Saturday, October 11, 2008

Virginia U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Virginia U.S. Senate

October 11, 2008
24 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2004 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Likely Democrat

The open Senate seat contest in the Old Dominion has basically been over before as soon as it begun.

Longtime Republican Senator John Warner, who has typically been reelected by large margins announced his retirement some time ago and that immediately got Democrats thrilled when the state's popular former Governor Mark Warner announced he would run for the seat. Back in 1996, Mark Warner (no relation), then an unknown but wealthy businessman was John Warner's opponent and gave him a rare difficult race in which the Democrat came a lot closer than anyone expected, due to both his political skills and anger from the state's conservatives against the GOP incumbent who often values going his own way over party support. In fact, John Warner is currently not ruling out the possibility that he might cast a vote for the Democrat to succeed him.

Mark Warner was a popular Governor of Virginia from 2002-2006, but was forced to leave office due to the state's unique "one in a row" term limits for their Governors. In fact, Warner was widely expected to run for President in 2004 and had begun to take steps to do so in 2006, when he surprised most political observers by abruptly dropping out, under circumstances that many considered suspicious. At that point, Warner looked unlikely to challenge John Warner in a rematch, so his options seemed to consist of hoping for an open seat, waiting to run again for Governor in 2009, or hoping the eventual Democrat nominee would select him as his running mate. When the seat opened and Warner jumped into the race to replace Warner, all the other options seemed to fall by the wayside, and it is clear that if the Democrat ever wants to run for President, he will have to do so as a Senator. Despite the fact that he was running for the U.S. Senate this year, a lot of Democrats hoped that Barack Obama would still pick him as his running-mate. Republicans should feel pretty good that did not happen as even though Warner is poised to flip a Senate seat, his place on an Obama ticket might very well have made the battleground state of Virginia out of reach.

Deciding the Republican nominee for this open seat also involved some manuevering and intrigue. There was discussion if the candidate should be chosen by a convention or a later statewide primary and the various pros and cons of both options. Ultimately, a convention was decided upon, but a surprise from the one candidate who might have been considered the most electable happened about a year ago when Congressman Tom Davis dropped out, thus effectively giving the nomination to former Governor Jim Gilmore, Warner's predecessor in Richmond.

The more conservative Gilmore would have had the edge in a convention setting and Davis set the stage for more general Republican disappointment and the continuing trend towards Democrats in Northern Virginia by announcing he would not seek reelection to the U.S. House either. Gilmore, who had ended his own quixotic campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination in order to see the Senate seat was able to avoid a terribly expensive primary, still faced some opposition at the convention, but managed to win in a less than dominant fashion, demonstrating that his political star might have faded. Gilmore was a fairly popular Governor of the Commonwealth between 1998 and 2001 and has a proven history of winning statewide elections, but he has not been able to approach the popularity of Mark Warner.

Still though, the race ought to be competitive on paper, considering the history of the candidates and the competitive nature of the state, but it just has not been from the get-go. Warner has consistently led Gilmore in the polls by large margins and the race is basically a foregone conclusion. I have debated if I should change the ranking to Safe Democrat, but for reasons I do not have to explain to anyone, I will leave it as is.

Gilmore campaign link:

2008 U.S. Senate races predicted: 14 D, 18 R
Predicted Senate balance of power thus far: 53 D, 44 R


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