- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

Virginia Republicans believe President Bush’s victory in the state will translate into an increase in the GOP majority in the House of Delegates and Republicans taking back the state’s top offices next year.

Party leaders said Mr. Bush’s 54 percent to 45 percent win over Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry means Virginia voters are looking for more conservative politicians. Virginia has not voted for a Democrat for president since 1964.

“Based on these numbers, we ought to be able to pick up a couple of seats next year,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Roanoke County Republican.

Republicans hold 61 seats out of 100 in the House. Democrats hold 37 and there are two independents. Democrats gained seats last year for the first time in three decades.

House Speaker William J. Howell said even though Mr. Bush won the state, Republicans cannot take anything for granted. The Stafford County Republican said he believes next year’s House races will be competitive.

“The national ticket doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s going on locally,” he said.

Since 1976, the party that has held the White House did not win the following governor’s race in Virginia.

Mr. Bush beat out former Vice President Al Gore by eight percentage points in Virginia in 2000. The following year, Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, was elected.

Democrats, who kept rumors alive that the state was in play for this year’s presidential race, are now re-evaluating the party and promising to turn Virginia “blue” in 2008.

Delegate Brian J. Moran, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Democratic candidates statewide need to stay focused on the message that carried Mr. Warner to victory in 2001.

“Mark Warner’s winning strategy is still one Virginia Democrats should follow — speak to the issues that matter: education, a balanced budget, public safety, job growth,” said Mr. Moran, Alexandria Democrat. “He stayed away from guns, God and gays.”

Mr. Moran said Mr. Warner’s popularity and the changing demographics statewide will help Democrats next year and beyond.

However, Republicans said Mr. Bush’s victory this year helps state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, the presumed Republican nominee for governor.

“The impressive Bush victory in Virginia has generated great momentum for the attorney general as we head into the campaign for governor in 2005,” Mr. Kilgore’s campaign manager, Ken Hutcheson, wrote in a memo Wednesday. “Our organization is rejuvenated, excited and focused on the future.”

Mr. Hutcheson noted there were nearly 30,000 volunteers who worked for Mr. Bush and that they will work for Mr. Kilgore next year.

Just as Republicans took Mr. Bush’s win as a good sign, Democrats said the growing Democratic votes in Virginia will help Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the presumed Democratic nominee for governor.

“We looked the pundits and the naysayers, who never bothered to look beneath the surface, straight in the face and said, ‘Don’t tell us it can’t be done,’” said Kerry J. Donley, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. “This campaign in Virginia is very good news for our 2005 races and beyond.”

Mr. Donley said though Mr. Kerry lost the state, voters came out in higher numbers than ever before to support him.

Mr. Moran’s brother, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran, has pledged to turn Virginia blue in 2008.

“There are just too many things that could be so much better in this country, and that’s why we work so hard to bring about change,” said the Virginia Democrat during a rally celebrating his re-election Tuesday night to his 8th Congressional District seat. “We have that fire within us now to achieve that change, but we have to keep it going. … We are going to take back this country, and Virginia is going to be a blue state.”

Tom Morris, a political scientist and president of Emory & Henry College in rural Emory, Va., said Democrats running for president tend to misread Southern, rural folk who base their votes on cultural and moral issues.

“They believe you can win Southerners with policy proposals — being for certain things,” Mr. Morris said. “What they don’t get is that while policies are important, cultural values are the bedrock of the South. Southerners have to believe that you embrace those values, that they are part of who you are.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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