GOP Showing Signs of Life in Virginia Governor's Race

Well, not so fast. The Washington Post has picked up on what Republicans have been quietly saying: Virginia without Obama on the ballot is not an automatically blue state. The Post noted two unexpected GOP wins in city council races in heavily-Democratic Alexandria this week:

It was the fourth election this year in which Democrats lost -- or won by uncomfortably close margins -- local races where they were assumed by both parties to hold a sizable advantage. ...

Republicans have demonstrated a particular strength in attracting absentee voters during this year's local elections. ... Republican Tom Davis, a former congressman from Fairfax County, said he believes that much of the Democratic surge in Virginia in recent years, particularly President Obama's victory, was attributable to distaste for former president George W. Bush. Now, "the oxygen that got these guys up in the morning is gone," Davis said.

Davis said he believes McDonnell has the advantage going into November because Virginia is a "countercyclical" state, meaning that, for the past 40 years, the party of the president has lost the governor's race and control of the congressional delegation.

And there is a world of difference between a gubernatorial race focused on transportation and job development, and a once-in-a-lifetime presidential race in which young voters and African Americans turned out in record numbers to elect the first African American president who ran on a platform of "hope" and "change."

McAuliffe is many things -- but a breath of fresh air from politics as usual isn't one of them. In fact, as his Democratic opponents are all too eager to point out, he would almost certainly bring his brand of hyper-partisan politics to a state which has generally enjoyed a less contentious brand of politics. Democrats like Tim Kaine and Mark Warner won gubernatorial races by positioning themselves as can-do problem solvers who did not represent national political interests. McAuliffe's style and his huge war chest would, at the very least, increase the acrimony between the state legislature (which is partially controlled by Republicans) and the governor.

So the challenge for Democrats is two-fold: complete the primary without providing more ammunition to the McDonnell campaign and find a way to restore the excitement and activism which has seeped away in the six months since the election. As for Republicans, the chance to prove that a key swing state is still within their grasp is an enticing one. And their biggest asset may be Terry McAuliffe.