In Virginia “Are You Better Off Than Four Years Ago?” Is The Wrong Question

The far more important question is, “How would you like to join the rest of the nation in suffering?”

As Tony Lee at Big Government points out:

Fairfax County’s economy is dependent on the defense industry, and the county may be the hardest hit by the sequestration. Romney this week strongly opposed the proposed defense cuts, which may allow the many Virginia voters whose livelihoods are dependent on the industry to give Romney’s candidacy a look.

One in seven Virginia voters lives in vote-rich Fairfax County, making it one of the most important swing counties in one of the most important swing states. Obama won the county in 2008 with 60% of the vote. In 2009, though, Republican Bob McDonnell won the county with 50.7 percent of the vote. And these military and national security issues may give Romney a chance to win the county. If Romney cannot win the county, Romney may be able to hold down Obama’s margins, which would give Romney a better chance of winning the state by taking some of Virginia’s less Obama-friendly counties.

Northern Virginia (and the rest of the DC metropolitan area) have been mostly recession proof because of government spending, particularly defense spending. Unemployment is low and even though the housing market crashed, it’s made a pretty strong comeback. The avalanche of foreclosures has slowed to a trickle and modestly priced housing (which in Northern Virginia is homes in the $300,000 to $400,000 range) are selling fast.

Many people are, if not better off, no worse off than they were four years ago in Prince William, Loudoun, and Fairfax counties. The vote in these three counties will determine the fate of Virginia. As Lee notes, Romney needs to keep Fairfax close, and I contend that he will need to win Loudoun and Prince William by normal Republican vs. Democrat margins in those Republican leaning counties. Obama squeaked out victories in Prince William and Loudoun versus John McCain in 2008 reversing a long trend of those two counties going heavily for the Republican candidate. With Democratic Alexandria/Arlington and Richmond counteracting Republican votes in all of the rural districts in the state, it really does come down to just these three counties.

I’ve talked with local folks about this and the “are you better off than four years ago” argument isn’t really the no-brainer that it is everywhere else in the country. Lot’s of folks around here don’t know a ton of people who were laid off or lost everything. Sure there are people who got hit over the last four years in Northern Virginia, but with a strong job market most people don’t stay unemployed very long.

In Northern Virginia the sequestration will be a big issue. The problem is that just like things like a federal government shutdown, the local populace becomes a bit jaded to doom and gloom sayers. Even if the government does shutdown federal workers tend to get their back pay and are rarely (if ever) terminated. Sequestration is still a “down the road” issue.

The Romney camp and Super PAC’s focused on Virginia are going have to hammer home the cascading impacts of the sequestration that’s fast approaching and translate it to votes. It would even be more helpful if they could get big consulting and defense companies to start quantifying what these automatic cuts would mean to their current workforce. If, for example, Booz Allen Hamilton whose headquarters are in Fairfax County were to announce that cuts in defense spending from the automatic sequestration budget cuts were going to force a 25% reduction in their 25,000 person workforce, that would rock Norther Virginia like an earthquake. Add CACI, SAIC, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, etc. to the list and you’d have Virginia voters undivided attention.

I’ve talked with folks who are out canvasing for Romney. Those who say they are voting for Romney are rock solid; those who say they are voting for Obama are squishy. At least in Northern Virginia there are lots of those who say they are Obama voters who are really “undecided on Romney” voters. It’s up to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to sell them. Their fallback plan is to vote Obama, they’re just looking for a reason, or reasons, not to.

Line up the data on the looming disaster coming from sequestration, remind them Obama isn’t going to fix it, show them your plan to avoid it, then clean up votes in the Northern Virginia counties where the race will be decided.

There’s your Romney playbook to win Virginia – gratis…

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  • Hugh_G

    You mean the sequestration the Republican House of Representatives, and ummm, oh yeah, Paul Ryan voted for? That one? Or was it another one?

    • GarandFan

      And Obama signed off on? Or did you conveniently forget that?

      • Hugh_G

        Nope. I’m in favor of it. I’m glad he did. I’m simply pointing out the very folks Kevin would like “to sell” include one of the people who voted it for it. Perhaps, just a “hint” of hypocrisy there?

        • …pluck first the beam from thine own eye.

          • Hugh_G

            Or as I would say to you in response, kiss mine arse.

    • If you read the excerpts from Bob Woodward’s book you’d know that Democratic and Republican leaders created the deal together to address (in a limited way) the debt ceiling issue and put the sequestration in as an incentive to actually address the larger issues in the future. Who do you think is more likely to actually work with Congress, Romney who has a record of bipartisan work in Mass., or Obama who’s former chief of staff said of Republican’s “fuck ’em, we’ve got the votes?”

      • Hugh_G

        That’s a good question and a legitimate one. If Obama is re-elected at least the Minority Leader of the Senate won’t be able to say the principal objective of his party is to see he’s not re-elected again.

        Romney is a toady to the rightwing of the Republicans. Who knows what he stands for? I can’t believe you do. So, who’s going to be bipartisan? The answer to that question, sadly, is neither. And in my view that’s because of the intransigence of the lousiest Congress (both parties) in the history of our country.

  • When it comes to defense spending, politicians in both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party don’t have the courage to tell voters the truth about the U.S. military, which is this:

    It is not the mission of the U.S. military to create and to sustain civilian jobs.

    • But like the space program it is, economically, a helpful byproduct.

  • JWH


    Don’t forget that “shrink the size of government” means something different here in NoVa than it means in the rest of the country. In the Eighth District, (if I recall correctly), at least one GOP congressional candidate has gone down in flames against Rep. (for Life) Jim Moran because they talked about shrinking the federal government.

    Northern Virginia’s a funny place. People around here are well-off enough that economic issues aren’t as immediate to them as in the rest of the country. I haven’t looked at region-specific polls (unfortunately), but my sense is that people in this area do care about social issues … and even Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in NoVa are going to skew to the left of current GOP orthodoxy on things like abortion and same-sex marriage.

    If Obama can convince NoVa voters to care about social issues, then Romney’s going to have a tough fight.

    I see two more issues that might help Obama in NoVa:

    Immigration. You have a significant population of Hispanics and other immigrants in this area. Some here legally, some here not. But if Obama successfully exploits the immigration issue, then Obama will have a tough time with them.

    Political brinkmanship. Who bears greater responsibility for the brinkmanship over the debt ceiling and the budget over the past couple years? If local voters blame Obama, that makes Romney stronger. If NoVa voters blame Republicans, that makes Obama stronger.

    I think you missed one more piece of the pro-Romney puzzle though: the immigrant community. Specifically, the owners of small businesses.

    Areas of Fairfax County (and possibly other counties) are home to a slew of small businesses owned by immigrants. Traditional Republican values of self-reliance and a pro-business ethic can potentially appeal to a lot of these business owners. I know that state-level Republicans went out of their way to court these business owners’ votes in the last state-level election cycle. It would behoove Romney and his surrogates to do the same.

    PS. Since we both live in the area, shoot me an email sometime. We should have lunch or something.

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  • TomInCali

    Northern Virginia (and the rest of the DC metropolitan area) have been
    mostly recession proof because of government spending, particularly
    defense spending.

    Hold on… I thought the Republican mantra was that government spending doesn’t create jobs, and cutting government spending is the key to creating more jobs. Glad to see someone on the right finally admit that that’s a bunch of bull.

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