Politico is right to say that Virginia will be a tough get for President Obama in 2012. Despite changing demographics and recent Democratic gains, Virginia is still a fairly conservative state—Republicans control the General Assembly and each of the state executive branch seats, as well as the majority of House seats, thanks to the 2010 midterm elections. What’s more, Virginians aren’t too hot on Obama’s performance—according to the most recent poll from Quinnipiac University, Virginia voters disapprove of Obama 52 percent to 45 percent. In a head-to-head match-up with Mitt Romney, the front-runner in the Republican race for president, Obama gets 44 percent to Romney’s 45 percent.
Politico traces the beginning of Virginia’s discontent—particularly among independents—to the 2009 statewide elections, when voters swept Democrats out across the state, and ended Democratic control of the governorship by electing Republican Bob McDonnell. Here’s Politico with its analysis:
[I]f there was any state to warn Obama that the independent voters who gave him his historic victory were deeply disaffected, it was again Virginia.
Just a year later, in 2009, Republican Governor Robert McDonnell, running against Obama’s record in the White House, won independents by a 2 to 1 majority in a victory that served as a prelude to the massive GOP gains of 2010.
The problem is that Obama’s poor showing with Virginia independents in 2011 isn’t actually connected to McDonnell’s win in 2009, especially given Obama’s high approval rating among Virginians in 2009. In reality, Democratic losses that year had more to do with turnout than it did with any particular disapproval with Obama. That is, the people who elected Bob McDonnell weren’t the same ones who voted for Barack Obama.
Compare the exit polls: 65 percent of the Virginia electorate in 2009 was 45 or older, compared to 49 percent in 2008. Seventy-eight percent of voters were white, compared to 70 percent in 2008, and only 16 percent were African-American (it was 20 percent in 2008). Indeed, 51 percent of all voters in the 2009 elections voted for John McCain in 2008. And this is to say nothing of the fact that Virginia “independents” skew to the right.
Again, none of this is to say that Obama will have an easy time in 2012, but the roots of his trouble have less to do with the 2009 elections, and more to do with the poor state of the economy.