A Huge Night for the GOP in Virginia

Additionally, the full extent of the failure of Creigh Deeds can be seen in statewide voter turnout. Fewer voters came to the polls this year (an estimated 1,949,841) than did for last year’s presidential election (3,723,260). Lower turnout is to be expected in off-year elections, of course, but the drop-off from last year, and the apparent failure of younger voters to come to the polls in anything close to the numbers they did last year, is clearly an indication that the much-vaunted Obama machine didn’t have any impact beyond the 2008 election itself. For example, in both Arlington County and the city of Alexandria, two Democratic strongholds, Deeds won easily. However, turnout in both jurisdictions was down by more than 50% from last year, and Deeds underperformed compared to the results Democrats had seen in 2005. Obviously, even die-hard Democrats weren’t excited by Creigh Deeds.

There is no doubt that many pundits will try to draw national implications out of the massive Republican comeback in Virginia, but there's not really any evidence that there are any. For one thing, yesterday's exit polls make it fairly clear that most voters did not consider their vote in the McDonnell-Deeds race to be a re-election of their opinion about the president. By a wide margin, the most important issue for most voters was the state of the economy. Obviously, that should raise red flags for Democrats as we head into 2010 with every indication that unemployment will remain high for most of the coming year, but it's a mistake to look at these results as a referendum on Barack Obama's presidency. Also, President Obama didn't invest nearly the same amount of time in Virginia that he did in New Jersey, largely because national Democrats had recognized weeks ago that the Deeds campaign was doomed.

No, the results in Virginia do not prove that the Obama presidency is fatally wounded, and they certainly don't mean anything when it comes to issues like the debate over health care reform. What they do prove, though, is that Republicans can still win in so-called purple states like Virginia (with two Democratic senators and a majority-Democratic congressional delegation, Virginia is still very much a purple state) if they focus their campaigns on applying small-government principles to the issues that voters care about. That's what Bob McDonnell did. He did it better than any Republican in Virginia has in at least twelve years, and that's the main reason that he won last night.

If Republicans want to draw a lesson from Virginia, that's the one they need to learn.