That’s somewhat of a rhetorical question but it’s rooted in this reality: The Democratic base in Southwest Virginia appears to have evaporated.
Virginia Democrats once relied on a three-part strategy, geographically speaking: They needed big numbers out of the state’s urban areas and other localities with a large African-American population; they needed to try to win Northern Virginia, and they needed to run up big numbers in the coalfields.
Admittedly, they numbers in the coalfields were small, but the margins were large.
Even in the worst of times, Virginia Democrats could count on the coalfields.
Over the past few elections, we’ve seen the realignment of far Southwest Virginia. Al Gore and his environmentalism played uneasily in the coalfields; this year, Republicans very effectively portrayed President Obama as waging a “war against coal.” And, of course, the realignment of the coalfields fits within the larger national pattern of Democrats losing ground with white, working-class voters — but making up ground elsewhere, among younger voters, growing minorities, and certain types of suburban voters.
Last night, the only locality Obama carried west of Roanoke was Radford. Montgomery County, which went for Obama in 2008, flipped ever so slightly to Romney.
More and more, we’re seeing Democrats focus on not just winning Northern Virginia (which used to be their problem) but running up big numbers there (Obama took 59% in Fairfax County, for instance, and nearly 57% in Prince William County). And as the population there continues to grow so much faster than the population in Southwest Virginia (which sometimes grows, sometimes shrinks), well, the numbers tell the tale, don’t they?
Last night, we posted some numbers showing how the coalfield vote has switched from Democratic to Republican over the past three election cycles. Here’s an update, which goes back to include the 1988 presidential returns — a year in which Michael Dukakis didn’t fare well nationally, or even statewide, but still ran up big numbers in far Southwest Virginia.
Notice how much the share of the Democratic vote has fallen:
1988: Dukakis 58.7%, Bush 40.06%
2004: Kerry 50.8%, Bush 48.4%
2008: McCain 49.2%, Obama 48.5%
2012: Romney 61.93%, Obama 35.82%
1988: Dukakis 63.2%, Bush 35.7%
2004: Kerry 53.7%, Bush 45.8%
2008: McCain 51.9%, Obama 46.5%
2012: Romney 66.69%, Obama 32.08%
1988: Dukakis 54.2%, Bush 45.1%
2004: Bush 57.9%, Kerry 40.1%
2008: McCain 63.1%, Obama 34.8%
2012: Romney 71.3%, Obama 26.9%
1988: Dukakis 55.9%, Bush 42.7%
2004: Bush 51%, Kerry 48.2%
2008: Obama 49.2%, McCain 49.1%
2012:Romney 59.9%, Obama 38%
1988: Dukakis 57.9%, Bush 40.7%
2004: Bush 53.2%, Kerry 45.2%
2008: McCain 55.6%, Obama 42.9%
2012: Romney 67.7%, Obama 30.7%
1988: Dukakis 52.4%, Bush 46%
2004: Bush 57.4%, Kerry 41.1%
2008: McCain 65.6%, Obama 32.8%
2012: Romney 78%, Obama 20.63%
1988: Dukakis 52.4%, Bush 46.2%
2004: Bush 58.2%, Kerry 40.5%
2008: McCain 63.0%, Obama 35.3%
2012: Romney 73.7%, Obama 25.0%
So the question is, could some future Democrat turn this around? Or will the party even bother, since the coalfields are now clearly unnecessary for the party in a statewide race?
One more little fact: In 1988, Dukakis came out of the coalfields with a margin of about 9,100 votes. Last night, came out of Prince William County in Northern Virginia with a margin of 23,484 votes.