I know 2008 isn’t even half way over yet, but already the posturing for the 2009 Virginia General Election is heating up.
The GOP side of the equation is easy. Attorney General Bob McDonnell will be running. Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling had considered a run, but announced in March he was going to seek reelection instead. Nobody else is expected to challenge McDonnell. McDonnell will be an interesting candidate. He is from the Hampton Roads/Virginia Beach area and has a strong base of support down there. He represented them in the House of Delegates, has military ties and graduated from Pat Robertson’s Regent University, which is based in the area. McDonnell doesn’t have a great profile elsewhere in the state. He won a real squeaker of an election in 2005, beating Creigh Deeds by 360 votes. He is extremely conservative, both on social issues, as one might expect from a Regent alumnus, but also fiscally, where he consistently voted against taxes and spending.
On the Democratic side things are a little different. There are two strong candidates running. The first is Deeds, who is a State Senator. He is based in Southwest Virginia, representing Roanoke. He is a conservative Democrat who is extremely strong on gun rights, even winning the endorsement of the NRA over McDonnell in 2005. He probably has the broadest appeal of the two, but given that he couldn’t capitalize on Tim Kaine’s 2005 win to put him over the top there are serious doubts about whether he could be the more seasoned and higher profile McDonnell in a rematch.
The other Democrat running for Governor is Brian Moran, the brother of Arlington Congressman Jim. Brian is based out of Alexandria, which could be a liability in a state wide race. Nonetheless, he has cultivated a moderate record and been friendly with groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Virginia Sheriffs Association and the Chamber of Commerce. He is perceived as a liberal by many in the state, perhaps due to his strong partisanship in his role as Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. Although Moran is likely the weaker of the two candidates statewide, he may have an advantage in the Democratic primary, where Northern Virginia has a larger voice.
Again, the GOP side of the ledger is easy. Bill Bolling is running unopposed for re-election. Bolling’s political base of support is Southwest Virginia, which he represented as a State Senator before winning the Lt. Governorship. He is a pretty doctrinaire conservative who won the biggest margin for the GOP in 2005. Bolling will be a formidable candidate for re-election, despite the fact that the nature of the job makes it that he hasn’t accomplished much of anything.
On the Democratic side things aren’t as clear. As per Too Conservative the other day, Jon Bowerbank, a Southwestern Virginia businessman is in the running. He’s unknown statewide and would have a tough time
getting his name ID up, but he could be a solid candidate. To begin with he appears to be the sort of culturally conservative Democrat who has succeeded in Virginia the last few election cycles. His firm is a natural gas and energy resources company, which could give him an advantage in going after what is sure to be a hot issue in 2009.
The other Democrat who is rumored to be interested in running is Jody Wagner, Tim Kaine’s Secretary of Finance. Wagner is based out of the Norfolk area and was a Congressional candidate in 2000. She was also Mark Warner’s State Treasurer. Wagner has a great record to run on, given that Virginia has consistently been name the best managed state in the Union under her watch, so she could be a very strong candidate. On the other hand, she could have trouble with the liberal blogs, given Bowerbank has already retained the services of Lowell from Raising Kaine and Ben from NLS obviously isn’t a huge fan of Wagner’s.
The Democratic side of the race is the easy one this time around, so I’ll start here. Delegate Steve Shannon of Fairfax is the only Democrat who seems to be looking at the race. Shannon, however, has definitely been eying it for a while and will be a formidable candidate. He is a former prosecutor and founded the Washington, D.C. AMBER Alert system, while he was still a private citizen. In the House he has been a consistently tough on crime legislator with a very moderate voting record.
The Republican side is much more up in the air. State Senator Ken Cuccinelli is the favorite. He’s the most conservative member of the Senate and is a darling of the state GOP. Despite his conservatism he’s the only Republican Senator left from Fairfax, though he only won his last election in 2007 by 92 votes over the incompetent Janet Oleszek. Cuccinelli would be a formidable candidate given his Northern Virginia base. If a Republican can hold down the margin of defeat in Fairfax it is almost impossible for him to lose statewide.
The second GOP candidate is former U.S. Attorney John Brownlee. Brownlee is based out of Southwest Virginia, which could be an advantage in the GOP primary, though Cuccinelli’s legendary status within the conservative wing of the party will negate much of that advantage. Brownlee is known as a conservative, law and order, tough on drugs prosecutor. He’s definitely running a very conservative campaign, “vowing to fight abortion, illegal immigration and drug trafficking,” according to the Washington Post. A nomination battle where Cuccinelli and Brownlee try to get to each other’s right could hurt their chances in November. If these two try to out crazy one another I’m not sure where it will stop. On the other hand, this thing could end up being completely uncompetitive, given that Brownlee didn’t even get a website up before he officially kicked off his campaign. That sort of incompetence won’t allow him to last long against a political master like Cuccinelli.
The dark horse in the GOP race is former Arlington School Board Chairman Dave Foster. Foster had a great reputation liberal Arlington, which is extremely tough for a Republican to do. Until he retired from the Board in 2007 he was the only elected Republican in the entire county. Were he to win the nomination it would be tough to see how he could lose, given his ability to win votes from liberal Northern Virginians. Whereas Cuccinelli has squeaked by, Foster won re-election by 8,000 votes out of less than 40,000 cast. He would be at a bit of a disadvantage in the primary, however, given that he has no record to speak of on the sorts of issues the Attorney General has to deal with, especially in comparison to Cuccinelli and Brownlee. In a contested GOP nomination fight he and Cuccinelli could easily end up splitting the Northern Virginia vote and allowing Brownlee to coast to the nomination.