population, Virginia Beach routinely delivers huge margins to Republicans running on a statewide ticket. Simply stated: if Kilgore couldn't connect with the conservatives of Virginia Beach, he was doomed.
There is some consolation for Republicans in Virginia; they won the lieutenant governor's race, and hold a narrow lead in the attorney general contest. If that lead holds, Virginia Beach State Senator Bob McDonnell will be the next attorney general and well-positioned for a run at the governorship in 2009. It's the same path Jerry Kilgore used, but McDonnell is a better politician and a far more effective campaigner. Lieutenant Governor-elect Bill Bolling is another possible contender, but he carries baggage from the well-publicized failure of a company where he served as a senior executive.
On the Democratic side, the machine of outgoing governor Mark Warner (as you probably know, Virginia limits its chief executives to a single, four-year term) will have to dig deeper into its bench to find a suitable candidate. It's also worth remembering that Tim Kaine presided over failing schools are more than a few scandals during his tenure as mayor of Richmond. If his tenure in the governor's mansion also proves rocky, the Democratic candidate in '09 may have some unwanted baggage as well.