By Kate Caison

In the past 15 years, Virginia has transitioned from a predictable and predominately Republican state to a state where elections have repeatedly come to down to the wire, bringing into question Virginia’s longstanding red hue.

“Virginia is now a purple state,” said Dr. Robert Holsworth, a political pundit and managing director of a government consulting firm.

The 2008 election of an African-American president, Barack Obama, served to dismantle past perceptions of Virginia political norms. Obama won Virginia’s electoral votes. For that to have happened, Virginia had to have changed.

“‘Old Virginny is dead, said former Governor Tim Kaine, now the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. “We are a new and dynamic and exciting commonwealth.”

Virginia politics long were dictated by its rich history. During the mid-twentieth century, Harry Byrd, a newspaper owner who served as governor and U.S. senator, maintained broad control over Virginia politics and championed racial segregation. However, traditions began to change as federal agencies and their employees moved from Washington, DC into the suburbs of Northern Virginia.  Also, the private sector flourished, bringing more people and more money to Virginia.

Currently, Northern Virginia represents almost 32 percent of the state’s population, with  Tidewater approximately 21 percent of population.  The dramatic shift from rural, agrarian and segregated life to a more diverse economy and society has changed the face of Virginia politics.

The current hotly contested U.S. Senate race illustrates Virginia as a contemporary political battleground. The candidates – Kaine and George Allen — are two of the biggest names in modern Virginia politics.

In 1993, Allen was elected governor by a wide margin on the appeal of his archetypal Republican platform.  In the 2005 gubernatorial election, Kaine ran on a “quality-of-life” campaign that attracted both urban and suburban voters.  The elections of Kaine in 2005 and Democrat U. S. Senator Jim Webb, who defeated  Allen in 2006, have both been attributed to large Democratic gains in Northern Virginia.

Yet, the growth of Northern Virginia and, therefore, the modern Democratic Party did not prevent the election of Republican Robert McDonnell as governor in 2010 as well as a Republican lieutenant governor and attorney general.  In addition, Republicans currently hold 68 of the 100 seats in the House of Delegates.

While Northern Virginia has contributed to the overall growth of Virginia’s Democratic Party, there is one factor that continues to play a primary role in the election of either party’s candidate: voter turnout. Holsworth said that Virginia’s elections come down to who turns out to the polls on Election Day.

“(The election is) almost completely dictated by the (voter) composite,” Holsworth said.  While 75 percent of the Virginia voting population turns out for the presidential election, Holsworth said, only about 45 percent votes for state and local elections.

Another factor has emerged in the 2012 presidential election: the third-party candidacy of  former U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, campaigning on an anti-immigration platform that may prove detrimental to Romney.  Polling at 2 percent, Goode may swipe some much needed votes from the Republican Party.

On the other hand, said Holsworth, “I think it’s going to be a struggle for Democrats to turn out the same numbers that they did in ’08.”


Who’s who in the news:

The Richmond Times Dispatch:

The Blue Ridge Caucus:

The Virginia Public Access Project-

The Virginia Pilot- www.

The Washington Post-


Who’s who in politics:

Governor Robert McDonnell (R)-

Lt. Governor Bill Bolling (R)-

Attorney General Ken Cuccenelli (R)-

Senator Jim Webb (D)-

Senator Mark Warner (D)-