What a Republican win means for Virginia

Nov 09, 2011

If the results of Tuesday's election in Virgina hold, Republicans will have complete control of state government for only the second time since the Civil War and, some say, a new mandate to push forward a strongly conservative agenda.

Chat with political analyst Stephen Farnsworth about what a Republican win would mean for the state, both in terms of legislation and the political leaning of the state.

Analysis: What a Republican win means for Va.
GOP poised to take over Virginia Senate

Hello and welcome to today's chat on the Virginia elections of 2011. I'm Steve Farnsworth, a professor who teaches courses in media and politics in the Communication Department at George Mason University. Let's get to it!

With the exception of the new rules on abortion clinics, McDonnell has been fairly moderate. Do you see a shift to the right with 2 years of full control (similar to what other states like Ohio, Wisconsin have done?

Great question.  After years of divided government, the GOP may be tempted to try to do as much as they can - just like the Democrats in Congress in 2009-2010. That didn't work out so well for them, though. Also, the voters in Ohio and Wisconsin have slapped down more controversial Republican policies through recall elections and ballot initiatives, so there is a warning for Republicans in times of unified government (assuming the current numbers in VA Senate 17 hold up) not to go too far too fast.

What do you think the biggest difference will be with Republicans in power?

Assuming the current numbers in VA Senate 17 survive a recount (that's a caveat for all my answers today), I think there will be a few key changes. There will be more support for charter schools, probably more efforts to restrict abortion,  and there may be less money headed to northern Virginia. Since Democrats win most of the seats in this part of the state, expect the Republicans to take care of their own constituents, who live largely south of the Rappahannock.

It appears that a relatively small number of state officials (Cuccinelli, Robert Marshall, and a few others) effectively exercise complete control over both the General Assembly and the Executive Branch. With Republican control over both houses, is it likely that the leadership group widens, or will control widen (at least apparent control)? Thanks -

The GOP Senate Caucus is far more conservative than it was a decade ago. Moderates like Chichester and Potts have retired or been defeated in primaries. And since most districts are drawn to give one party or the other the advantage, most GOP incumbents worry more  about primary opponents from the right rather than Democrats in general elections. So the pressure is towards more conservative lawmaking, as you suggest.

Won't there be a recall or something? So are Republicans the majority now or not?

If Reeves' 86 vote margin holds in VA Senate 17, the Senate would be 20-20, with the Republican lt. governor breaking the tie. While there is precedent for a power-sharing arrangement (where there are co-chairs of committees from each party), my guess is that Bill Bolling and the GOP Senate Caucus won't be that interested in sharing authority. Bolling wants to be governor, after all, and he needs to keep conservatives happy to get the nomination.

Recalls are not part of VA law, so you have to wait until the next election if you don't like what you see today.

Did anything surprise you about the results?

I thought the GOP would do better in some Northern Virginia Senate races. The party spent a huge amount of money in some key area races, and the Democrats faced a strong headwind with an unpopular president. But the Democrats, particularly in the last two weeks of the campaign, put a lot of money into key races and got organized. That kept some of the races that were expected to be close (like Baker/Barker) out of reach for the GOP.


What is the status of the recount in the Houck/Reeves race? I heard there was a precinct in Fredericksburg that only reported 8 votes that needed to be checked out. Also, if Reeves prevails and the senate is 20-20, won't Democrats still control half of each committee and be able to block legislation from advancing?

Normally, absentee ballots in VA are counted the day after an election, and I don't believe we have seen those numbers in the totals reported by the VA Board of Elections just yet. The absentee vote may matter more in this district than in other parts of the state, as many people in Frederickburg, Spotsylvania and Culpeper have long commutes.  I-95 is a lottery ticket where drivers usually lose, and US 29 is not that much better.

As for a recount, those can take a few weeks. Human errors - say writing down 315 when you mean 135 -- can happen. So everything needs to be double-checked.

My guess, as I said in an earlier post, is that Republicans won't be all that interested in power sharing.

What does this election tell us nationwide? Is this a blow to the democratic agenda?

I hesitate to attach too much national importance to yesterday's elections in VA. The electorate of 2011 is very different than the electorate was in 2008 or 2012.  Turnout out inVA 17, the closest Senate race, was under 40 percent. And off-year electorates are angry electorates - just look at 2006 and 2010.

Of course the results of 2011 (like 2010) represent an obvious warning to the Democrats - people want to see better times ahead and they will punish a president who fails to deliver. But remember that next year's electorate in VA will be quite different than this year's.

It doesn't seem like there's a ton of stuff for Virginia conservatives to complain about. Guns are freely available, abortion restrictions have been enacted, McDonnell and Cuccinelli are fighting health care reform...what would a unified GOP government's wish list look like in Virginia?

Look at measures that passed the GOP majority in the House but failed in the Democratic-majority Senate over the past few years to get an idea of how some things might change. I would expect more efforts to restrict abortion and more support for charter schools. Also less money flowing into the largely Democratic-represented "State of NoVa", to give a shout-out toTom Jackman's blog.

Thanks so much for the questions. I'm sorry to stop this very interesting converation, but I have to get to class.

One thing is for sure: Virginia is a very interesting place!

In This Chat
Stephen Farnsworth
Farnsworth is the author of "Spinner in Chief: How Presidents Sell Their Policies and Themselves" (Paradigm Press). He is also author or coauthor of three other books, "The Nightly News Nightmare: Television's Coverage of U.S. Presidential Elections, 1988-2008" (Rowman & Littlefield [third edition]), "The Mediated Presidency: Television News and Presidential Governance" (Rowman & Littlefield) and "Political Support in a Frustrated America" (Praeger), as well as dozens of articles on the mass media, the presidency, and U.S. and Virginia politics.
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