Gen. Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown. Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Now, more than a century and a half later, the Old Dominion may again be the site of further history-making battles; but this time the participants are Republicans and Democrats instead of military heroes.
The election of 2008 had Democrats speaking openly of Virginia being permanently converted from a “red” to a “blue,” or at least evolving into a swing “purple” state. Barack Obama carried the state, once designated as the capital of the Confederacy, by a wide 235,000-vote margin over John McCain. As a result of this success, Virginia’s Gov. Tim Kaine became Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Additionally, the state claimed six Democrats in its congressional delegation and both of the party’s U.S. senators, Jim Webb and Mark Warner, recently converted Republican seats and were considered rising stars.
But, the Democrats’ success proved to be short-lived. Just a year later in 2009, then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell led a sweep of the state’s constitutional offices, returning the governor’s mansion to the GOP after eight years of Democratic rule. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli joined McDonnell in Richmond and began filling the party’s coffers with treasured campaign dollars, much to the delight of veteran GOP state party chair Pat Mullins.
Another year later, on Election Day 2010, the GOP re-captured the 1st, 2nd, 5th and 9th congressional District seats and gave 11th District Congressman Gerry Connolly the scare of his political life.
Next week, Election Day 2011 will feature a down-to-the-wire contest for partisan control of Virginia’s 40-member state Senate. Controlling the legislature will give the GOP control of the congressional redistricting pen. The Republicans need to capture three seats to gain a working majority and Mullins is spending heavily on his targeted races to accomplish this goal.
But, of even greater importance, are the headline events for 2012. At stake: Virginia’s thirteen presidential electoral votes and control of the US Senate. As one of the key states nationally, the Commonwealth is clearly in play for the presidential nominees of both parties. Because the Senate races are expected to be tight across the country, control of the body could conceivably come down to how the Old Dominion votes. The Commonwealth’s senior senator, Jim Webb (D), was one of the first to announce his retirement during this election cycle, and the race to succeed him has been locked in a dead heat ever since former governor and DNC chair Tim Kaine decided to jump into the race and oppose the GOP’s likely nominee, former governor and senator, George Allen. The polling throughout the summer and as recently as last week continues to show the race to be in a statistical tie, and even their Q3 financial reports reveal that both have raised nearly identical amounts of campaign funds ($3.5 million).
The contests on Election Day 2011 and 2012 may not be quite as historic or dramatic as what happened in Yorktown or Appomattox, but it is clear that Virginia is once again front and center for key political developments. Both the Presidency and the Senate potentially could be decided here, which means that this swing state could become the epicenter of Campaign 2012, and once again be a focal point for American political change.