at the Edges
rural strategy helped get him elected governor, but "tax
reform" that favors rural communities may
alienate Northern Virginia.
after the 2001 election, this writer commented on
the success of Mark Warner’s rural strategy in
contributing significantly to his victory in the
gubernatorial contest. The unfocused campaign of
Warner’s opponent, Mark Earley, allowed Warner to
play the good ol’ boy in ads that featured
bluegrass music and a dressed-down Warner doing
everything to play the part except spit tobacco
juice and sip moonshine.
fall-off in rural votes for the GOP’s
gubernatorial candidate from the 1993 election to
the 2001 election was dramatic. It contributed more
than any other factor to Earley’s defeat.
was hailed as a political innovator, but the
strategy had been used by other Democrats, notably
Chuck Robb and Doug Wilder, in gubernatorial
election campaigns during the 1980s. George Allen
and Jim Gilmore reclaimed the “bubba” vote for
the GOP during the 1990s.
suggests that the Virginia electorate is not
especially partisan, as some commentators mistakenly
assume. Virginians consider other factors at least
as important as party affiliation. Those include
issue positions, character, experience, leadership
ability and name identification.
a mistake to label the Commonwealth a Republican
state. While this isn’t a Democratic state, it is
a politically competitive state despite the
appearance of GOP dominance. Techniques used by
incumbent legislators to give themselves political
advantages, especially drawing electoral districts
to discourage challenges, usually exaggerates the
political strength of the majority party.
ability to woo rural voters in 2001 depended more on
gestures than substance. Over the course of his
term, Warner’s policy decisions that have not been
well received in rural Virginia have offset his
gestures. In fact, some of Warner’s gestures
to rural voters have served to heighten their
expectations of him and will produce negative
political reactions when he can’t deliver.
a risky game. Tax reform illustrates the risk.
the tax laws to ease the fiscal burden on rural
communities will necessarily come at the expense of
wealthier regions such as Northern Virginia. A new
tax on services, a new tax on Internet sales, or
higher sales, income or corporate tax rates will
mean that residents of Northern Virginia will pay a
substantially higher proportion of state taxes than
they currently do.
can’t have it both ways. He must choose between
Northern Virginia voters (and voters in other areas
that see tax reform as unfairly adding to their tax
burden for the benefit of others) and rural voters.
Going to NASCAR events in Southside Virginia or
cutting a ribbon on a project in coal-mining country
won’t make up for his failure to deliver property
tax relief to these rural communities.
Warner was sending a signal recently that he is
unwilling to alienate Northern Virginia voters by
putting everything on the line for tax reform when
he decided not to make it an issue in this year’s
legislative elections. Just a few months ago, Warner
and his team were telling Democratic candidates that
tax reform — even a tax increase — would be a
winning message in their campaigns. Most rejected
that advice. Some decided to run against tax reform
and any tax increase, putting them to the right of
their GOP opponents.
will be interesting to watch Warner over the next
several months to see if he can put together a
coherent plan for his political future.
October 20, 2003