If there’s a better metaphor for the swaggering ascendancy of Virginia’s Democrats than Senator Jim Webb taking complete control of Congress over the Thanksgiving holiday break, we here at The Odd Dominion sure don’t know what it is. Yes, it was just a pro forma, five-minute session (called to keep President Bush from using his recess appointment powers to install the anti-gay crusader Dr. James Holsinger—who looks like James Lipton, but talks like Isaiah Washington—as acting Surgeon General), but the C-SPAN footage of Big Jim striding into the empty Senate chambers and gaveling the ghostly proceedings into action spoke volumes about the current balance of power among Virginia’s ever-sparring political parties.
Webb of power: Senator Jim Webb’s complete control of Congress over the Thanksgiving break seemed to symbolize the rise of the Virginia Democratic Party.
But it’s not just the recent, all-over-the-dial ubiquity of Jim Webb (although, after his most recent trip to Iraq, hard-charging "Meet the Press" appearance and senatorial solo strut, we’re starting to see the man’s squinting, craggy visage in our sleep), or even the impressive gains made by Virginia Dems in last month’s elections that make the Old Dominion’s ongoing red-blue battle seem so lopsided. No, the truly incredible part of this story is not the comparative strength of Virginia’s Democratic party, but the ongoing, shocking ineptitude of the Republicans, who seem hell-bent on squandering whatever vestiges of their late-’90s political dominance that might possibly remain.
In fact, when surveying the Virginia elephant party’s recent (and multiple) missteps, it’s hard to know where to begin. We suppose that the origins of the Republicans’ modern political woes can be traced back to the tax-slashin’, budget-busting reign of Governor Jim Gilmore, whose fiscal incompetence set the stage for the election of (mega-popular Senate candidate) Mark "Dr. Teeth" Warner, whose successful term in the statehouse gave the languishing Democratic brand a new lease on life. But the real parade of horribles didn’t start until Senator George Allen managed to blow his sure-thing re-election with an ill-timed, monkey-themed comedy routine. From there, things just went from bad to worse—and the current crop of GOP powerbrokers apparently like it that way, since they keep making decisions that buoy the state party like an anchor tossed to a drowning man.
The first brilliant move was cancelling their Senate primary, which would have almost certainly benefited the moderate U.S. Representative Tom Davis, and replacing it with a nominating convention (which gives conservative party members a greater say), thereby almost assuring the coronation of (you saw this coming, didn’t you?) former governor Jim Gilmore. This, of course, caused Davis to take his ball (and money, and a history of winning hard-fought elections) and go home, muttering that he didn’t want the nomination anyway, because "you couldn’t elect a Republican dogcatcher" in the current political climate.
So what did the state Republican bigwigs do to immediately burnish their image as tolerant, open-minded individuals? Well, propose a "loyalty pledge" that would force each and every voter in the Republican presidential primary to sign an oath swearing fealty to the eventual GOP ticket, of course! And, even worse, when this ridiculous idea caused every right- (and left-) minded voter in Virginia to recoil in disgust, the party immediately folded like a cheap umbrella, withdrawing the entire misguided idea faster than a George Bush press conference. (Of course, as local Councilor Dave Norris recently pointed out on his blog, the Charlottesville Democratic Party actually requires the same sort of creepy Orwellian oath in its nominating caucus—but so far, neither of the participants has made a stink about it.)
Boy, with such rampant vacillating, infighting and ineptitude, you’d think these guys were—oh, I don’t know—Democrats or something. Still, there’s almost a year to go before Election Day ’08, so that leaves plenty of time for the state GOP to work some of that old populist magic that made the phrase "Virginia Republican" sound as natural and obvious as "Paris Hilton Sex Tape."
If not, however, Virginia’s Republican candidates better start taking some kennel training courses—those dogs aren’t going to catch themselves, you know.