Virginia problem (and opportunity) for Democrats

The gubernatorial election in Virginia this year throws up problems and an opportunity for the Democratic Party. The bad news for the Democrats is that it looks like we're going to see a Republican gain on Thursday 8th November. This is largely because Virginia is unusual as U.S. states go: Mark Warner, the hugely popular Democratic Governor is limited by law to one full term. There is little doubt that he would secure re-election if he were permitted to stand.

So we're down to twenty-one Democrat and twenty-nine Republican Governors by the end of the year, unless something dramatic happens in the New Jersey gubernatorial election where Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Corzine comfortably leads his Republican rival. Not for the first time, the electoral cycle is proving lucky for the Republicans. Considering the débacle of the Harriet Miers nomination for the Supreme Court, it must be intensely frustrating for Democratic Party campaigners not to have any Republican targets to hit in a fortnight's time. I'd be climbing the walls if I was on the Democrat payroll right now. It's almost enough to make one suspect that the Machiavellian figures around the President have managed the timing of the current crises, in order to let the Democrats peak too early.

Beyond the gloom of a likely defeat in Virginia (Bill Clinton couldn't win here in '92 or '96, let alone Vice-President Al Gore and Senator John Kerry), Democrats should take a look at Mark Warner.

Winning a normally Republican state less than two months after 9/11 in a state which houses a significant military vote should be enough to make any political strategist sit up and take notice. Maintaining approval ratings of over 70 percent ain't bad either. As Governor of Virginia, Mark Warner has the sort of executive experience that seems to translate into a better presidential candidate than a long-time Senator (as John Kerry discovered to his cost last year). If the Democrats were to win Virginia in a presidential election, it is most likely that they would win nationally. According to my favourite internet bookies, Mark Warner is currently second-favourite to be the Democratic candidate for President (admittedly a long way behind front-runner Senator Hillary Clinton (New York).

Comparing Mark Warner to John Edwards, the last guy who was supposed to unlock the South for the Democrats, there is little doubt that Warner is the stronger candidate. The truth is that John Edwards would surely have been defeated if he had chosen to seek re-election in 2004 in North Carolina.

The question for Democrats is will anyone other than Hillary Clinton mobilize the grass-roots. And won't she simply guarantee a bigger "anyone but Hillary" Republican turnout.

The most easy mistake to make in warfare is to "fight the last war". In Colorado last year, the Democrats probably did their chances of winning that state no good by backing a rule change that was obviously partisan, and would have been irrelevant in 2004. They let their anger over the 2000 election decide their strategy for 2004.

The next Republican candidate for the presidency is the person the Democrats should be aiming to defeat, not George W. Bush. It's a good time for the Democrats to think about the kind of candidate who can win for them in 2008.

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