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So, what happened?

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Column by David Cox

No question about it, Virginia Republicans had a field day. Congratulations rightly go to Mssrs. McDonnell, Bolling, Cuccinelli, and Cline and, in the nonpartisan local elections, to re-elected Supervisors Ford and Lewis.

No question about it, too, they all face huge problems, both in Richmond and, as a result, locally. But of that, more next week.

So what happened to the Democrats who got Virginia in the “blue” column for the first time in decades last year, and who swept Mark Warner into the Senate with a majority that approached that of Ben Cline? Here’s my take.

History. In Virginia, the party holding the White House loses the Executive Mansion. It’s a tradition of 30-plus years, and you know how we Virginians love our traditions. But after last year’s Democratic inroads, might things have been different? Consider:

The Obama Factor. Some pundits see the Virginia results as a repudiation of the president. I think it’s more complicated than that. Exit polls didn’t seem to confirm that voters were voting against Obama (who remains personally popular) or his policies (not as much). But the ultimate exit poll—turnout—may have said much more: It was down by about a third from a year ago. Then, 72.7 percent of Lexington voters cast ballots; this year, just 45.6 percent. Likewise in the county, it was 75.6 percent vs. 50.5 percent in ’09. The enthusiasm wasn’t present. No real surprise as non-presidential elections rarely have the draw. But Obamamania was truly missing. Why?

The Candidates at the Top. Barack Obama can’t be cloned. Neither can Mark Warner. Each have enticing personalities that—and this is key—came across during campaigns that in turn energized their workers and garnered excitement among voters.

I’m not sure that this can be said for any of the statewides of either party, but focusing on Creigh Deeds, his personality did not come through. As we here know whether voting for him or not, he’s one of the most decent, hardworking, dedicated politicians in the state. Those qualities got lost. Because:

The campaign was a lousy one (part 1, the Dems). The Democratic message was muddled, uncertain, inconsistent, far too negative about the other guys, and far less positive about what the Democrats have done and in what they’ll do. It was underfunded, disorganized, disheartened, and lacked the grassroots basis that was the genius of Team Obama.

The campaign was a lousy one (part 2, everyone). While the Republican message was clearer, steadier, and rosier, neither campaign addressed the glaring money woes of our state with the seriousness that we deserve. Platitudes, pipe dreams and potshots at the other guys don’t add up to a rescue for the crisis that we face. Republicans didn’t win on the basis of their ideas; and Democrats really didn’t offer any.

So for hosts of reasons, it was a Republican year. They clearly won. Dems just as obviously lost. Again, congratulations to the elected. They are sincerely deserved.

But, as Jimmy Carter’s chief assistants reportedly said to each other after moving into the White House, “Now what do we do?”

That’s the question that matters now most of all. And the answer is about as muddled as, say, the Democratic campaign. But that’s next week’s story.

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