The Republican Party of Virginia sharpens its claws

The Republican Party of Virginia sharpens its claws

Remember, kids: Political momentum, like Parcheesi leads and poker hands, can turn on a dime. Even the most irreversible-seeming trend can evaporate overnight, given the right combination of party complacency, candidate incompetence and voter disgust.

Tea Party Patriots, as they call themselves, threatened to burn Tom Perriello, seen here at an August 11 town hall meeting, in effigy. That is, until it dawned on them that some people might take that the wrong way.

A perfect example (as if you need reminding) was the recent triple-trouncing of statewide Democratic candidates by the Old Dominion’s supposedly moribund GOP. Even though conventional wisdom had Virginia becoming more and more purple by the day—with D.C.-area liberals, recent immigrants and college kids overpowering suburban conservatives and rural Republicans—Bob McDonnell easily steamrolled Creigh Deeds, his lackluster Democratic opponent, and brought the rest of his party’s ticket right along with him.

So the burning question is, as we gaze into the Commonwealth’s hazy electoral future, who’s got the upper hand? Is it the elephants, whose 2009 rampage was merely the beginning of a long-term resurgence? Or is it the donkeys, whose demographic edge will continue to grow, despite this singularly embarrassing, Deeds-driven fiasco?

Well, one thing’s for certain: We won’t have to wait very long to find out. With a handful of special General Assembly elections coming up, and the 2010 Congressional free-for-all right around the corner, the next two years should prove decisively if McDonnell’s win was an aberration, or the beginning of a new Republican era.

On the local level, the most closely watched fight will be over Ken Cuccinelli’s state senate seat, which he’s abandoning for the Attorney General’s office. For years Fairfax’s 37th district has been considered a ripe pick-up opportunity for the Dems, but was consistently kept in the red column by Cuccinelli’s impressive campaigning skills and sheer force of personality. Governor Tim Kaine has already stated flat out, “I think we’re going to win the Cuccinelli seat.” If the Dems don’t pull it off, their senate majority may not be impacted, but their already battered electoral armor will certainly take another major hit.

As for the Congressional contests, the man smack dab in the center of the GOP’s sights is Charlottesville’s own Rep. Tom Perriello, who ousted the House’s premier Muslim-basher, Virgil Goode, by the slimmest of margins in 2008. Perriello recently cemented his status as the Republican’s public enemy number one by voting for the House’s healthcare overhaul bill—an action that so incensed a group of conservative “Tea Party Patriots” in Danville that they threatened to burn him and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in effigy. (The group’s chairman, Nigel Coleman, eventually canceled the planned immolation, complaining that liberal blogs had given the impression that “we were committing an act of violence.” Gee, you think?)

Unfortunately for Perriello, his left flank is also getting restive, with one-time backers such as Blue America slamming him for voting aye on the Stupak-Pitts amendment, a healthcare bill addendum that would ban government-subsidized insurance policies from offering any form of abortion coverage.

So let’s see: internal dissension, united opposition, a leadership vacuum at the top…where have we seen this story before? Oh yeah, that’s right—the Republican Party of Virginia, circa 2007. Anyone around here remember how that movie turned out?