What If they Gave an Election and Nobody Came?

Well, Labor Day has come and gone, and it still doesn’t look like the electorate is getting excited about Virginia’s gubernatorial campaign. According to a story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this morning, with a deadline looming, registrars in the Richmond area are reporting a diminished number of people signing up to vote.

Wrote Tyler Whitley: “Mark Coakley, registrar in Henrico County, said about 50 people have come by the county government complex to register in person. Another 250 have sought absentee ballots, far under the total from last year, he said.” The City of Richmond had received 88 applications, but “20 plus” were rejected because they were inaccurate. Wow, only 100 new voters in jurisdictions with a combined population of 450,000. You can’t get much more apathetic than that.

Robert D. Holsworth, chair of the government and public affairs department at VCU, noted that no defining issues have emerged from the campaign. That impression is backed up by a recent Rasmussen poll showing that voters were most interested in bread-and-butter issues, while candidates are focusing largely on the cultural wedge issues.

If turnout looks like it will be exceptionally low, expect the candidates to abandon their appeal to uncommitted moderate voters and start riling up their motivated base.


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  1. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Why should the voters get excited when the choice is between frick and frack and fred, with no substantive means of choosing. The Fairfax Times newspaper made this observation last week with the suggestion that voters show some political road rage and cut them off on election day.

    Unfortunately, that is not an option and we are going to be stuck with one of these spineless wonders.

    Maybe it IS time to add “none of the above” to the ballot.

  2. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    I think many voters are apathetic due to other things going on in society like the Hurricanes, the war in Iraq, supreme court nominees, Tom Delay, etc. The average person’s opinion of government is likely at an all time low because of the negative backlash left over from Iraq and the Hurricanes.

    Bad candidates or not, neither campaign has been able to cut through all the clutter and connect with voters.

    I think what we are seeing is, “Trickle Down Politics”. Folks at the top have alienated voters and that is showing up in this Gubernatorial election.

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    What motivated base?

    Just got an email today from a fellow member of the Republican State Central Committee asking me if I was finding like him “I am very concerned about morale in the Republican Party in my area. As in, it is close to non-existent.” in my area of the Congressional District.

    You have some resentment, frustration and distrust against the National GOP – The President, the Senate and the House. I listed some of them in my latest op ed on the web (many locations – one is http://www.virginianewssource.com/article539.html)

    And in Virginia you have Tweedledum running against Tweedledee (alternate egos of Frick and Frack). The irony is the content of their commercials vs the reality of their positions.
    Allow me, please, to explain.

    The MSM says 70% of Virginia loves Gov Mark Warner and support his tax increases. Yet, both candidates are running as tax cutters and accusing the other of raising taxes. Hmmm.

    Kaine touts the tax increases as reform, yet his “j’accuse” to Jerry is that Jerry will reinstate taxes cut in the 04 tax scam. But, Jerry promises not roll back the tax increases.

    So maybe, just maybe, there is no passion because Virginians don’t believe either of them will really cut taxes – so the Conservatives stay home and the Liberals aren’t threatened by Conservatives mobilizing.

    Jerry Kilgore says he will finish the Death Tax and Car Tax. But, voters aren’t as stupid as politicians think. Reading voters know His Lordship John Chichester may have not let Jerry eliminate those taxes and will ask him to eat a Transportation tax.

    Republicans where I live are not pleased at all to consider that they will have to ask their representatives to kill Kilgore’s transportation plan and property tax plan in the GA – or mobilize and beat them (for unelected Regional Taxing government the 3rd time) at the polls when they come up as amendments to the VA Constitution.

    But, all in all, we Republicans know that Kaine is a Warner-Kerry-Gore-Clinton Liberal. Kilgore is not. So, we will vote for Jerry and he will win in a close one.

  4. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Even as a liberal I can’t vote for Kaine. Kilgore either. Looks like Potts as a protest.

  5. Shaula Evans Avatar
    Shaula Evans

    I am wondering if this may bode well for the Democrats, Jim.

    Republicans typically run circles around Democrats with voter registration drives–and in so doing, pick up part of their win margin.

    IF voter reg is down BECAUSE the GOP is not doing voter reg to their normal standards, that means they’ve thrown away part of their edge at the polls.

    I’m not saying this is the case. But I’m definitely curious.

  6. SouthoftheJames.com Avatar
    SouthoftheJames.com

    There’s a reason that the Dems only get 45% statewide and hold only 38 House seats vs. 60 for the GOP – they don’t have much of a base – outside of Black voters and Northern VA liberals – to stir up. The party has declined to the point where there is no discernable coalition of voters. And, the black voter base is neutralized as a major homerun factor for Kaine because the Dems have not been able to portray Kilgore as some wild racist wingnut because he’s not one. Not to mention the fact that Black VA votes between 10-15% GOP anyway. Mark Warner is an anomaly and his election was a perfect storm. If Kilgore loses, then he’s simply the 2nd GOP version of Mary Sue Terry that the Republicans have offered up in 4 years…

    — Conaway

  7. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    The Republican voter reg team is a paid outfit they used in Iowa last year. Obviously they are not doing a great job. But then again, in an off year where voter reg was mostly worked dry last year, there’s not really as much low hanging fruit left to register.

    “the Dems have not been able to portray Kilgore as some wild racist wingnut because he’s not one.”

    Agreed, though mostly through lack of trying. Though how tone deaf is Kilgore’s lit piece on education? The two black faces on there are wearing dark sunglasses, which just looks kind of bizarre, and has evoked plenty of “Calton Bixby” Dave Chappell jokes amongst African Americans who get the piece.

    Kilgore, ironically, opposed the sales tax refferendums to raise money for transportation. Now he’s basically promising to spend the sale tax increases Warner forced through on… transportation.

  8. The last statewide campaign in 2001 was one in which the Democratic nominee for Governor won with 52% of the vote, the Lt. Governor with 50.35% of the vote, and the Republican AG candidate won with 60% of the vote. That shows a pretty “balanced” electorate when you look at them “statewide.”

    The reason the General Assembly is 2/3rds Republican is because that’s how the districts were drawn after redistricting. So, look for the statewide race this year to reflect the balance of the electorate when not isolated in party-identified voting ghettos.

    It would be interesting to see what would happen to the General Assembly if Virginia had a nonpartisan districting process such as that recommended by Creigh Deeds and operating in Iowa. My guess is that the legislature would be less likely to be divided into camps reflecting the extremes in the parties and more likely to reflect the balanced competition that exists in the statewide races.

    2005 is likely to be historic as the year in which voter turnout dived below 45% statewide, perhaps to as low as 40-42% for the three statewide races, and lower in most house districts.

    There are many reasons for this. But, the lack of competition in the legislative races is certainly part of the problem.

  9. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    CG2 makes a good point that these cozy legislative districts may have a dampening effect on turnout. There are lots of reasons for lack of interest this time around (I admit I’m unpleasantly surprised – I thought this would be a barn burner), many of which have been mentioned in the comments. I would add to these the Richmond-centric configuration of both slates (not sure where Byrne fits in that gneralization). But it cannot help that there is little sizzle in a large number of the House of Delegates races.

  10. SouthoftheJames.com Avatar
    SouthoftheJames.com

    CG2 – Using only the 2001 election shows a skewed electoral picture. That election was more the exception than the rule as statewide elections in 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2004 show Virginia to be a reliably Republican state with hiccups every now and again. Earley was a bad candidates, as was McEachin who was spanked by Kilgore.

    As for redistricting, it amazes me how the Dems use that as an excuse when the GOP initially took power in districts drawn up by AL Philpott, Tom Moss & Dickie Cranwell back in the 1980s & 1990s. The Dems had net losses of House seats in every 2-year cycle well before the Republicans took control. The “new” districts are GOP-drawn, but that merely confirms their hold on the GA (special elections notwithstanding).

    Shifting demographics, the blindness of Democratic leaders (who pushed conservatives out and had no unified party message), mediocore candidates, and more strategic GOP with an appealing message and good candidates had more of an impact than the 2000 redistricting ever did.

    — Conaway

  11. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    A totally non-partisan set of house districts drawn with greater respect for compactness and contiguity would still produce a Republican majority — perhaps one just as large. Don’t forget the effect of the Voting Rights Act — would you scrap that, CG2? Some of the seats might not be as safe for individual incumbents. Those individual wishes and preferences often explain some of the more bizarre configurations. The Senate districts are less gerrymandered and produce a 24-16 R advantage.

    Demographics, demographics, demographics — Virginia was growing more R after the Reagan election, and there are signs the pendulum may have turned a bit, but the state remains +4 to +6 least in the Republican column. Personal characteristics, issues and campaigns still matter. And we do have this odd pattern of electing a governor of the opposite party of the president. We could break that this year.

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