In 2008, Virginia trended blue on the promise of hope and systemic change, which was the hallmark of Barack Obama's in retrospect completely disingenuous campaign. A number of Republican seats in Congress went Democrat and there was much talk that Virginia was now "purple."
Not anymore. Virginia is back to solidly red. Some fault lies with the various Democratic Congressional candidates, some of whom tried to be all things to all people and ended up standing for nothing. Many others, however, were swept out of power by the disgust and lack of enthusiasm aimed at national Democrats for their failure to deliver on promises.
The result: Democratic turn out was significantly down. In some cases by almost 60%. I had feared that the 2010 midterms would be a reprise of the 2009 elections in Virginia and, sadly, I was totally correct. The Democrats need to grow a spine and they need to be planning for a new standard bearer in the 2012 presidential elections or else 2012 will likely be another debacle.
Currently, the Democrats' number one liability is the occupant of the White House.
An op-ed piece in the Los Angles Times looks at how Obama set the stage for Tuesday's debacle. Here are some highlights:
President Obama entered office wrapped in a mantle of moral leadership. His call for change was rooted in values that had long been eclipsed in our public life: a sense of mutual responsibility, commitment to equality and belief in inclusive diversity. Those values inspired a new generation of voters, restored faith to the cynical and created a national movement.
Now, 18 months and an "enthusiasm gap" later, the nation's major challenges remain largely unmet, and a discredited conservative movement has reinvented itself in a more virulent form.
It is the result, ironically, of poor leadership choices. Abandoning the "transformational" model of his presidential campaign, Obama has tried to govern as a "transactional" leader. These terms were coined by political scientist James MacGregor Burns 30 years ago. "Transformational" leadership engages followers in the risky and often exhilarating work of changing the world, work that often changes the activists themselves.
Obama and his team made three crucial choices that undermined the president's transformational mission. First, he abandoned the bully pulpit of moral argument and public education. Next, he chose to lead with a politics of compromise rather than advocacy. And finally, he chose to demobilize the movement that elected him president. By shifting focus from a public ready to drive change -- as in "yes we can" -- he shifted the focus to himself and attempted to negotiate change from the inside, as in "yes I can."
In his transactional leadership mode, the president chose compromise rather than advocacy. Instead of speaking on behalf of a deeply distressed public, articulating clear positions to lead opinion and inspire public support, Obama seemed to think that by acting as a mediator, he could translate Washington dysfunction into legislative accomplishment. Confusing bipartisanship in the electorate with bipartisanship in Congress, he lost the former by his feckless pursuit of the empowering the very people most committed to bringing down his presidency.
Out in the hinterland, Obama's leadership failure translated into a betrayal of those who put him and the now lost Democrat majority in office. Gays, labor, Hispanics and everyday working people were thrown under the bus as Obama courted the GOP and gave away important issue after important issue. I wrote about the problem in the lead up to the 2009 Virginia elections and the cancer clearly metastasized over the following year.
And what were the enthusiasm gap consequences in Virginia? Blue Virginia has powerful documentation of the drop in Democrat turn out compared to 2008. The Democrats did abysmally on turnout compared to the GOP. Only Rick Boucher's district and the 5th District which includes Charlottesville Virginia's most liberal and politically engaged city, matched GOP turnout. Even in these districts it was not enough. Here are some highlights:
Now, let's rank the candidates from lowest to highest drop off, as a way to measure how effectively they got out their votes yesterday compared to the vote for president in 2008. Also, keep in mind that Republicans were more energized this year than in 2008, but obviously that's not the only factor at work here, given Rick Boucher's and Tom Perriello's excellent GOTV numbers.
1. Rick Boucher: -20%
2. Frank Wolf: -27%
3. Robert Hurt: -28%
4. Randy Forbes: -29%
4. Keith Fimian: -29%
6. Tom Perriello: -30%
6. Rob Wittman: -30%
8. Bob Goodlatte: -31%
9. Eric Cantor: -33%
10. Scott Rigell: -36%
11. Chuck Smith: -38%
12. Morgan Griffith: -40%
13. Gerry Connolly: -47%
14. Bobby Scott: -50%
14. Jim Moran: -50%
16. Glenn Nye: -51%
17. Rick Waugh: -55%
18. Wynne LeGrow: -59%
18. Krystal Ball: -59%
20. Jeff Barnett: -65%
Turn out was critical and far too many Virginia felt that there was no reason to go out and vote given the Democrats massive failure to deliver on campaign promises and effect change. The root of the problem emanates from the White House and I have zero confidence that Obama (who I am beginning to call the Liar-in-Chief) learned anything from Tuesday's disaster. The Democrats need to be looking now for a new presidential nominee for 2012.