Doug Daniels: Virginia Is Not for Lovers

Virginia is a true political microcosm of the country. It displays stark divisions between north and south, and the demographic shifts, primarily in the northern part of the commonwealth, are reshaping the political landscape in ways favorable to Democrats. The Senate is closely divided, while Republicans have a strong majority in the House, and the governor’s mansion is in play for both parties every cycle, with two of the last three governors being Democrats.

But Virginia Republicans are having an especially bad week. To the delight of Democrats, the state’s GOP convention was held last weekend, and the party nominated three almost unimaginably far-right candidates to run in a state that has been trending more and more moderate. And reflecting a familiar national dynamic, the party establishment is panicked while the grass roots activists are thrilled, blissfully unaware of the damage they’re doing to the Republican brand. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a relatively moderate Republican, who had hoped to ascend to governor, refused to even attend the convention.

Virginia Republicans expose the dilemmas, contradictions, hypocrisy and extremism that plague the party nationally.

In this way and others, the exploits of the Virginia GOP expose the dilemmas, contradictions, hypocrisy and extremism that plague the party nationally. This is a political party that constantly laments how intrusive government is yet the Virginia House famously passed legislation last year that would have forced a woman seeking an abortion to get a transvaginal probe. And for all the apoplexy over spending, the Virginia economy is heavily reliant on federal contracts.

Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, along with the nominees for Lt. Gov. and Attorney General, are being haunted by their extreme records on social issues. As AG, Cuccinelli has battled to uphold a Virginia anti-sodomy law that was struck down; tried to compel public universities to exclude gays and lesbians from their anti-discrimination policies; and has crusaded against abortion providers and women’s health care organizations like Planned Parenthood. He opposes abortion, with no exceptions, even in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is at risk. And he’s so militantly in denial of climate change that he used his power as Attorney General to intimidate and threaten professors at the University of Virginia for pursuing climate science.

And Cuccinelli is arguably the most moderate Republican on the ticket.

Pictured above is E.W. Jackson, the farcical nominee for lieutenant governor. He is on record as praising the U.S. Constitution’s original 3/5ths compromise and arguing it had an “anti-slavery” intent — a breathtakingly offensive and irrefutably false assertion. Jackson seems fond of making inflammatory comments by invoking slavery and inappropriate racial analogies whenever possible, comparing Planned Parenthood to the KKK and essentially accusing other African Americans of being slaves to the Democratic Party. Jackson is convinced Barack Obama is a Muslim, and he’s not the biggest fan of gays, deriding them as “sick” people who are riddled with psychological and emotional defects. Bolling is not impressed with his would-be successor, saying in a statement this week: “These kinds of comments are simply not appropriate, especially not from someone who wants to be a standard bearer for our party and hold the second highest elected office in our state. They feed the image of extremism, and that’s not where the Republican Party needs to be.”

Gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli opposes abortion in all cases — with no exception for rape or incest. And he’s the moderate of the bunch.

And not to be outdone, voters were reminded this week that Mark Obenshain, the Tea Party Republican nominee for Attorney General, introduced a bill in the state Senate back in 2009 that would have made it a crime for a woman not to report a miscarriage to the police within 24 hours.

Republicans like to pretend candidates like these are isolated cases that don’t represent the party. But over the past couple of election cycles, the GOP has nominated unelectable extremists for statewide office in countless states across the country, including fan favorites like Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin, and Christine “I’m not a Witch” O’Donnell.

And despite what GOP establishment figures in Washington insist, this is no longer a party that has a few fringe elements. The party itself has become a fringe element at this point.

Take these depressing numbers for example: Forty-Five percent of Republicans believe Obama was born in another country, 30 percent believe he’s a Muslim, 58 percent believe global warming is a “hoax” and 20 percent believe Obama is the antichrist.

And those are just the people who are comfortable admitting these things to pollsters.

This is more than a case of a few bad apples; this is a fundamental pattern.

Karl Rove and other party elders have tried to suppress the grass roots forces that continually nominate extreme candidates, but so far their efforts have not been well received, to say the least. If Republicans want to compete on a national level again, they need to reconcile the activist grassroots energy with the pragmatism they’ll need to actually win elections


Doug Daniels, a freelance journalist, is a former staff reporter for Campaigns & Elections. He is the author of the forthcoming memoir Sifting Through the Wreckage.

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