How to win in Virginia as a liberal Democrat

Shifting population patterns have allowed—even pressured—Virginia Democrats to execute this shift. Geographically, as my colleague David Wasserman has calculated, socially liberal Northern Virginia, swelled by a vibrant technology sector, is steadily marching toward 30 percent of the statewide vote. Meanwhile, the downscale white Appalachian counties that Republicans have targeted with their “war on coal” campaign against McAuliffe (and Obama) have dipped to less than 10 percent.

Demographically, the state is growing better educated and more diverse, enlarging the strongest Democratic constituencies. Last week’s Quinnipiac University poll showed McAuliffe winning just one-third of noncollege whites but capturing almost half of college-educated whites (including a majority of such women), most young voters, and a commanding three-fourths of minorities. That tracked Obama’s winning coalition and was enough for a nearly double-digit overall lead.

Ironically, because Cuccinelli has such a militant record on social issues, he hasn’t much criticized McAuliffe’s views for fear of reminding swing voters about his own. That decision alone, however, reflects the state’s changing balance, and if McAuliffe wins with his liberal social positions, it would signal a more serious threat for the GOP than the Warner and Kaine victories. “It’s a turning point,” says former Rep. Tom Davis, a Republican who represented a district in Northern Virginia. “If the party stays steadfast on their [cultural] issues, it is going to go the way of Republicans in California. The demographics, and the issue matrix, have changed right underneath them.”