I was quite sure it was bad news when Mark Warner announced he was running for U.S. Senate. We Democrats have been counting on Warner’s gubernatorial coattails ensuring a majority in time for redistricting in 2011. Though I don’t doubt we can hold onto the governor’s seat, it won’t be the cakewalk it would have been. On reflection, though, I think that Warner’s decision to run for Sen. John Warner’s seat is actually better for Democrats in both the short and the long run.
Governor Warner was famously bipartisan in his approach to governance. Three of his cabinet members were Republicans, he worked closely with Republicans in the General Assembly, and he left with an enormous amount of support from Republican voters. That’s going to pay dividends in putting together his Senate campaign: Warner will enjoy support from some key Virginia Republicans. Some will support him in obvious ways, such as endorsing him or hosting events for him. Many others will support him in quieter ways, by failing to support the Republican nominee and encouraging other Republicans to do likewise.
The degree to which this will be so depends on the nominee. The farther to the right the nominee, the more pronounced the effect will be. If Gilmore is nominated (please please please) then I expect something closer to open rebellion than if somebody closer to the center is the Republicans’ man.
Why would they do this? First and foremost, Warner has formed friendships with Republicans throughout the state, from legislative aides to state senators, friendships that transcend political boundaries. Second, Warner has political capital to burn. Third, and I think best, Mark Warner is more likely to follow Sen. John Warner’s style of leadership than anybody else, Republican or Democrat.
The RPV will be furious. If all of this has any effect on the Republican nominee, it will be that the process will result in an even more conservative nominee than would otherwise have resulted. There will be calls for party purification and declarations of war on the incumbents supporting Warner. It will be enormously ugly. As they always, always do, Virginia Republicans will manage to drive the most sensible, electable Republicans out of the party, leaving them with an ever-shrinking group of ideologues who are still willing to sign whatever pledge is necessary to show that they’ll toe the party line.
Consequently, Warner will win, and the current narrative will then seem inevitable fact: Democrats are retaking Virginia, and there’s nothing Republicans can do about it. The 2009 elections will be a cakewalk for Democrats, with primary-weakened incumbent Republicans unable to defend themselves in the general election and the primary-triumphant, fresh-faced extremists not standing a chance. At this moment, internal DPVA polls show Dems up eight points in a generic poll. After a Warner victory and a Republican purge, we’ll be up twice that.
It doesn’t matter whether Republicans see this coming, because there’s nothing they can do about it. As we saw during this year’s primary season, the party is in the hands of people so far to the right that they’re quite incapable of moderating. They’d consider any suggestion that they do so to be nothing short of treasonous. And would surely greet this blog entry as an elaborate trap, concluding that they should do precisely the opposite of whatever I say. (Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows.)
Mark Warner will win a lopsided victory, and he’ll do it with the essential support of key Virginia Republicans. It will take decades for the RPV to recover.