The Top 10 Virginia Politics Stories of 2008

My friend Coy Barefoot at WINA-1070AM in Charlottesville wants me to talk about the Top 10 news stories of 2008 in Virginia government and politics on his radio show “Charlottesville-Right Now!” this afternoon.
So here’s my stab at it, “Countdown”-style.

 

10. Warner wins convincingly

We all knew that Mark Warner would win. OK, we pretty much knew. I mean, we all knew George Allen would wipe the floor with whoever the Dems put up in ’06 on his way to the GOP presidential nomination in ’08, then he called a campaign volunteer “macaca” and lost to Jim Webb.

That said, Warner’s convincing near-30-point victory over Jim Gilmore was historic. Democrats have been winning elections in Virginia recently, sure, but beating a former governor like he was George McGovern?

 

9. Cuccinelli and the theory of attorney-general nullification

You’re familiar with the notion of jury nullification, I hope – wherein a jury decides a case based on its understanding of common law and the facts of a particular case in the face of the way legislators and jurists intend for jurors to handle cases from a strict-constructionist perspective. OK. Enter Ken Cuccinelli, who told me during an interview back in the spring that if he were to be elected attorney general he would “tend to interpret the law in a way that is the least expansive, and would have the most tendency to rein in government activity, without completely handicapping agencies from performing their functions and their role.”

“That’s a very subtle opportunity to help shrink, or keep small, government. And that’s something that I believe very much in,” Cuccinelli said.

Seems that the rest of us have it ass backwards. I mean, don’t most of us think the governor is running the show in Richmond?

 

8. Cranwell on the sidelines

The Democratic Party of Virginia chair flirted quite publicly with a run at the ’09 party nomination for lieutenant governor before confirming a few weeks back that he had decided against it.

Considering the opposition, Jon Bowerbank, a first-year member of the Russell County Board of Supervisors, and Jody Wagner, a former Finance Secretary who is likely to be Public Enemy #1 for Republicans when the General Assembly convenes in January to take up the $3 billion budget shortfall that Wagner’s off-target revenue projections helped create, he coulda been more than a contend-a.

 

7. Terry McAuliffe

Who knew he even lived here, right? And now McAuliffe, the former DNC chair and Clinton confidante, is making a stab at running for our governor’s job. And in the process raised the stakes for both Democrats and Republicans, considering his fundraising prowess.

 

6. Perriello defeats Goode

This would rate a much higher ranking in a normal year. Virgil Goode seemed like one of those congressman-for-life guys heading into ’08, and his Democratic opponent, Tom Perriello, an upstart 34-year-old, didn’t seem to be a danger at all, this go-round or down the road. Goode led Perriello by 35 points in August and still maintained an eight-point lead in an early October survey done by a Democrat-friendly pollster. This could be the upset of ’08 across the congressional board.

 

5. McDonnell, Bolling avoid mistakes of ’01

Remember ’01 – when Mark Earley, the sitting GOP attorney general, and John Hager, the sitting GOP lieutenant governor, went all the way to the party convention to duke it out over who would be the gubernatorial nominee? I still wonder if Mark Warner wins that November without the Earley-Hager split of that June prior. Sitting GOP AG Bob McDonnell and sitting GOP LG Bill Bolling are not condemning their party faithful to repeating history eight years later. McDonnell is the presumptive Republican nominee to run for governor in ’09 according to the terms of their gentleman’s agreement, and Bolling, though facing nominal opposition for the nomination, will run for re-election to the second spot on the ticket.

 

4. Kaine a finalist in the VP search

Again, this would rate much higher in another year. Virginia hasn’t been a player on the national stage since, er, um, the 19th century? (I don’t count Wilson, who was born in Staunton but was only here a brief time, as being a Virginia president. He was the governor of New Jersey, for chrissake.) So Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine making it to the end of the Obama VP search before being passed over is quite significant. Sadly, there is no consolation prize for Kaine, who can’t run for re-election and is hemmed in by the two Democrats (Jim Webb and Mark Warner) representing the state in the U.S. Senate from making that next logical leap.

 

3. Jeff Frederick’s foot-in-mouth disease

The best thing to happen to the Virginia Democratic Party since the Earley-Hager ’01 convention fight, Northern Virginia State Del. Jeff Frederick won election to the chair position of the Republican Party of Virginia and then proceeded to invite a reporter from Time to a rally-the-troops event in the fall where he likened Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden and later complained about being left out of the loop by the John McCain presidential campaign about the campaign’s plans for its Virginia operations. Check what I said earlier about Frederick being the best thing to happen to the Virginia Democratic Party since the Earley-Hager skirmish. The guy is absolutely 365 days a year of Christmas morning.

 

2. The shortfall

Three billion dollars. K-12 education on the cutting board. No chance at a transportation compromise. D’ya think this might drive the debate for ’09? Ooooh, yeah!

 

1. Obama turns Virginia blue

The guy’s crazy. That’s what people said back in June when word got out that Barack Obama was thinking about putting some effort into Virginia. Democrats haven’t won Virginia since LBJ. They haven’t even tried since Carter. Obama did more than make an effort. He opened up 50 offices statewide, poured millions into TV ads in Virginia TV markets, made campaign stops in Southwest, Richmond, Hampton Roads, NoVa, Harrisonburg (Harrisonburg!) – and won with 52 percent of the vote. For perspective on that, outside of Mark Warner’s blowout win over Jim Gilmore in the Senate race this year, Obama’s showing was the best for a Democrat in 30 years. Not bad for a liberal senator from Chicago.

 

– Column by Chris Graham



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