Putting aside the grand claims of Warner's success in rural Virginia, suppose there's an argument that with the older, more white electorate that by its very nature turns out in off-years Democrats have to campaign as more centrist, bipartisan political creations in order to hit roughly the same performance we see in presidential turnout years, even in rural localities. Trying to run as a proud Democrat and campaign on issues that mobilize our base risks alienating more voters than it turns out to the polls, a la Udall in Colorado.
While I can't explain away what happened in Colorado, I can provide some counterpoint to the idea that the only way to sustain Democratic performance in an off-year is to run as a watered down centrist.
What if you compared Mark Warner's 2014 performance with another Virginia Democrat who lost in a lower turnout off-year, Tom Perriello in 2010?
For this I only compared the localities that were entirely within Virginia's 5th District prior to the 2010 redistricting, which also meant not including the split counties of Bedford, Henry, and Brunswick. I dropped the cities of Martinsville and Bedford (which no longer exists) because they were entirely contained in those split counties, these are a geographically cohesive sample.
I only looked at the two-party vote, ignoring the role of the two independent candidates in each election. In all but two localities (Danville and Halifax), Perriello received a higher percent of the vote than Warner. In some it was minor; their difference in the city of Charlottesville was half a percent. In others it was much larger, like almost 6% in Buckingham.
The result is that while both candidates lost the combined counties, Perriello received 48.9% of the vote and Warner only 46.9%. As noted, it's not just explained by liberal areas like Charlottesville. Perriello ran better in several small rural counties like Buckingham, Greene, Appomattox, and Campbell.
Before some on the left jump to the conclusion that Jim Webb is trying to end affirmative action where it is needed, I beseech them to read the whole argument Webb is making. It really isn't a change from the view he had on affirmative action when he ran for the U.S. Senate.
His thesis is this: When President Lyndon Johnson pushed for affirmative action programs, he based his argument for the laws on the 13th Amendment and on the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which authorized the federal government to take actions in order to eliminate "the badges of slavery." As Webb said, "Affirmative action was designed to recognize the uniquely difficult journey of African-Americans."
Using specific numbers of the low educational attainment among poor whites in the South, Webb notes that they, too, are at the bottom of the economic ladder. He is NOT attacking affirmative action for black Americans. He simply does not feel that recent non-white immigrants, including Indians and Chinese, should benefit from laws that were designed to assist black citizens, who, Webb notes, "despite a veneer of successful people at the very top still experience high rates of poverty, drug abuse, incarceration and family breakup."
This article is not an attack by Jim Webb against black Americans. It is Jim Webb standing up for poor people, regardless of the color of their skin.