Democrats were successful in winning Virginia for President Barack Obama and Sen.-elect Tim Kaine on Tuesday, but that means little for next year’s statewide elections for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, according to political experts.
Virginia has a well-established history of electing a governor of the opposite party of the person the state backed for president, said Kyle Kondik of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
In 2009, just one year after the state backed Obama for his first term, Virginians gave Republican Bob McDonnell a resounding win in his bid for governor. Similarly, Virginia had two Democratic governors during the terms of President George W. Bush.
Another factor favoring Republicans is that the electorate is very different in non-presidential election years, said Jeremy Mayer, an associate professor of public policy at George Mason University.
“What we see is Virginia having a trendline on state elections that is different from the national elections,” Mayer said.
Turnout is lower in non-presidential election years, and the makeup of the electorate is different, Kondik and Mayer said.
“It’s an apples and oranges comparison,” Kondik said. “What we see is almost like two different states voting.”
Republican voters are more reliable in terms of turning out for off-year elections, Mayer said, and the younger and lower income voters who helped sweep Obama into office are generally less motivated to turn out for off-year elections.
However, who the candidates are will also make a big difference.
If the popular former Democratic governor Mark Warner were to leave his Senate seat to run for another term as governor, he would likely win, Kondik said. Warner is rumored to be considering such a move.
A May poll by Public Policy Polling found that Warner would likely defeat any of the potential Republican candidates.
If Republicans nominate Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as their candidate for governor, his conservative positions on social issues could make it harder for the party to win over more moderate voters, Mayer said.
Cuccinelli, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and winery owner and reality TV personality Tareq Salahi are seeking the Republican nomination.
On the Democratic side, party activist Terry McAuliffe and former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello are believed to be potential candidates, although neither have officially declared their candidacy.