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Twelve Days of Christmas for Virginia Democrats: Day Eight, Swing Voters

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Welcome to this twelve-part series looking at the challenges, obstacles, and future possibilities of Virginia Democrats. If you've missed past diaries, follow these links: Day One, Competitive Districts. Day Two, Turnout Problems. Day Three, Past Mistakes. Day Four, Downstate Democrats. Day Five, Unchallenged Incumbents. Day Six, Present Opportunities. Day Seven, Democratic Trends. For today's poll, I'm asking about your early support for Governor in 2017.

On the eighth day of Christmas, the Commonwealth of Virginia gave to me ...

Swing voters, that crucial demographic of people who voted Romney-Kaine, or Cuccinelli-Northam-Obenshain, or even were crazy enough to go for Sarvis!

In the last half-decade, Virginia Democrats have seen a range of elections that allow us to roughly identify geographic areas of ticket-splitters. I'm talking about folks who came out and voted for Mitt Romney and Tim Kaine. Or switched back and forth in 2013 between Sarvis, Northam, and Obenshain. Or even McDonnell-Wagner-Shannon! It's all possible.

What You Should Know About Sarvis Voters, And Why They Matter

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Put away your preconceived notions of libertarians; most Sarvis voters have never picked up "Atlas Shrugged" in their life (and save yourself the trouble too, read something enjoyable!). As the dust settles on this Democratic sweep of the Commonwealth, let us take a look at Sarvis voters and what they actually mean.

Voter turnout was up because of Sarvis
2,000,819 Virginians turned out to vote in 2009, including 2,502 who wrote-in a candidate. Turnout was only 42% of active voters. Four years later, 2,240,178 Virginians voted, for turnout of 47%. But turnout with just the two-major party gubernatorial candidates was just 43%. Most of the increase in turnout came from the 145,967 Sarvis voters.

Most Sarvis voters wouldn't have voted otherwise.
Without Sarvis on the ballot, the race would have been 48% Terry McAuliffe, 46% Ken Cuccinelli, and 5% wouldn't have voted. Do the math and election day would have been McAuliffe 51%, Cuccinelli 49%. Two and a half times as many Sarvis voters would have gone to McAuliffe over Cuccinelli, but most wouldn't have voted at all.

Sarvis voters are overwhelmingly white and young.
Not only are Sarvis voters mostly white, a whopping 15% of the 18 to 29 cohort voted for Sarvis. It was also the cohort that McAuliffe improved the least over Creigh Deeds from 2009. What motivated so many younger votes to reject the two party system?

They are independent.
Helping to explain why they would vote for a third-party candidate or not vote at all, most Sarvis supporters affiliated themselves as independent voters, not members of either the Democratic or Republican Party.

Reading the “Tea” Leaves, Part IV: How High Will This Wave...

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Wow! Talk about a total collapse; Virginia Republicans should start transferring money to local dog catcher races to try to hold onto power after next week's election. The latest Washington Post poll shows a blue tsunami coming down on the GOP. I've stopped worrying if Herring will win, he should, and have started asking just how high this tidal wave will go.

Reading the “Tea” Leaves, Part III: Mark Herring’s Riding a Wave

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In 2005, Senator Creigh Deeds lost the race for Attorney General to then Delegate Bob McDonnell by just over 300 votes. It set McDonnell up for his run for Governor four years later, forcing Bill Bolling to step aside. Just minor changes to the outcome on election day in 2005 would have almost certainly produced a Deeds vs. Bolling match-up in 2009. Deeds may well have lost, but who knows how things would have developed for Virginia ...

Today, we may be facing a very similar fork in the political road. Republicans are going all in for State Senator Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg. Should he win, it will almost guarantee that the 2017 Governor's race will be between Obenshain and Northam. Ben Tribbett has already expressed concerns about Ralph Northam as the Gubernatorial nominee in four years. In my opinion, choices are good and Virginia Democrats would do well to keep their options open.

Furthermore, if Obenshain wins, he'll have four years building a record to run on in 2017. Cuccinelli lost the race for Governor by being too extreme during his time in the AG's office, waging a war against science at the University of Virginia and prioritizing defending bans on sex in court. We can hope that Obenshain is that stupid, but we should fear him finding un-offensive issues like human trafficking, drugs, and defending the elderly that hide his conservatism from the public eye in 2017.

Without Obenshain, the Republicans will be in disarray in 2017, as the growing discontent expressed from Republicans like Bill Bolling and Tom Davis will be aired out in the open by more members during any nomination fight. The party could do some soul searching and come up with a moderate nominee in 2017, but more likely an effort to run a moderate will result in a bloody, brutal primary (or convention).

We need Mark Herring to win. How could that happen?

Reading the “Tea” Leaves, Part II: House of Delegates

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I was planning on turning to the Attorney General's race next, but for a number of reasons I'm going to look at the House of Delegates first.

In 2001, Democrats broke back into the Governor's Mansion in Richmond after eight years with Mark Warner trouncing Mark Earley. Along the way, Warner helped Richmond Mayor Tim Kaine win as Lt. Governor, but he couldn't get Donald McEachin over the finish line against Jerry Kilgore. More importantly, the Warner-Kaine victory came despite a Republican landslide at the House of Delegates level, mainly due to the new Republican gerrymandering. As Democrats look to sweep at least the top two spots in Virginia on November 5, how are their chances in the House of Delegates looking?

Under the new Republican-drawn lines, Obama won only 45 House of Delegates districts, despite his statewide victory. Tim Kaine won an additional six and was close in several more. Although McAuliffe could poll as high as 52%, the internal polling indicates that there will be some variance compared to Obama's similar statewide victory in 2012. Let's look at this regionally.

Reading the “Tea” Leaves, Part I: Governor’s Race

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We're counting down the days until the Election in Virginia and there's growing evidence that Democrats are sweeping the top two statewide slots. Republicans are shifting resources to give Obenshain a fighting chance at the Attorney General's race; the Republican State Leadership Committee has given Obenshain $500,000 in hopes he can salvage the GOP ticket and protect down-ballot Republicans.

In the House of Delegates, Democrats have released three internal polls showing our candidates well positioned to make gains. But there are also signs that the wave on election day may crash upon hostile shores down-ballot. All that, and MORE, to be discussed in this, the first of a multi-party diary analyzing what we know so far about the Virginia election.

First, the good news for Virginia Democrats. Terry McAullife's position in the latest NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll shows him expanding his lead against Ken Cuccinelli, up 46% to 38%, with Libertarian candidate Sarvis receiving 9% of the vote. That's up 3 percentage points from the pre-shutdown Marist poll.

It's only one poll of many, but it can't be good for the Virginia GOP that both McAullife and Sarvis are gaining in the polls while Cuccinelli is flat. The only "good news" in the last few weeks for Republicans may have been their ability to exclude Sarvis from the debates, limiting his exposure, but he's still polling in the high single digits.

Without Sarvis, the Marist poll has McAullife up 52% to 43%. That 52% may be a good approximation of McAullife's ceiling in these closing days of the campaign.

Just Over a Month to Avoid Another 2005 Outcome Downballot

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"McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli in Virginia governor's race! That is the type of story I want to wake up to on a brisk autumn morning. But look beneath the headline-worthy results and there are some big concerns ahead for Virginia Democrats. There is just over a month remaining to avoid another 2005-style outcome, where the joy of sending Tim Kaine to follow in Mark Warner's footsteps was mixed with the agony of defeat for the rest of our statewide ticket and disappointment at the lack of coattails in the General Assembly. Like any good remake, the cast of characters in 2013 is different from the 2005 original, but the ending may be the same.

In 2005, Jerry Kilgore ran an offensive, dirty campaign against Tim Kaine. The tax increases passed by the Republican General Assembly divided Kilgore's party; his campaign was a bumbling effort to avoid attacking the turncoats that helped Mark Warner while also promising to roll back the historic revenue increase that provided for a significant investment in public education. Usually if you can't say anything nice, you're not supposed to say anything at all, but Kilgore instead found that his only message was to go negative against Tim Kaine. We all remember the October ad referencing Hitler and Tim Kaine's religious and moral objection to the death penalty.

Kilgore's fate was sealed, but only narrowly. Russ Potts, a moderate Republican exiled by his party's primitive proto-Tea Party wing, provided a vehicle of protest for moderate Republicans fed up with Kilgore. Polling as high as 4 to 5 percent in the month before the election, Potts received just over 2% of the vote. It might not sound like much, but it's the highest showing for a third party candidate for Governor of Virginia since William Story's 13.38% in 1965 as a Virginia Conservative (ignoring Henry Howell's 49.28% in 1973 when the Democrats did not run a candidate). A minor shift of other swing voters to Tim Kaine, based primarily in the suburban counties across the Commonwealth, made up the rest of the margin of victory over Kilgore.

In 2013, the Republican Party of Virginia has replaced the country bumpkin Kilgore with the Tea Party zealot Ken Cuccinelli. Faced with a signature legislative accomplishment, Cuccinelli turned hard right against Governor Bob McDonnell's transportation plan. This split could have provided an opening for Bill Bolling to run as an independent, a choice that Big Bill is probably regretting right now as he watches the no-name Sarvis polling in the double digits. Like Kilgore, Cuccinelli cannot run on any legislative accomplishments from Richmond, and now finds himself without a popular Governor to latch his campaign to. When you don't have anything positive to say about yourself, the only campaign tactic left is to attack your opponent and drag them through the mud.