Is Virginia the new swing state...the new Ohio? I believe it is.
I wrote in a previous post about my belief that the states of Ohio and Florida may be losing their status as the deciding states in Presidential elections, a result of changing demographics in a a handful of Southern/Southwestern states that were once reliably Republican, and suburban voters moving away from the GOP. Pennsylvania, as we who live here already know, has already lost a considerable amount of its "swing."
So as goes Virginia, so goes the nation? Yes, Virginia. Or, as the late Tim Russert might write on his white board, "Virginia, Virginia, Virginia."
With its 13 electoral votes, Virginia may in fact be the state that decides it all in 2012...who wins the White House and, in fact, who controls the US Senate. Virginia's US Senate contest is one of the most closely watched in the nation and will help decide which party is in the majority in the Senate come January.
It is a noteworthy swing for a Southern state that, for the last 50 years, has voted Republican at the Presidential level, with the one exception of the Johnson v. Goldwater landslide of 1964. Clinton came close to winning it in his 1996 re-election, but close is no cigar. It took a demographic shift that took root around the Washington, DC area and south to Richmond to move the state away from the GOP column and into the hands of Barack Obama in 2008.
Now comes 2012. Review the polls and the ones that show Mitt Romney close to catching Barack Obama in Old Dominion are few and far between. True, it's only July. But June was a bad month, generally, for the Obama campaign and yet polls near the end of the month and into early July show a sustained, and perhaps increasing, lead for the President in Virginia.
What's happening in Virginia?
Two trends define the shift in Virginia...growth among Latinos and Suburban DC / Richmond voters moving away from the Republican Party as that party has moved farther, and sharply, to the right.
The suburban shift should come as no surprise. It closely resembles suburban shifts in the Philadelphia region as well as other major cities, especially in the Northeast and Mid-West.Suburban voters in the four collar counties around Philadelphia abandoned the GOP in massive numbers starting in 2000 with the Bush / Gore campaign and surged throughout the presidency of George W. Bush, largely in reaction to opposition to the wars as well as a strong disaffection with hardened Republican positions on social issues.
As a Democratic Party official in one of these suburban counties during this time period, I witnessed this shift firsthand and saw it manifest itself in the 2006 elections of Congressman Patrick Murphy in PA's 8th Congressional District in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, and Congressman Joe Sestak in PA's 7th District - my home district centered in Delaware County.
It also helped produce a Democratic-controlled Board of County Commissioners in 2011 in Montgomery County for the first time in history. The trend has slowed in the last year or two, at least in my county, but is still unmistakable...the farther right the GOP moves, the more suburban voters it loses. The trend has helped lessen Pennsylvania's status as a swing state and has unmistakably moved Virginia in the same direction...towards the Democrats.
The second trend in Virginia is also clear...the Latino population surged in the state in the last census. In fact, Latinos' percentage of the population in the Commonwealth of Virginia surged by almost 92% in the 2010 census. Obama overwhelmingly won the Latino vote in 2008 and is on track to repeat that victory. His executive order on immigration in June was wildly popular with Latino voters, besides being the right thing to do.
That Latinos overwhelmingly vote Democratic is nothing new. However, as the Latino voting population continues to surge in this nation, the benefit to the party that ultimately earns this demographic's voting loyalty is well positioned to continue winning national elections and right now, at least, that party is the Democratic one. The Republican Party has been violently anti-immigrant and Latino voters remember it well. The GOP also has a very poor record on almost any issue that affects minority populations. That's historically true to an absurd degree.
The Latino trend also affects other states that traditionally have not been swing states and have been, at the presidential level, historically out of reach of Democrats - most notably the Southwestern states of Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and, to a lesser degree, New Mexico.
It's important to note the impact these few states will have on the electoral college in 2012. If, as evidence currently suggests, Obama again wins Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, and adds Virginia to them, his lock on the electoral college is virtually guaranteed.
Simply put, all Obama has to do is win the "Kerry States," (246 electoral votes adjusted after 2010 redistricting) where he already has solid leads, and the new swing states of Virginia (13 electoral votes), Colorado (9 electoral votes), New Mexico (5 electoral votes) and Nevada (6 electoral votes) and the election is over - Obama wins with 279 electoral votes.
A pollster, I don't remember which one, once wrote about "demographics as destiny." At least this year, that seems to be the case in these four important new swing states. It almost (almost) no longer matters what happens in the former big three - Pennsylvania (most assuredly reliably Democratic this year), Ohio (toss up) and Florida (toss up). The new south is rising...and its going to the Democrats.