VIRGINIA Republicans have not won a statewide contest since 2009. Last year, the party got shellacked in the statewide races and saw its huge majority in the House of Delegates nearly wiped out.
The U.S. Senate race is a throwaway this year and three GOP seats in the House of Representatives are in danger, with the 10th District in Northern Virginia looking increasingly like it is unwinnable for the party.
To the north, in the bluest of blue states, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has public approval ratings at a level that Virginians normally reserve for people with names like Jefferson and Madison. And Hogan has a commanding lead in preference polls as he seeks reelection this year.
I know this is anathema to Virginians, but I have a proposal for the state GOP: To know your better future, look to Maryland.
Consider the following:
If demography is destiny, the GOP has big problems here. In the past generation, the vast population growth of the urban corridor, and especially of minority populations, has shifted the partisan dynamics in Virginia. The still Republican-leaning white vote is fast shrinking as a segment of the overall population.
For Republicans to win statewide in Virginia, they need to win very large majorities of white voters to overcome the Democratic advantage with minority voters; count on a lowered minority voter turnout; and hold down their percentage losses with minority voters. That combination is an incredibly tall order.
Even expanding the percentage of whites voting for Republicans is a challenge now because of growing education rates and the increased tendency of the highly educated to vote Democratic.
In the 2008 and 2012 national elections, among the Southern states—the 11 states of the old Confederacy—support for Republican nominees among college-educated whites lagged about 7 percentage points below support from non-college-educated whites.
In Virginia, the differences were 11 percent in 2008, 17 percent in 2012, and then an astounding 22 percent in 2016.
Voting among educated whites in Virginia now resembles Maryland and Delaware, not the Carolinas or Georgia.
Counting on lowered minority turnout is a risky and likely a losing proposition. Black voting in Virginia is often on par with white voting. The largest population growth rates in Virginia are among Latinos, blacks, and Asians, with white population growth stagnant—not a good formula for the GOP’s future.
The GOP will continue to have trouble holding down its losses in minority communities, especially with President Donald Trump leading the party nationally and Corey Stewart statewide. As long as the GOP is perceived as the anti-immigrant party, minority voters turn more and more solidly to the Democrats.
Republicans need to hold their current white supporters, make some inroads with minority voters—even if only at the margins—and finally win back college-educated white voters who used to be reliable Republicans.
As hard as it is for many of them to accept, if Republicans want to have a better political future here, they need to look to Maryland and learn.
Republican candidates for governor there in recent years—Robert Ehrlich and the popular incumbent Hogan—have achieved electoral success in a very blue state with policy and rhetorical moderation, and an emphasis on technocratic good-government values that appeal to educated white moderates.
The same could happen in Virginia, but it is going to require a shift in much of the thinking in the GOP right now that continues to hinge its success on a shrinking base of white voters.
Perhaps it will take another electoral shellacking this year in the midterms and next year in the state legislative contests to finally make clear the reality that the old GOP formulas no longer work here.
Mark J. Rozell is dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.