Last week the most interesting poll of the 2013 Governor's race was published. It wasn't done by one of the well known public pollsters that have been putting out data this year. The poll was conducted by NARAL Pro Choice America. The reason this poll was so interesting was it only tested voters that don't usually vote in Virginia Governor elections.
This turnout gap is something we've covered here for a long time. Basically since the generation of FDR seniors began dying off in big numbers in the 1990's, Virginia Democrats have faced uphill electorates in off year elections. Even when Democrats had better political environments they barely won (Warner by 5, Kaine by 6), while in GOP years the Republicans crushed (Allen by 17, Gilmore by 13, McDonnell by 19).
This problem that already existed exploded in 2008 when many older rural independents that had voted Democratic moved over to the GOP (some on policy, others uncomfortable with the Democratic candidate being African American). Those lost votes to the GOP were absolutely overwhelmed and crushed in both 2008 and 2012 with new registrants and young voters who came in with hundreds of thousands of additional votes- especially in the urban crescent of Virginia. But those voters failed to return in big numbers from 2009-2011, giving Republicans a landslide sweep of the statewide offices in 09, a three (almost four) Congressional seat pickup in 2010 and control of the Virginia Senate back in 2011. When they did return in 2012, Virginia went blue again- with a margin over 100,000 votes and Tim Kaine easily won the open Senate seat.
In other words- the game in the past for Democrats has been persuading the electorate that votes in this type of election. The game now is figuring out how to get more voters out that don't participate outside of Presidential years. In fact our analysis shows that if you wait until the electorate favors Democrats with natural off year turnout in a Governors election you will be waiting until 2033 for the next win.
NARAL- which recently elected former MoveOn political director Ilyse Hogue as its President- clearly has the right idea here on what needs to happen in order to win. The poll results are no surprise as the electorate that doesn't usually vote in Governor's elections is overwhelmingly pro-choice and overwhelmingly breaks to the Democrats if they participate. According to the poll pro-choice messaging is very persuadable to these voters on whether they participate.
Here's the catch. NARAL tried this same effort in the Virginia Senate race in 2007 when the national group played big for Democrat Janet Oleszek in her race against Ken Cuccinelli. Cooch survived by a narrow 101 vote margin but the pro-choice campaign seemed to be one of the most effective efforts backing Oleszek. It's important to note this- because no one issue can change the electorate enough for Democrats to succeed on its own. Unless labor, environmental, gay rights groups and others follow NARAL's lead on strategy here this won't work. If they do all follow the strategy of focusing on voters that don't usually participate in Governor's years they might be able to succeed even with an extremely flawed Democratic nominee- assuming he doesn't cause turnout problems himself with a federal investigation. This election is about who votes, and nothing else will likely matter.