The Only Election That Can Give Democrats Hope for 2014

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 1 2014 8:54 AM

The Only Election That Can Give Democrats Hope for 2014

186955867-democratic-gubernatorial-candidate-for-virginia-terry
Help us, Terry, you're our only hope.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Ever since the election in Florida's 13th District, when I've talked to Republican strategists I've heard three theories about 2014. One: The party is doing almost exactly what it needs to have a fantastic election. Two: Despite the party's mistakes, everything is coalescing to make 2014 a fantastic election. Three: The party's on track to win, but it has to do more than talk about Obamacare, lest it give away its right to a "mandate."

There are really no pessimists left alive. The only data I can see that might embolden Democrats for 2014 (i.e., coax them out of a pants-wetting crouch) comes from Virginia. There, in 2013, Democrats really did manage to break the demographic curse of the off-year.

Here are the numbers. In 2009, the year after Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia in 44 years, the Republicans won a landslide. The electorate was 78 percent white, and 67 percent of that bloc voted Republican.

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In 2013, helped tremendously by a scandal that took popular Gov. Bob McDonnell out of commission, Democrat Terry McAuliffe won the governor's race. But his electorate was only 72 percent white. Democrats managed to push the black proportion of the electorate from 16 to 20 percent. That bloc, which gave a 82-point margin to McAuliffe, saved the race for the Democrats.

McAuliffe's win was smaller than most polls predicted, and Republicans were convinced that, with another week of bad Obamacare headlines, they could have won the race. But Democrats left the field with modeling and messaging that turned out a less-white electorate. If they can deploy that in North Carolina, in Louisiana, in Michigan, they can win.

So they assume. The flip side: McAuliffe's pollsters insisted that the Obamacare issue cut their way in 2013, and that voters preferred a candidate who would expand Medicaid. In office for three months now, McAuliffe has had zero luck convincing the Republican supermajority in the House of Delegates that it needs to expand Medicaid. Americans for Prosperity has continued counting votes from its sympathetic members, keeping them from breaking for Medicaid. The Democrats' 2014 survival plan requires Republicans to reach historic levels of obstinancy, and for their base to simmer with outrage and vote despite their disappointment with their own party. Inspiring stuff!

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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