The two key variables in this race were the GOP nominee, Attorney General Bob McDonnell, and the year -- a year when Democrats are facing a headwind, not a tailwind.
A few lessons learned:
1. Virginians are Swing voters - Independent, Old (Grumpy?) White voters - followed the classic Indep motto: "when in doubt, sweep the bums out". They have swung once again, basically voting against the party in power - these voters seem to be easily manipulated by the GopFoxNewsCorp apparatchik and Big Biz astro-turf programs, effectively stirring up: middle-age impotent anger, oldsters' fear of societal change, and endemic distrust of large institutions, private or public. Money can't buy you love ... but it buys angry old voters.
2. The GOP knows they have to "pretend" to run to the middle, to attract independent voters. Indeps bought the carefully-packaged version of Bob McDonnell. A No Fuss, No Muss white bread candidate. Independent voters appeared to care less about divisive social issues, and more about their distrust of government, state and national. They were unhappy with the fiscal morass from prior 8 years of GW Bush and now they are just as agitated with the new Obama administration attempts to get the economy back on the right track with federal spending. 2009 was a protest vote for Indeps. If the McDonnell team, like the Gilmore administration, fails to get favorable fiscal results in the difficult work ahead -- they can expect to be on the outside looking in, in 2014.
3. Young voters don't care much for state politics. Not much passion for this election. Voters under 44 dropped to 33% from a 50% turn-out in 2008. Geezers won the day in 2009. Not much of a WIFM (What's In it For Me?) for young voters. Does state politics have a perceived impact on young folks? Apparently not.
Expect to see more Virginia swinger behavior in 2010 and beyond.
For Republicans, the lesson of Virginia was that you can nominate a staunch conservative and win, if that conservative works hard to project a mainstream, nonthreatening campaign.
... the results (VA & NJ) "parallel those in national polls showing most whites moving toward a Ross Perot-like skepticism about Washington, even as minorities express more comfort with an enlarged federal role. That divergence looms as an ominously destabilizing force."
Next year's voters will likely be older and whiter than in 2008. Last year, half the voters were 44 years of age or younger, but this year in New Jersey and Virginia, that group constituted only a third.
Deeds ... won fewer than three in 10 whites without a college education, and just one-third of white seniors," and ... lost whites under 30, and received less than 30 percent of the vote among white independents and less than 40 percent among college-educated whites.
In 2008, these older and whiter voters might have been somewhat disillusioned with years of a GOP Congress and George W. Bush but were not specific about the change they were voting for.
Virginia has become a swing state and, in 2009, it swung. Blaming the outcome on Deeds, a guy who would likely have beaten a weaker candidate or won in a better year for Democrats, is ignoring important lessons.
Important questions to be answered for Va Dems:
<> Can Bob McDonnell lead from the middle? Or will he act on a hidden Theocratic agenda. Will young folks even notice if he does go rogue right? What catalyzing event, what level of pain ... would cause youngin's to re-engage at the 2008 surge levels? That's worth some polling work for state Dems.
<> Should Va Dems in the General Assembly adopt a no compromise - no collaboration posture with the McDonnell administration. There were no consequences for that behavior from Va GA Repubs in 2008-2009. Is turn-about fair play? Indep voters don't seem to care about cooperative behavior in our General Assembly. Seems worth a test run in the 2010 GA.
<> Can Senators Warner & Webb do the heavy lifting in the moderate middle of the Congress (the radical centrist meme), making the tough choices on controlling Federal spending vs. sustaining key Federal programs. Can they satisfy the Independents and keep the Dem base engaged? Good bet the Webb and Warner teams are already focused on these issues. These guys are no dummies.