No Virginia, Demography Is Not Destiny

Old Virginny is dead … Long Live Old Virginny.

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Tim Kaine, tearfully mourning the passage of Old Virginny. Or maybe something from his eyebrow got stuck in his eye.

A big reason for this blog is to clear the air following the reelection of President Barack Obama and his second victory in the Old Dominion. Gleeful Virginia Democrats looking ahead to Terry McAuliffe’s ascension to the title of “His Excellency” are in danger of having the Governor’s Mansion pulled away from them at the last second, like Charlie Brown trusting Lucy just one more time to hold the ball. In this case the role of Lucy is being played by the Commonwealth’s ever-changing electorate, which has jerked back and forth between Democrats and Republicans so many times in the last eight years political pundits are developing whiplash. Today’s lesson is to clear up the belief that demography is destiny in the Old Dominion.

Virginia, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Ohio are special states; they are the only five states that voted twice for President George W. Bush and then voted twice for President Barack Obama. That may be the only thing the states have in common. The growth in Hispanic voters in both Florida and Nevada is setting off alarms in central Republican HQ, where the big questions are how soon can Marco Rubio run for President and how many Rubio clones can be produced before then. But Virginia, for all of its diversity from Annandale to Petersburg, is not a state the Republicans need to worry about slipping away to the blue side because of strong minority growth.

The liberal Center for American Progress has conducted an analysis of changes in the electorate across several states, including Virginia. They only focus on the growth from more eligible Latino voters in 2016, trying to drive the narrative that a quick immigration reform bill is the best road back to the White House for Republicans. But when Micah Cohen at the New York Times ran the numbers it turns out that it doesn’t do much for increasing Obama’s margin in Virginia compared to other states with fast growing Latino populations like Florida and Nevada.

In a close state squeezing out 1% more can be a big deal, but in a close state there’s always more than one way to skin a cat. Virginia, Colorado, and Iowa are all states where Mitt Romney, despite a historic level of support from white voters, failed to match President George W. Bush’s 2004 performance among white voters. Romney ran 6% behind Bush in Colorado, 3% behind Bush in Iowa, and a whopping 8% behind Bush in Virginia … among white voters.

Virginia Democrats are going to get no help in the electoral battles ahead from demographic changes. It’s even possible that as the nation becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, more white voters could start leaning Republican. Imagine that, white voters in the Commonwealth returning to the Grand Old Party to turn the state red again. Old Virginny is dead? Long live Old Virginny. Virginia Republicans are better off figuring out the motives of the white Bush voters who backed Obama in 2008 and 2012 than worrying about minority growth in Virginia. Besides, a number of Republicans in Richmond have already shown they know how to work with Virginia’s minority communities.

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Bob McDonnell at a typical gathering of Virginians embracing the diversity of Old Virginny from White Protestants to White Catholics.

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