RACING FOR RICHMOND
It's the gap in enthusiasm -- and infrastructure -- that Democrats are hoping to capitalize on in statewide races in 2009.
"We have Obama offices in traditionally Republican areas -- up and down the Shenandoah Valley and in the Roanoke Valley, for example. We are identifying Democratic voters and voters who haven't been Democrat but who identify with our values. Those voters, we will communicate with them again next year," said state delegate Brian Moran (D-Alexandria), a candidate for governor.
Democratic passion "will carry over into next year. This has been building for several years. With Mark Warner's election in 2001, he rebranded the Democratic Party in Virginia so that it's acceptable for many independents and even some Republicans," Moran said.
In the race for Richmond, however, Republicans feel that they have not only a strong party structure but also history on their side.
"I think you have to look at the long-term trends of history. For 130 years Republicans had no say in Virginia until 1993 with George Allen and 1999 when they took the legislature," said Bob McDonnell, state attorney general and the front-running Republican candidate for governor in 2009. "So much of this is being funded by this enormous Barack Obama fundraising effort. Once he broke his promise to take federal funds he's been able to raise a historic and record amount of money and he's poured a lot of that into these offices. You're probably not going to have a lot of that in a governor's race."
And then there is what state delegate Dave Nutter (R-Christiansburg) called the "weird curse:" the fact that, going back eight gubernatorial elections, Virginia has elected a governor opposite the nation's choice for president.
While neither Moran nor McDonnell laughed off throwing their weight behind the presidential candidates of the opposite party, both raised the specter of Virginia's odd electoral history as a potential, if uncertain, factor.
Additionally, while Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls such as former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, State Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Charlottesville) and Moran, McDonnell will probably not face competition for the Republican gubernatorial nod.
"The party is more unified in 2008 than it was in 2005 ... The party is united behind Bob McDonnnell," Leggitt said.
With an unimpeded path to the Governor's mansion, McDonnell may benefit from what Cuccinelli sees as the Republicans' stepped-up grassroots effort across the state because of state Republican Party Chairman Jeff Frederick's history of grassroots excellence.
"What Jeff brings to the table is a grassroots experience that is a necessity. He's only won his district with a grassroots effort. The party has been pretty absent in building a grassroots base for a number of years and to get us into that mode as a party that would be a huge boom for all the candidates in Virginia running as Republicans. Time will tell if he's able to pull it off. That's something that will more show in 2009 than in 2008," Cuccinelli said.
Frederick did not return calls for comment.
Of course, for all of these things, McDonnell cautioned that forecasting is always a risky business.
"A year is a long time," he said.