Anthony Rek LeCounte
Virginia is in many ways fumbling at crossroads. The Commonwealth is at once a Southern state and a Mid-Atlantic haven for the geographically transient and government-employed or -affiliated. It is in places traditional and cosmopolitan. It is the suburban sprawl of Arlington and Fairfax and the timeless traditionalism of Richmond and the Shenandoah. It is, in short, a useful bellwether of the New South that will inform how Republicans and Democrats will and should adapt to the evolving dynamics of 21st Century politics throughout America.
With all this in mind, I spent the evening after polls closed in the Old Dominion on Election Day 2013 interviewing the 68th Governor of Virginia, Jim Gilmore. A Richmond native with an easygoing drawl, Gilmore is in many ways a living commitment to the project of an inclusive GOP. For starters, he carried notoriously liberal Northern Virginia in his 1997 gubernatorial election. He even authored an article earlier this year in the Richmond Free Press, the newspaper of Richmond’s African-American community, to advise today’s Republicans on ways to reach traditionally leery demographics with a conservative message.
In watching Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli lose the governor’s mansion to a spectacularly flawed Beltway moneyman who had never held elected office, Gilmore reflected on how far the Republican Party of Virginia had fallen from its not-so-long-ago reputation as a source of pragmatic and inclusive problem-solvers. It was abundantly clear than in several corners, his call for serious conservative outreach to a broader set of voters was not heeded.
It should be noted that, contrary to popular belief, the available evidence indicates that Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis turned out not to be a spoiler for Republicans after all. In fact, Sarvis voters slightly inflated Republican turnout without doing much for Democrats. Accordingly, if Mark Obenshain — who took pains to distance himself from the rest of the GOP ticket — manages to hold onto his narrow lead for attorney general and become the only Republican elected statewide, he should probably thank Sarvis supporters for pushing him past the post.
Cuccinelli, among other problems, developed a poignant reputation for extremism on social issues, particularly abortion and gay rights, which he was unable or unwilling to shake. This problem was compounded and arguably solidified when Virginia Republican leaders propelled E. W. Jackson onto the ticket over the more suburban-friendly Pete Snyder. Whereas the latter might have counterbalanced Cuccinelli’s weaknesses among moderates and swing voters, the former served to accentuate them and thereby drag down the entire GOP ticket. If Obenshain is unable to hang onto his razor-thin lead in the race for attorney general, Republicans will be shut out of statewide office in Virginia for the first time in four decades.
Yet in 1997, the Virginia GOP was vibrant and competitive. Not only did Gilmore, a former attorney general, best then-Lieutenant Governor Don Beyer in the voter-rich metropolitan areas of Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads — as Bob McDonnell would do to Creigh Deeds a dozen years later — but so did his running mates. Republican John H. Hager (who would later share a grandchild with George W. Bush) was elected lieutenant governor over L.F. Payne, Jr. by winning all three regions, and Republican Mark L. Earley trounced Democrat William D. Dolan III in the race for attorney general, losing only a few counties in the mountains, the rural tidewater, and Arlington. It was the first time in Virginia history that Republicans ever won control of all three offices.
As Gilmore recalls, the name of the game that cycle was political innovation. Coming on the heels of a general election in which Bill Clinton (who campaigned for the Democrat) and Al Gore won a wall of electoral votes from Minnesota to Louisiana, the Republican was determined to compete in minority communities, urban areas, and wherever else Democrats were expected to have the advantage. But then, as today, he understood that in order to be competitive he would need to build and maintain a robust, substantive engagement with these voters. In other words, it would not be enough to make an eleventh-hour plea for minority votes; the tactic that would fail Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown in 2012, as it has many a politician who mistakes wide swaths of voters for cheap dates. To win, Republicans had to actually listen to them, articulate compelling solutions to their concerns, and then fight for those solutions.
For Gilmore, this came in the form of identifying and emphasizing the elements of conservative governance that held particular appeal to new demographics. He built a lead in the suburbs by proposing to end a highly unpopular tax on automobiles. Determined to compete for urban voters like those he grew up with in Richmond, Gilmore took his campaign into the inner cities by focusing on one of their principle interests: education. He promised 4,000 new teachers and to reduce class sizes for all families if elected.
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Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2013/11/11/jim-gilmores-2013-autopsy-and-the-future-of-republican-outreach/#ixzz2kM6A249U