There are probably lots of things both sides learned from this week’s election. Here are three of them that apply at least indirectly to our corner of the state.
* Virginia will be a swing state again in 2016. Virginia’s status as a swing state snuck up on us in 2008, as Obama dramatically expanded the map that year. This year’s even narrower margin in Virginia would guarantee the Old Dominion would be on both party’s maps next time around. North Carolina, too. The Obama campaign seemed to pull back from the Tar Heel State a few weeks out, to concentrate on Ohio. Indeed, Romney carried North Carolina, but not by as much as many observers thought he might. For what it’s worth, that would seem to confirm the Obama campaign’s wisdom in holding its convention in Charlotte, as a play for the vote in the newly purple states of North Carolina and, to a lesser extent, Virginia. Obama didn’t need North Carolina, but any time he forced Romney to spend there was time and resources the Republicans weren’t spending elsewhere.
* Southwest Virginia doesn’t matter for the Democrats anymore, but it sure does for the Republicans. We addressed some of this in a previous post: The Democrats once could count on strong margins out of the coalfields. Now, we’ve seen a dramatic re-alignment, and now the coalfields are delivering strong margins for the Republicans. Maybe this was simply a reflection of Obama’s alleged “war on coal” and his lack of connection with blue-collar voters, which showed up in non-coal areas. But given the way the parties are evolving, how likely are we to see the Democrats make a strong bid for votes in the coalfields again? (Check out this nifty chart showing how the demographics have changed, with Democratic support dropping among whites and union households, and increasing among young adults, college-educated voters and Hispanics). So as I noted in that previous post: Will Democrats ever again set foot west of Radford? By contrast, it’s now the Republicans who will want to maximize the vote there — to help offset Democratic votes elsewhere in the state. Granted, they need to get more of those votes, especially in Northern Virginia, but it’s a safe bet that Republicans will continue to mine the coalfields. I’d wager now that we’d see the 2016 Republican nominee for president make a visit to the Bristol-Abingdon area, close enough to be able to talk about coal issues (as Romney did.) Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush was scheduled to speak at Bluefield College before the election as part of an academic lecture series. Weather delayed his visit; perhaps when it’s re-scheduled, it’ll be one of the first Republican steps toward 2016, eh?
* Democrats won’t argue any more over a Southern Strategy vs. a Southwest Strategy. Party wonks have tussled over the past few cycles whether the party should invest in trying to compete in the South, or write off the South and focus on parts of the Southwest with growing Hispanic populations. We see now parts of both are possible. Democrats aren’t going to be competitive anytime soon in the Deep South, but Virginia and North Carolina have twice now proven to be winnable — along with Florida (if that counts as a Southern state.) Likewise, Democrats have now twice in a row won in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
You’d think now Democrats might target Arizona, although Romney won pretty clearly there (55% to 44%). At one point, Democrats thought Georgia might be within their grasp, due to growth around Atlanta. Romney won there 53% to 45%, so it’s not unreasonable to imagine a Democratic path there in the future. (By contrast, Romney took 61% in Alabama.)
Conversely, Republicans might start arguing over whether it’s better to focus on reclaiming some of those western states (which might mean figuring out how to attract Hispanic voters) or, taking note of the Democrats’ declining share of the blue-collar vote, take aim at flipping Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Ohio was certainly a battleground this time and Romney made a late run at Pennsylvania. In time, we could see the two parties swap territory — the Democrats have already picked up some Sun Belt states, and the Republicans may be poised to make gains in Rust Belt states. Who knows? The Republicans once had a Southern Strategy; perhaps in the future, they’ll have a Northern Strategy.
– Dwayne Yancey