Political Animal


February 15, 2013 3:50 PM Odd-Year Midterms

By Ed Kilgore

So If, as I’ve been incessantly noting, Republicans have a pretty significant turnout advantage in midterm elections thanks to a relatively new tight alignment of the two parties with elements of the election that do and don’t show up in midterms, you might expect GOPers could do exceptionally well in off-year midterms where less regular voters would have neither presidential nor congressional races to engage their interest.

In that connection, check out Dave Weigel’s numbers for the 2009-2012 turnout disparity in Virginia, which he cites to explain why a guy like Ken Cuccinelli has never lost and shouldn’t be underestimated this year:

Cuccinelli’s secret is simple: He runs when things are good for Republicans. Virginia holds state elections in odd-numbered years, so their A-team—Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Cuccinelli—haven’t ever fought the tide of Obama turnout. In 2009, Virginia’s electorate was 78 percent white and 40 percent “conservative”; in 2012, those numbers fell to 70 percent and 31 percent.

If anyone in the High Command of the DNC or the White House wants to prove that the Obama campaign’s much-vaunted 2012 GOTV effort can work in a midterm, this year’s statewide elections in Virginia and New Jersey might be good places to start.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Peter C on February 15, 2013 4:37 PM:

    We could also hold off-year political conventions as a tool to motivate volunteers and build party solidarity. This would also give us a competitive advantage over Republicans since our conventions are AWESOME and theirs really suck!

  • John on February 15, 2013 4:55 PM:

    Given that Democrats won in Virginia in 2001 and 2005, oughtn't we be careful about acting as though a turnout advantage that Republicans enjoyed in 2009 and 2010 is some kind of natural feature of the political terrain?

  • JMG on February 15, 2013 5:11 PM:

    The party that lost the White House the year before has won the Virginia governor's race every cycle since 1968-1969.

  • Kathryn on February 15, 2013 5:20 PM:

    @John..... Live in Northern Virgiinia and no way can we rest on our laurels and expect victory
    As a volunteer here, I well remember the low turnout of 2010 when the majority of voters were senior white people and we got smoked. This will be a fight despite how outrageous Cuccinelli is and turnout in Northen Virginia must be much higher than 2010 or Cuccinelli could win.

  • Robert on February 15, 2013 5:37 PM:

    What we need in Virginia is a 95 County Plan. As long as Republicans run unopposed in the distant corners of the Commonwealth, there will be hijinks in Richmond. Yo, Arlington, send reinforcements.

  • schtick on February 15, 2013 6:59 PM:

    The dimwit dems don't work for mid-terms because in truth, they don't want politics to change that much. They like getting greased, too.

  • Gorilla Meek on February 15, 2013 10:15 PM:

    Cooch, formerly my state senator, won by 91 votes in his last state senate campaign against an absolutely terrible Democratic candidate.

    Had Dems nominated anyone halfway decent, his political career would have been over.

    And that's why he decided to run for Attorney General, because he knew he had nowhere to go and needed a platform to go national that didn't require heavy lifting.

    If Democrats again nominate a fifth-rate nonentity like Terry M. the Cooch may get lucky again and squeak by. If that happens, it'll be a race to the bottom against Governor Ultrasound for the top prize in 2016.

    The perfect Democratic candidate for Governor of Virginia lives where Cooch lives, in Fairfax County, and her name is Sharon Bulova.

    Democrats in Virginia should be trying to convince her to run, she'd put Cooch out to pasture for good!!!

  • low-tech cyclist on February 16, 2013 8:13 AM:

    I had assumed that one of the main purposes of Organizing for Action was to turn the Obama campaign apparatus into a continuing, self-sustaining outfit. And having lived most of my life so far in Virginia (though I currently reside across the river in Maryland), I was looking forward to participating in OFA to help out with getting people motivated and organized for the Virginia elections less than nine months away.

    But apparently I can forget about that. From OFA's FAQ:

    Will OFA be involved in elections, supporting candidates who share a commitment to these policies?

    No. Neither OFA nor its chapters will be involved in any way in elections or partisan political activity. Its exclusive purpose is public policy advocacy and development, and in particular, both enactment of President Obama's legislative agenda and the identification and advancement of other goals for progressive change at the state and local level.

    Well, mother#@&.


  • John on February 16, 2013 9:33 AM:

    @Kathryn - I was not suggesting that the Democrats will win easily in Virginia this year, or even that they'll win at all. All I was saying is that I'm dubious of the idea of an inherent Republican advantage in off-year elections, which seems to be based entirely on one or two cycles.

  • low-tech cyclist on February 16, 2013 11:04 AM:

    Gotta second what Gorilla Meek said about Terry McAuliffe. The guy's a faceless Beltway operative. If he wins the nomination for governor, getting Virginians motivated to vote for this guy is going to be a real challenge.

    And what a track record he's got. Chairing the DNC during the 2001-2005 period, when it lost its way and managed to stand for practically nothing. Chairing Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign - another instance of abandoning any sort of message, running instead on inevitability. And hiring clowns like Mark Penn and Lanny Davis, the sort of characters you wish were Republicans so they would be the other party's embarrassment. And of course his brilliant campaign for the gubernatorial nomination in 2009 - anyone remember what he stood for then? Me either. No wonder he only got 26% of the vote in the Democratic primary.

    We really need a better candidate. McAuliffe might be able to win just by using Cuccinelli's own words against him, but it helps to stand for something.