The recent Cuccinelli/McAuliffe debate got me thinking about the state of the Virginia GOP. Nationally the Virginia GOP and who it puts up have become a more interesting topic as the Old Dominion has moved from a reliable Republican state to a battle ground in the Presidential campaign.
19 years ago the Virginia came to a fork in the road and went North. In particular they nominated Oliver North for the U.S. Senate over former Reagan OMB Director Jim Miller, who represented the country club wing of the GOP. Like John Warner and Tom Davis, Miller was focused on economic issues and not on a crusade to save the world. He wasn’t a liberal but passing a law mandating a trans vaginal ultra sound is not something at the top of his legislative goals.
In contrast, Ollie North was from the wing of the party connected to the hardcore social conservatives. These folks are driven more by ideological passions. Others linked with this wing of the GOP in Virginia were Mike Farris, Pat Robertson, or Jay Katzen. North and company want to cut taxes and regulations but they are more likely to get excited about restricting abortions or banning gay marriage.
North ran against centrist Democrat Chuck Robb and lost after a long and nasty campaign (for more detail on the race check out the movie A Perfect Candidate).
At that moment it seemed both parties decided they would keep running those kind of candidates.
Considering they won, it makes perfect sense why the Democrats want to replay the 94 race. What doesn’t make sense is why the Republicans keep going down this road of running someone from the social conservative wing who can win a convention but is likely to lose in a high turnout environment.
Think about it this way, aside from John Warner (who could never get the GOP nomination for senate or governor now) the GOP has won one U.S. Senate race in the past 20 years. On the gubernatorial side it’s a mixed bag because the race is the year following the presidential election and turnout always dips, especially for the party that won the White House. That being said the GOP has won two and lost two and has seen opportunities to win races for Lt. Governor slip away in 2001 and 2013 by nominating candidates seen as too out there.
The real question is will it change? If Virginia keeps changing and the GOP doesn’t where will they end up?