Prior to 2008, Virginia’s electoral college votes were solidly red. Republicans could count on votes from the state of Jefferson and Washington, as much as they could count on the votes of the deep south. Democrats had not taken the state in a Presidential election since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. That changed in 2008. A year in which both parties campaigned heavily, saw the once solidly red Virginia hand its votes to the Democrats by a margin of 6.3%, for the first time in 44 years.
By 2012, President Obama became the first Democratic President since Franklin Roosevelt, to carry Virginia in two consecutive elections. In fact, the margin of victory for the Democrats in 2012, was greater than the margin of victory for the President in the country overall. A year later, Virginia voted to elect Democrat McAuliffe to the Governorship ahead of Tea Party favourite, Ken Cuccinelli. Thanks to the far more progressive areas of Fairfax and Loudoun, and the toxic brand of the Tea Party movement; Virginia is becoming blue.
This is bad news for the GOP for 2016. The potential field for Republican candidates in 2016 is not particularly inspiring, and no single candidate stands out. A poll out of New England College found that despite having no intention to run, Mitt Romney is favourite among GOP voters for the nomination in 2006. Ted Cruz only manages 10% support, the scandal prone Chris Christie only managing 13%, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio sharing 7% apiece.
Even more concerning for Republican strategists, is a latest poll of voters in Virginia, conducted by Roanoke College this week, showing that any of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination, would face a massive defeat, if the Democrat nomination was Hillary Clinton. If the 2016 Presidential race were between Clinton, and Christie, Clinton would come out victorious at 43% to Christie’s 41%. A race between Clinton and Paul Ryan, would give us Clinton on 53% to Ryan’s 37%. Others include; Clinton 51% to Jeb Bush 38%. Clinton 47% to Rand Paul’s 40%. Clinton on 47% with Ted Cruz on 37%.
In Ohio – an incredibly important battleground state – Clinton commands a firm lead in polls over all Republican candidates. A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut found that biggest challenge in Ohio to Clinton would be from Paul Ryan, who trails by a huge 9 points. Clinton leads by double figures over Bush, Rubio, Cruz, Ryan, and Kasich.
The bad news for Republicans doesn’t end there. Even in the solidly red state of Texas, the Republicans are struggling. In 2012, Romney won 57% of the vote to the President’s 41%. Even with Texas’ changing population, it is still cloaked in red. Yet, according to a poll by Public Policy Polling, of all potential Republican candidates, none manage to win over 50% of the vote if paired off against Hillary. Jeb Bush comes closest with 49% to Clinton’s 42%. Though it’s unlikely that Bush will run. Senator Cruz – the favoured Republican candidate in Texas by a clear margin – only manages 48% to Clinton’s 45%. So, if on the off chance Jeb Bush were to run and win the Republican nomination, he may take Texas, but he’d lose Ohio, and according to another poll, he’d lose Florida too.
The close polling between Republican candidates and Hillary Clinton in Texas, are echoed in Red States like Louisiana. Louisiana last went blue in 1996, voting to help secure a second term for President Clinton. Twenty years later, and another Clinton has the potential to turn Louisiana blue once more. Another poll by Public Policy Polling found that whilst the Republican contenders hold leads over Hillary, the margin is small enough to push Louisiana into the Democrat camp, with the right campaigning from the Clinton team in 2016. Jeb Bush again leads Hillary by the largest margin of 7 points, whilst Christie’s lead is down to just 1 point.
This is particularly problematic for Republicans for a number of reasons. Firstly, as noted above, there aren’t any stand out GOP candidates that one might consider as posing any sort of a threat to a Hillary campaign in 2016. Secondly, the majority of Republican voters are not on the Tea Party fringes, and moderate Republicans might well be tempted to vote Democrat or simply not vote at all; the former is certainly a possibility if the Clinton campaign presents a more moderately conservative message going into 2016. This is of particular worry for Republicans in swing states and states polling low margins between Hillary and Republican candidates. Of Florida, Virginia, and Ohio, the Republicans will need to take two of the three to stand any chance at the White House. As it stands, they may not take any. Thirdly, the majority of US citizens placed blame for the government shutdown on Congressional Republicans, leading to this Congress sporting an all time low approval rating. Congress began 2014 on just 13% approval rating. Republicans in Congress are not popular, this is damaging to any future President campaign, particularly if the prevailing candidate comes direct from an appalling incompetent Congress. And lastly, the Republicans are going to have to spend a large amount of money defending their lead in states that would normally be solidly Republican. They need to do this, whilst also spending vast sums of money to win swing states like Ohio and states recently lost to Democrats, like Virginia. This is one huge uphill battle for Republicans.
Indeed, the uphill battle is of their own making. The loss of Virginia represents the failing message of a Republican Party being dragged to the fringes of the right wing and failing to modernise. Inevitably, a shift to the fringes presents massive election issues for the GOP. In less than three years, they need to craft an entirely new, modern and inclusive message, an electable platform away from the fringes, improving their image especially with minority groups, and women voters. They also need one candidate to rally behind, and present that new message of inclusivity and modernity. A political party that only appears to represent white, middle aged, heterosexual, Christian, business men driven solely by imagined Benghazi conspiracies, is not an electable party.