Sunday, November 24, 2013

Polarized Politics in Virginia

Good day dear reader. Your humble, glorious author has recently had himself an adventure outside of our fair capital into the “real America”, outside of the beltway and its associated professionals. I went to Chesapeake, Virginia, a fascinating place.

Chesapeake is a suburb of Norfolk, Virginia, a port city with a major naval presence. This subsequently means that the region has many military veterans and contractors in the area that do not appreciate that sequestration is cutting their businesses. They likely also do not appreciate the state of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Another influence in the area is religion. Remember Pat Robertson? He has a show on ABC Family which now is a salacious channel. He’s based in Virginia Beach next to Chesapeake. So his influence is also felt in the region with many voters being socially conservative, who are specifically pro-life. Virginia also is a right to work state which basically means that the unions are not strong.

Ergo, Chesapeake is a Republican area. It’s interesting because artificially it resembles the suburbs that I hale from in Central New Jersey. But in my old neck of the woods, religion is not as dogmatic, the military has a smaller presence, and the unions are stronger. So, some of the wealthy suburban counties of New Jersey are very blue, Chris Christie’s influence excluded. He had no coattails.

So what was I doing in Chesapeake? Trying to elect a Democrat of course! I was working for Lynda Bryant who was running for a seat in the House of Delegates, the lower house. The fact that the area hadn’t elected a Democrat in awhile did not matter. It seemed an interesting challenge. And our candidate was not some fire-breathing liberal. Linda rather was a veteran in favor of cutting regulations and a supporter of the right to bear arms.

Gun control is a hotly debated topic and something that is a cornerstone of the philosophy of many. Thus we tried to present our candidate as a moderate who was not a hack politician, above the partisan rancor, and not tied to party politics.

So I went to bring the good word to the people. What I found was illuminating. While a good many people accepted our message, more did not. Part of the problem was trying to promote a candidate who was not well-known the way a presidential candidate is. Also, we needed to distance her from what many saw as the typical Democratic politician who was a feckless liberal.

Most voters know Democrats are liberals and for abortion and Republicans are not. This goes for most issues. But how many people really have dealt with abortions that have a strong opinion on it?

Not many I imagine. Yet it is the determining factor in how millions vote. The thing about most people is that they do not see how the political process affects their everyday lives.

They do not see how their jobs are affected by government. Often, tax breaks or policies initiated by the Fed make it so the company can expand. But they don’t read about it. It is too indirect or too small. Or not publicized properly.

So people deal with their own lives and problems. Or they do other things that make the world better, like recycle and donate money to the church. Or they are indifferent; they just drink beer and change the channel when the newest bad news comes up.

Plus, people get turned off by the nastiness of it all; at the way it’s fashionable to tear your opponent down rather than the build yourself up. The professional politicians understand this fact and lament it but if it helps their side to get an edge they will do it anyway.

It’s also difficult when people are far more focused on national news than the local news and local politicians who influence their lives more. This is typified by the fact that many people will only vote in presidential elections. In addition, the racket of the national media is focused on the national level rather the state and lower levels.

All of this makes breaking polarization and attracting new voters. In the end, the state issues and fallout from the unfortunate problems with the healthcare.gov website motivated Republican turnout and my candidate lost with many other candidates for Delegate. Thankfully Terry McAuliffe won the Governorship, though by a small margin.

In addition, we now have a new Lieutenant Governor in Ralph Northam and Attorney General in Mark Herring, the first time all three have been Democrats since the 1970s. This will make Virginia a fascinating place to watch in 2014.