A couple of observations from last night's GOP blowout:
1) Everyone--except Ed Gillespie--missed Virginia. While I'm not a card-carrying member of the political pundit/consultancy class, but I've been to the election rodeo (as a reporter and volunteer) more than a few times. And like a lot of folks in the Old Dominion, I pronounced Mr. Gillespie's Senate campaign as officially D.O.A. shortly after Labor Day. At that point, incumbent Democrat Mark Warner and his surrogates had been attacking Gillespie on the airwaves for months, depicting him as an Enron lobbyist (and worse). He was trailing in the polls by double-digits and his first, sustained wave of TV ads didn't start until September.
So, how did an underfunded--and some would say, lackluster--campaign put Mark Warner into a likely recount? First, Mr. Gillespie carefully picked his spots. With less available money than Warner, he entered the Washington, D.C. television market late in the race, but made it count. When the Redskins appeared on Monday night football, he aired a spot suggesting that the U.S. Senate had better things to do than trying to force a name change on the NFL franchise. The ad aired only once, but saying it resonated among the throngs of Redskins fans in northern Virginia would be a gross understatement.
Gillespie also ran a largely, upbeat, issues-focused campaign that was designed to appeal to independents. Exit polling showed the GOP challenger ran only one point behind Warner in that group; in 2008, the Democrat carried that group by 36 points. Mr. Gillespie, a former RNC chair and Bush Administration official, also benefited from local and national trends. Obviously, a lot of voters on the fence broke for Republicans in the campaign's final days, and it boosted Gillespie's run in Virginia. So did a strong performance by Barbara Comstock, who captured the northern Virginia congressional seat held for decades by Frank Wolf, who is retiring. Democrats still got a lot of votes out of Arlington and Fairfax County--probably giving Warner the narrow lead he now holds.
But Gillespie far out-performed recent GOP candidates in the D.C. exurbs and Virginia Beach, the largest city in the state. Early exit data showed Mr. Gillespie with a 10-point advantage in Virginia Beach, which has a huge population of military members and veterans. Mitt Romney carried the same area by only two points in 2012.
Trailing by a fraction of a point, Gillespie should request a recount. His prospects of winning are probably low, given Democrats' amazing ability to manufacture more votes when results are re-tabulated. But with last night's stunning performance, Gillespie becomes an early favorite in the 2017 Virginia governor's race. As for Mark Warner, the list of possible Democrat VP nominees in 2016 has grown shorter. By one name.
2. Vote for Us--We're the Reason You're Back Home with Mom and Dad. After President Obama's victories in 2008 and 2012, Democrats bragged about their ability to target and mobilize key segments of the electorate, including millenials, gays, unmarried women and minorities. With America's changing demographics, the Obama coalition was thought to be durable and built-to-last, ensuring Democrats of electoral pluralities for years to come.
So, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance, Democratic strategists went back to the well in 2014, going after so-called "basement grads" who had voted for Obama at least once before. The group consists of young college grads who came of age during the economic recession that began in 2007. As their name implies, many have been forced to move back in with their parents because of limited job prospects.
Douglas Belkin of The Wall Street Journal recently detailed Democrats' courting of basement grads:
Politicians, particularly Democrats, are courting these millennials
who came of age during the recession, entered college at a time of
soaring tuition and find themselves burdened with record student debt
and soft job prospects. All too often their paths include a post-college
stint living in their parents’ basements.
a 26-year-old Army veteran who left college to join the military,
said he was shocked to be billed for his student loans while he was
deployed in Afghanistan. “That served as a wake-up call about how unfair
the system really is,” he said.
At least half a dozen Democratic House candidates are running TV ads
devoted to the issue, as are at least two Democratic senators and two
GOP House candidates. Outside groups attacking Republicans also are
piling in. During the second week of October, Democrats outspent
Republicans on TV ads on education by more than four to one, according
to the Cook Political Report and Kantar Media.
As a political strategy, basement grads were a flop. There was plenty of polling before the election that suggested that millennials weren't interested, and their turnout would be well below the levels of 2008 and 2012. Looks like the jobless Obama recovery kept a lot of them at home in election day.
Placing your electoral hopes on groups that have been hurt your party's economic policies isn't exactly a winning hand.