Virginia's tea party could be over Nov. 5

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If the polls are to be believed, tea party-backed candidates could well go down to defeat all over Virginia on November 5.

Virginians vote on that date to elect a governor, lieutenant governor, and state attorney general, as well as all 100 members of the Virginia House of Delegates (the lower house of the state legislature, the General Assembly), and some local offices. Largely because of the Republican Party's negative baggage both locally and nationally, the Democrats see an opportunity.

Virginia, once a bastion of Southern conservatism, is now a "swing state," with 8 million inhabitants in 11 congressional districts. It went for Obama in 2008, when the Democrats picked up three House seats. In 2009, however, largely because of a lower voter turnout in the Democratic Party's base, Virginia moved right, electing Republicans to all statewide offices: Governor Bob McDonnell, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. In 2012, the state went for Obama again and elected former Democratic Governor Tim Kaine to the Senate.

On the surface, Virginia is relatively prosperous, with an unemployment rate of 5.8 percent. However, the prosperity of the state is, to a large degree, dependent on activities of the federal government.

Northern Virginia and the Tidewater area around Norfolk, Newport News and Hampton Roads include a large population of federal employees and employees of federal contractors. These areas' prosperity is threatened by the sequester, and residents were particularly worried by the government shutdown. Other areas of Virginia are economically depressed, including the coal mining region of Appalachia. Virginia is a "right to work (for less)" state, with only about 4.4 percent unionization.

The Republican candidates for statewide office have all identified themselves in the past with extremist "tea party" positions, but are now scurrying to back away from them. In the meanwhile Republican Governor McDonnell is badly tainted by a scandal involving the acceptance of gifts from a contractor.

Cuccinelli, currently state attorney general, has a hard right record on issues such as global warming, women's rights, sexuality, and immigration. He has hailed federal legislation to strip the citizenship from U.S. born children of undocumented immigrants, and has defended legislation that would have made any sexual intercourse other than genital-to-genital illegal. He was the first state attorney general to sue to invalidate President Obama's health care reform, and opposes "Obamacare." He also tried to stop Virginia colleges and universities from implementing policies protecting people on the basis of their sexual orientation. He is anti-abortion and chummy with the National Rifle Association. He promises to cut state taxes, without saying how the difference will be made up.

But his greatest notoriety comes from his persecution of a University of Virginia climate science professor, Michael E. Mann. Cuccinelli suggested that Mann had perpetrated a fraud on the taxpayers of Virginia by using invalid science, and tried to force the University of Virginia to hand over all Mann's e-mails to colleagues. This produced an indignant response from the entire university community, and eventually was thrown out by a judge. Cuccinelli is a global warming denier and gets big campaign contributions from Koch Industries.

The GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, bishop E.W. Jackson, has accused Planned Parenthood of killing more Black children than the Ku Klux Klan. The GOP candidate for attorney general, Mark Obenshain, once promoted a bill that would have obligated all women who have natural miscarriages to immediately report to the police. (He now says he's sorry).

The three Democratic candidates for statewide office appear to be betting heavily on the scandal created by the extremist positions of their opponents, and the disgust stemming from the government shutdown. The candidate for governor is Terry McAuliffe, who also ran for governor in 2009 but lost in the primary. McAuliffe has not held public office, but is known for his skill in raising funds. The Democratic lieutenant governor candidate is Mark Herring, a liberal state senator, and for attorney general is Ralph Northam, a centrist state senator.

Currently, the Democrats hold 32 of the 100 seats in the House of Delegates. Of these, only 56 are contested (of which 40 are Republican held and 16 are Democrat held). Senate seats are not up for election this year; the Senate is tied, with 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. The lieutenant governor has a tiebreaking vote in the Senate, giving the race between Jackson and Northam extra importance.

Mid-October polls show McAuliffe and Northam solidly ahead with Herring slightly behind. A Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate, Rob Sarvis, appears to be hurting the Republicans. The Democrats are benefiting from a big lead among women and minorities.

Cuccinelli was urged to resign as attorney general when he was nominated as the Republican candidate for governor, but refused, leading to fears that if any legal issue arises with the elections, he will intervene on his own behalf. There is already a worry about voter suppression: The Virginia State Board of Elections, to which the attorney general, that is, Cuccinelli, is legal advisor, has purged about 40,000 voters from the rolls, but local election officials have complained that legitimate voters were purged and there is not enough time to deal with errors.

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