Swing state blues: Will Virginia be Hillary country in 2016?

Hillary Clinton has impressive support in the commonwealth by other political leaders like Governor Terry McAuliffe, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine and the U.S. Supreme Court. Courtesy of the Department of Defense Hillary Clinton has impressive support in the commonwealth by other political leaders like Governor Terry McAuliffe, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine and the U.S. Supreme Court. Courtesy of the Department of Defense

So here’s the current conventional political wisdom about Virginia: a once-reliable Republican bastion that has, in recent years, drifted toward the Democrats in presidential election years due to a certain charismatic candidate (hint: his name rhymes with Shmarock Mobana), and has therefore become one of the most highly-sought prizes in the 2016 election.

In reality, this wisdom seems more than a little suspect. If you survey the overall prospects of the Democratic and Republican parties on a national level, the Democrats are firmly in control. After all, the Democrats have exactly one probable nominee: Hillary Clinton (yes, there are challengers, but the odds of Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley or Jim Webb actually unseating Clinton, as Barack Obama did in 2008, are infinitesimally small). Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the clown car full of presumptive nominees is so overstuffed that it’s hard to keep track of who’s actually running. And with Donald Trump currently dominating both the news headlines and most Republican presidential preference polls, it’s easy to assume that the elephants are in complete, and catastrophic, disarray.

And yet. This is politics, after all, where anything can happen, and often does. And thus we were not surprised to see a recent Quinnipiac University Poll showing Clinton trailing potential rival Jeb Bush by 42 percent to 39 percent in the Old Dominion, and lagging Florida Senator Marco Rubio by 43 percent to 31 percent. Of course, this came on the heels of a Public Policy Polling survey that had Clinton leading Bush by 8 points in Virginia, and handily beating all other Republican challengers by similar margins. But in politics, you’re only as good as your most recent poll numbers, and we are quite certain that the Clinton camp is not dismissing these numbers out of hand.

Still, there are a number of reasons for optimism among Virginia’s Hillary fans, and chief among them are 11 very important people:

Governor Terry McAuliffe. A longtime Clinton consigliere, a legendary fundraiser, and an all-around entertaining persona, McAuliffe was, hands down, the most loyal and enjoyable of Hillary Clinton’s surrogates during her last presidential campaign. You can rest assured that he will do everything in his considerable power to deliver Virginia’s 13 electoral votes to her this time around.

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine. Not nearly as flamboyant or high-profile as McAuliffe, Senator Kaine will still be a formidable asset when it comes to helping Hillary carry the commonwealth. As popular and generally well-liked today as he was when he was governor, Kaine will be a valued spokesperson, and very high on Clinton’s list of possible vice-presidential candidates.

The U.S. Supreme Court. Yes, believe it or not, the right-leaning supreme court might end up being one of Hillary’s most unexpected allies. There are two reasons for this: redistricting and voter identification laws. The supremes have, in a series of recent rulings, made it clear that they are willing to place limits on both partisan redistricting and restrictive voter ID laws. Should the court rule on either of these in the Democrats’ favor, the Old Dominion would become more favo rable for donkeys on the congressional level, and—if Virginia’s strict voter ID laws are loosened—more left-leaning overall.

But there’s still a long way to go to November 2016, and Hillary has certainly stumbled before. As usual, there’s really only one thing for a smart political prognosticator to do: wait, and see.

Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, twice-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.

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