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Kaine: Virginia’s neither red nor blue

BY CHELYEN DAVIS

RICHMOND—The day after narrowly winning election to the U.S. Senate, Democrat Tim Kaine said the election results show Virginia is still neither red nor blue, nor likely to become either.

Kaine narrowly beat Republican George Allen, while Virginia went—even more closely—for President Barack Obama. At the same time, Virginians re-elected eight Republican congressmen.

Kaine and Obama were propelled to victory by high turnout among black voters, Latino voters and Northern Virginians who are not aligned to either party.

The closeness of the vote—nearly 50–50 in both cases—shows an electorate that is dominated by independents, Kaine said.

“This statewide electorate is a true battleground electorate,” Kaine said in a press conference Wednesday.

He pointed to Northern Virginia suburban counties such as Prince William and Loudoun as places where winners vary depending on the candidate and the issue, not the party.

“Many of those jurisdictions would not be red or blue, but they’re open to persuasion,” he said. “We’ve worked our way from the red zone to the purple. We’re going to be in the purple for a while.”

Kaine also credited his win to a positive, grassroots campaign, which he said voters preferred to the largely negative ads coming from outside third-party groups.

In his own post-election press conference, Gov. Bob McDonnell said Republicans need to expand their appeal to those voters.

He said the lesson from Tuesday night is that Republicans need to find ways to present their message in more positive, optimistic ways, and appeal to new voters, young voters and minority voters.

“It’s clear to me the Republican Party has a lot of work to do,” McDonnell said.

Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, said Kaine and Obama won in part because the Obama campaign mounted an aggressive ground game, and was “particularly effective at getting the people who would vote for them if they got to the polls, to the polls.”

“The key factors in the Obama victory are high levels of African–American turnout, high levels of young adult turnout, high levels of Latino turnout and the persistence of the gender gap, particularly in suburban swing counties,” Farnsworth said.

Republicans, he said, have reinforced the gender gap with an emphasis on social issues, like the controversial bill in the last General Assembly session to require women to get an ultrasound before an abortion.

Social conservatives do well in rural areas of the state, he said, but hold less appeal for voters in Northern Virginia.

“Trying to convince people to vote Republican in Northern Virginia does not depend on social conservative issues,” Farnsworth said. “The key to successful Republican candidates in statewide elections, as McDonnell’s [2009] campaign demonstrated, is to de-emphasize the social agenda and talk much more about issues of greater concern to people who will not be sold on a Christian conservative message.”

Neither Allen nor Mitt Romney focused on social issues in their campaigns, emphasizing instead exactly what Farnsworth advises—an economic message.

But Farnsworth noted that some Republicans in other states made much-publicized missteps in speaking about abortion and rape.

Asked about those issues, McDonnell said it’s no surprise to anyone that the Republican Party is pro-life. But when Republican candidates speak too stridently—such candidate Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments—it undermines the pro-life message, McDonnell said.

Farnsworth said Allen didn’t make any mistakes in his campaign—but he might have been hurt by some made by Romney’s campaign, such as the widely-publicized video of Romney speaking about 47 percent of the population, and by the Senate race being overshadowed by the presidential one.

So, Farnsworth said, he doesn’t think Allen’s loss means he’s out of politics. After all, he said, Allen nearly won.

“The Republican Party would have been hard pressed to find somebody who could have made it closer” than Allen, Farnsworth said. “It seems to me, politically speaking, George Allen lives to fight another day.”

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028

cdavis@freelancestar.com

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