Earlier today we promised you a story on a Republican who has walked up to the line of offending moderate voters, but carefully avoided crossing it, and is now a massive favorite to win election.
That candidate is Bob McDonnell.
In his race against Creigh Deeds, Bob in a lot of ways started out the underdog. First he faced an energetic, rich challenger in the primary, who got up in his face and attacked him. Bob also had some silly statements in the past, including not being able to remember if he ever had oral sex. Waiting in the wings was Deeds, saving money and deemed by the Richmond establishment to be "the perfect statewide candidate".
So how did McDonnell break out into nearly a double digit lead?
First of all he united his base. So many candidates on both sides don't understand that in a statewide race your base has got to be the first priority. Bob has stayed conservative enough to keep his base in line, and not really have any cracks.
While a united base is critical, it won't put either side over the top in Virginia. The next step is reaching out to the middle. Here's where Bob has surprised a lot of people, and done far better than Creigh:
The recent Mason Dixon shows Bob up 8 statewide. Here's the count by region, and why the results are coming in like this.
This is the only region Deeds leads in, and the current count is 39%-31%. Eight points is equal to Tim Kaine's 46%-38% margin in NOVA, but Deeds should be doing better than Tim, especially with Potts at 5%. At the same time Leslie Byrne leads by 11%, 44%-33%. Northern Virginia Democrats have left conservative Democrats downballot blank in large numbers before, and McDonnell seems to have a good idea of what issues work for him in NOVA. I don't see Creigh racking up a large margin here.
This is the shocker. Creigh Deeds runs 15 percent behind McDonnell here 47%-32%, while Tim Kaine is even 43%-43%-7%. Tim does pull some Republicans in his home region, but Leslie Byrne is running three points better than Creigh here 46%-34% and its her opponents home region. More on why below...
There's home field advantage and then there is Lane Stadium on a Thursday night or RFK Stadium for a Redskins playoff game. Bob McDonnell has the latter here. Tim Kaine leads in this region by 3 points 45%-42%-7%, and Leslie Byrne leads by five (44%-39%) so this is not a Republican stronghold. Bob McDonnell shoots out of here with a twenty six point lead 54%-28%. This is a rout so complete it is breathtaking. A 33 point swing from the LG race.
Rural voters have gotten a lot of attention as the decisive force in Virginia politics. But that's not totally true, and this race exposes that. The reason rural voters have gotten a reputation as the force is this: Try to imagine starting outside Washington D.C. and heading down the eastern side of Virginia, known as the urban crescent. Democrats take a large lead inside the beltway, Republicans begin winning outside the beltway, but by smaller margins so Democrats lead all the way until you leave NOVA. Republicans pick up a little more ground between the DC suburbs and the Richmond suburbs, then finish off the Democratic margins in the Richmond suburbs, Richmond City gives the Democrats back a little more margin, which again disappears on the Peninsula. Virginia Beach cancels out Norfolk, and the entire eastern side of the state could be called a couple points GOP, a couple points Dem, depending on turnout and election year. That makes the rural areas decisive. But some candidates can change that balance, making them strong favorites regardless of the rural vote.
This is called the "Urban Crescent coalition" and it is one of the hardest coalitions to pull together. Bob McDonnell leading in the two of the three major regions by 26% and 15% while trailing in another by 8% makes him the first candidate to successfully pull this off since Don Beyer lost rural areas in 1993 for Lt. Governor while routing his opponent in all 3 urban crescent regions (even winning Virginia Beach). Rural areas get no say when a candidate is special enough to win the urban crescent big.
Ironically, with his own rural problems, McDonnell is pulling together exactly the coalition Tim Kaine needs to win. Tim has never been attempting to replicate the Warner coalition, in many western Virginia counties he trailed Warner by 4-7% even while on the ticket with him, so he was never going to be able to do that on his own. Kaine has pulled nearly even by succesfully using his popularity in Metro Richmond to pull even there, and has run well so far in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. But if Tim pulls this coalition off, it will be by the skin of his teeth, while McDonnell is doing it like no Republican other than John Warner has ever done before.
Democrats concerned with McDonnell's conservative views should take note. If this coalition holds through election day, Republicans will have a new plan that is virtually unbeatable and will elect even very conservative candidates. There is no Democratic countermove to a Republican coalition that includes a significant number of Hampton Roads African Americans, and moderate suburbanites concerned about crime and safety. In twelve days, Bob McDonnell may just change Virginia politics for a long time.