I was excited when I first decided to take an extended vacation the two weeks leading up to Labor Day. Time to get out of the swampy Mid-Atlantic summer heat of August and flee to cooler climates.
Then I realized that the weeks coincided with the run-up for the September 1st deadline the court had set for Congressional redistricting. Perhaps the General Assembly would be working on an 11th hour compromise?
Nope. Early in the special session my fears were put to rest as the Republicans tried to jam everything and forced Democrats to adjourn. Redistricting would occur in September after I was back from vacation.
Then Mark Herring announces that he will be running for reelection as the Commonwealth’s Attorney General! It’s a good thing I kept my phone on so I could get the texts from friends back in the Commonwealth while on vacation!
A few thoughts.
1. Announcing before this fall’s elections ensures that the narrative will not be one of Herring being pushed out by concerned moderates and negative nay-sayers. Despite the all-out effort by the Democrats to win back the State Senate, they are on hostile terrain and could still fall short. Should this happen, the political talking heads could point to the election as a sign that Virginia is still a tough, purple state, and that the VMI graduate and more moderate Ralph Northam would be a better candidate for Democrats going into 2017. The pressure would be on to unite the party and avoid a primary fight.
2. By announcing this early, Herring has boxed Northam into running for Governor no matter what opens up. When Republicans cut a deal between Bolling and Cuccinelli, there was always a sense that if McDonnell ended up in a Republican administration (how ironic does that sound now?) that Bolling would not only serve out the Governor’s term but be entitled to run for Governor. Herring has not only ensured that Northam will have this pathway open to him, but the party’s expectation will be that Northam sticks with Governor even if a Senate seat opens up.
About that U.S. Senate seat.
Tim Kaine is on everyone’s short list for VP. Clinton would be crazy not to at least consider him. He also would be a Cabinet short list pick. McAuliffe similarly has high expectations of a Cabinet appointment, which depending on the timing could leave Governor Northam with the ability to appoint a new Senator for the Commonwealth. Who do you think he’s going to feel gracious towards after this announcement?
As a liberal Democrat, I am not unhappy about Northam’s expected candidacy, I just would have preferred Herring. If you could give me both Herring and Kaine as Senators, with Warner magically in the administration as a cabinet Secretary, I’d like that too. Vice President Kaine with Senators Warner and Herring? I’ll have to learn to live with that.
Now on to redistricting.
Virginia Democrats put out a plan that would have gone after three Republican incumbents by undoing the GOP gerrymandering: Forbes, Comstock, and Hurt. The first two are no surprise, but seeing Hurt, not Rigell, as the third raised my eyebrows.
There’s no point in compromising with Republicans before even offering the opening hand, so Democrats were right to go for an aggressive map that would create more competitive districts. The courts could still come back with maps that enable strong Democratic challenges to Forbes, Comstock, and Hurt next year, with presidential turnout.
What surprises me is that while Rigell is a perennial target for Democrats, Hurt has gotten a pass since the 2010 defeat of Tom Perriello. The new 5th District proposed by Democrats would be competitive, not an easy win, and yet I’ve heard no rumblings of the type of serious competitor that would make this seat winnable.
If we want to keep painting Virginia blue, liberals and progressives need to realize that the next few months could offer a number of opportunities.
– Taking back the State Senate.
– Making gains in the House of Delegates.
– A court-drawn map that allows for strong candidates in 2016.
– On the horizon, a court ruling that may also require General Assembly elections next year. This is a good opportunity for local Democratic activists who have been discouraged from running because of unfair lines.
– A presidential election that could feature a Virginian on the ticket. No, not Jim Gilmore.
– A 2017 election where we will have an open contest for Lt. Governor, another opportunity to continue to advance strong Democratic candidates.
Go out and win the next few weeks. Good luck.