The land of division

Published 11:22 pm Friday, November 8, 2013

Within hours of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s election loss to Terry McAuliffe — a man who has never held elective office and came with his own set of baggage — pundits and political operatives already had begun the election post-mortem. The analysis and the spin are likely to continue through the 2016 presidential election.

With just a little more than 45,000 votes separating the Republican and the Democratic victor in the gubernatorial race, Virginia has firmly established itself directly atop the political fence. The purpling of the commonwealth will make Virginia ground zero for the presidential race and ensures that voters here will continue to be subject to the hard sell of television and radio political commercials from both major political parties and their surrogates for years to come.

What makes the commonwealth’s split political personalities especially interesting is the way they mirror the dichotomy between conservatives and liberals at the national level. Never in modern memory has the country been more deeply divided on political, social and economic issues. Judging from various analyses of Virginia’s vote for governor on Tuesday, the nation’s great political divide cuts right through the heart of the Old Dominion.

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Consider, for instance, the tension between rural and urban voters. At the national level, urban voters in recent elections have trended Democratic. In Virginia on Tuesday, the votes of people in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, Tidewater and Richmond carried the day for McAuliffe. But Cuccinelli had a strong performance in Southwest Virginia and in counties along the North Carolina border and between Richmond and Northern Virginia.

Just as the 2012 presidential electoral map showed great swaths of red across the U.S. heartland and strips of blue along the comparatively densely populated areas of both American coasts, the gubernatorial electoral map of Virginia in 2013 shows islands of blue in the commonwealth’s most populated areas. In both cases, the more densely populated areas were enough to put Democrats in office.

Clearly Americans — and Virginians — have a fundamentally different expectation of government, depending on where they live.

Virginians may be tired of watching the constant drama and intractable partisanship that seem to define politics in Washington, D.C. But the great lesson of 2013’s gubernatorial election might be that partisan division has moved south and made a home in the Birthplace of Presidents. Get ready for a new round of ads.