Story by Chris Graham
Jim Webb has closed the gap on George Allen – and has even, according to one newspaper poll, surged into the lead in the United States Senate race between the two.
The conventional wisdom attributes the momentum that the Democratic Party nominee has been enjoying in recent weeks to an incident at a rally in Southwest Virginia earlier this month in which the Republican incumbent Allen referred to a Webb campaign volunteer of Indian-American descent by a nickname apparently derived from a word for monkey that is used as a slur for people from North Africa.Christopher Newport University political scientist Quentin Kidd wonders if there might be something else at the heart of Webb’s stunning reversal of fortunes.
“I don’t think this is the same Virginia that Allen has run in successfully and won office for several times in the past,” said Kidd of Allen, who was elected to the U.S. Senate representing Virginia in 2000 and was also elected governor of Virginia in 1993.
“There’s a lot of change going on. For instance, we just saw the headlines about a million new immigrants in Virginia. So I don’t think this is the same Virginia – and I think Mark Warner’s election and Tim Kaine’s election, driven for the most part of the moderate voters of suburban Northern Virginia, might suggest that the good ol’ boy doesn’t play as well as it used to play in Virginia,” Kidd told The Augusta Free Press.
Blogger and Albemarle County Democratic Party activist Waldo Jaquith thinks the much-publicized macaca incident involving Allen might have played a part in illustrating that trend.
“What I think is the most disturbing part of Allen’s remark is what he meant to say – not what there’s any debate about, but what he meant to say. Which is, hundreds of miles from Northern Virginia is quote ‘the real Virginia’ – and the area of Virginia where most Virginians live, that’s ‘the fake Virginia.’ And the people who live there don’t count,” Jaquith told the AFP.
“And so even with what Allen intended to say, the message to voters in Northern Virginia is, You don’t count. And no constituent wants to hear that from their elected officials. Combine that with what he ended up saying, intentionally or not, he’s saying, You don’t belong because you live in the wrong part of Virginia, and because you have some crazy skin color, and you have a name that is just nuts, that I can’t even bother to learn to pronounce. Which just makes it so much worse,” Jaquith said.
“Even ignore the name-calling, you’re still left with a message – which is that the area of Virginia with the tiniest population, that is the farthest removed from the rest of the state, is ‘real.’ That’s just a terribly offensive thing to say,” Jaquith said.
How Allen’s comments to that effect will play in Springfield and Vienna remains to be seen. What we know now is that the senator isn’t just going to have to confront the fallout from his macaca slur – he will also have to confront an electorate very different from the ones that elected him to statewide office twice.
“We missed that – maybe we weren’t paying attention to that. And absent this gaffe, we may not have noticed this sort of changing motor in Virginia. Absent that gaffe, we may not have noticed that those moderated voters in Northern Virginia, who come from various backgrounds, may have become upset at something like this,” Kidd said.
“The fact is, this is a different Virginia than it was 10 years ago, eight years ago, six years ago. The census data suggest that, the elections of Warner and Kaine suggest that. So this may be an event that in and of itself doesn’t cause Webb to win and Allen to lose, but it again suggests that Virginia is changing politically – maybe becoming less red and more purple,” Kidd said.