99 Problems but the Mitt Ain’t One

(H/T to Jay-Z)

All my life, Virginia was a “red state,” which was never seriously competitive.  Even in 2004, Bush defeated Kerry by a solid 9-point margin.

Now everything has changed.

While polls are not results, it’s unmistakable that President Obama has claimed a lead in Virginia and appears on his way to winning the Commonwealth again.  Mitt Romney has barely dented the public consciousness.

We can waste time on the Fox vs. MSNBC reasons for this switch — “You’re an extremist!  No, you’re an extremist!” — but there is no evidence that it’s being driven by long-time voters changing their minds or votes.

Instead, it’s being driven by a demographic storm in Virginia which has been gathering force for twenty years and has now reached critical mass.

Just stand outside any “Back to School Night” (which I’ve been doing for the past 3 weeks) and notice the parents walking in.  Or attend a Graduation and read the names on the program.  Or read the list of National Merit Semifinalists in Virginia public schools.

The eastern side of this state, which is home to 75% of the population, has changed radically in the last twenty years.  (No, it’s not just northern Virginia.  Look at Chesterfield and Henrico Counties).   It has been inundated with immigrants from all across the world who chose Virginia for its public schools and work opportunities.  Their children now fill Virginia’s universities.  All of them are voters.

There are all sorts of problems which come along with this demographic boom:  congested highways, crowded schools, ultra-competitive college admissions.  There is also a struggle to make sure job growth keeps pace.

But politically these voters — Afghani, Somali, Korean, Nigerian, Bangladeshi, Salvadoran (and so on) — now hold the political power.

What is amazing is how national politicians, with presumably highly-paid consultants, have completely missed this cultural change in Virginia.  Instead, they simply divide the electorate into the same old cookie-cutter categories and write off those groups which don’t fit the image of their prototypical supporter.

As a result, they miss the opportunity to make connections with these “minority” groups, that would otherwise be sympathetic to their message.  (I can think of many specific examples, which I will elaborate on after this Election season is over).

This is not to say the 2012 election is  a done deal, or even that Democrats will retake the Congressional delegation or legislature.  President Obama seems to have a unique ability to bring out voters that the average Democrat (i.e. white liberals) cannot bring out — witness the difference between 2004 and 2008.

Regardless, this electorate is a lot different.  And as Not Larry Sabato posted, it’s likely to stay that way for quite some time, until one side of the house (Republican) wakes up and changes strategy.

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  • http://twitter.com/leecockrell Lee Cockrell

    Virginia may be leaning Obama, but in Fairfax, surprisingly I have seen quite a few Romney signs, while almost no Obama signs. About the only Obama sign I’ve seen was:

    http://www.electric-mayhem.net/images/obama.jpg

  • Chap Petersen

    Actually, you’re right. I’ve seen very few Obama signs and many Romney signs. Of course, there seem to be no Obama signs to be had. Anyway, that’s usually a good proxy but the polls numbers don’t seem to be reflecting it.

  • DJRippert

    So, where did all the new found Virginia liberals go when Bob McDonnell won the governor’s race, Bill Bolling won the Lt Governor race and Ken Cuccinelli became our AG?

  • Chap Petersen

    Didn’t show up for state races, either in 2009 or 2011.

    • DJRippert

      Maybe the Democrats in Virginia would be better off if Virginians voted for state office on the same day as national elections – like 47 other states or so do. It seems like it would encourage voter turn-out. Of course, we’d need either a 3 year one time ga between elections or a 1 year gap in order to be back on the national cycle.