- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2006

Virginia Republicans say that Democrats should not think that James H. Webb Jr.’s razor-thin victory over Sen. George Allen in the Senate race last week signals that the state’s political climate is changing from Republican red to Democratic blue.

“Yeah, we’re licking our wounds,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican. “It has not been a good week for Republicans in Virginia, but the state is not moving blue.”

House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, agreed. “I think the roots are very Republican-leaning, and I think it will continue to be more red than blue.”

At the victory rally last week in Arlington, thousands who gathered to congratulate Mr. Webb roared after Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, said, “It is Virginia that turned the Senate blue.”

That characterization is more rhetoric than reality, Mr. Griffith said.

“He also says he’s going to take over both houses of the General Assembly,” Mr. Griffith said. “That is part of the posturing he has to do as head of the Democratic Party.”

Republicans attributed Mr. Allen’s downfall to a poorly managed campaign, the Iraq war and his focus on a potential 2008 presidential bid instead of his re-election to the U.S. Senate.

They still think their conservative Republican agenda — both fiscal and social — reflects the sentiment of most Virginians.

They point to the constitutional marriage amendment, which passed by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent, and the 2002 referendum to raise taxes for transformation, which failed by large margins in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

“No. 1, people don’t want their taxes increased,” Mr. Griffith said. “No. 2, they are afraid of where [the money] would be spent.”

Also, voters re-elected all of the state’s 11 incumbents — eight of them Republicans — to their seats in Congress last week. Voters in Virginia’s 50th House District also elected a Republican to fill the seat held by Delegate Harry J. Parrish, the Manassas Republican who died earlier this year.

However, former Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat elected in 2001 with a no-tax pledge, remains popular despite teaming up in 2004 with Senate Republicans and 17 Republican House members to pass the largest tax increase in state history.

Mr. Warner’s enduring appeal was evident on the campaign trail with Mr. Webb. Mr. Warner garnered huge ovations and many calls for him to reconsider a 2008 presidential bid.

When the General Assembly returns in January, Republicans will continue to control both chambers.

But if recent history is any indication, Republicans will struggle with a philosophical divide over how to fund transportation improvements. The House Republican leadership has stuck to an anti-tax message, while the more centrist Senate leadership has supported tax increases.

Most say the transportation debate will be put off until after the state’s 2007 elections.

Republicans say they must strengthen or adjust their message in the growing suburbs of voter-rich Northern Virginia, which has provided the biggest boost for Democratic victories in the past three major statewide elections, starting with Mr. Warner’s defeat of Republican Mark L. Earley in 2001.

Meanwhile, Democrats are optimistic that the momentum from Mr. Webb’s win, as well as the growing fissure between House and Senate Republicans, will help them pick up more seats in next year’s elections.

Both parties likely will use the Senate race results as a blueprint for determining where they need to concentrate their efforts.

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