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Lessons from Virginia

WASHINGTON — Tuesday’s election returns in Virginia, where Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine thumped Republican Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, may be the worst news the national Democratic Party has absorbed in years — at least, if your last name is Dean or Clinton. But the results ought to alarm Capitol Hill Republicans as well.

In recent years, Democratic governors in Virginia have followed a simple formula: Campaign like a Republican and govern like a Democrat. Kaine talked about economic growth and faith and guns and crime with more fervor than George W. Bush himself, while delivering an entirely different gospel (sotto voce) to organized labor and left-wing interest groups.
It worked. He racked up huge majorities in Virginia’s urban areas (including the recently Republican Tidewater) and lost by respectable margins everywhere else.

Meanwhile, Kilgore, the hapless Republican nominee, had considerable difficulty painting Kaine as a liberal (which he is), for the simple reason that Republican majorities in the Virginia legislature no longer behave like parsimonious deficit-phobes.

GOP majorities in Virginia’s General Assembly have spent like wild since the go-go 90s, and woe be unto any conservative who dares call them on it. They react in rage when anyone suggests they stop fleecing taxpayers, who happen to form their political base.

In other words, they behaved precisely like congressional Republicans, who can’t even bestir themselves to cut out a $230 million bridge in Ketchikan, Alaska, that even locals don’t want built with federal funds.

Elected Republicans and their legislative leaders nationwide have fallen prey to the natural temptation to view power as their birthright, rather than a reward for hard and righteous work. This explains why they behave like reckless heirs to someone else’s fortune. It’s a little difficult to mock Ted Kennedy or Howard Dean when George W. Bush can’t even say no to peanut institutes in Alabama or gambling halls (rather than, say, repaired levees) in Louisiana.

Republican officeholders made it impossible for Kilgore to run as a conservative, leaving him one option: warning about Kaine’s liberalism. Kaine said, “Who, me?” and the issue evaporated. Soft Republican voters in the state’s northern suburbs all went Democratic.

Democrats shouldn’t crow, though. Kaine was their only significant Election Day success story. Republicans lost but one seat in the Virginia House and none in the Senate; they also won the lieutenant governor and attorney general races.

Virginia deserves special attention this year because it provides a pretty good microcosm of the national electorate. It’s a closely divided state, where Democrats have closed the gap with Republicans and Republicans have lost their zeal, due to the combination of bad governance and Laodicean standard-bearers.

The next Republican candidate for president might want to take a close look at what transpired in the Old Dominion. The GOP fielded a lousy candidate, who got no help from a legislature that has become haughty, indolent and aloof. Kilgore dug his own grave by failing to challenge his colleagues to get right with taxpayers and yammering instead about the death penalty — which is hardly under siege in the commonwealth.

And don’t forget about the "Swagger Factor:" A party that projects confidence and good cheer will thrash a "Chicken Little" party any day. Kilgore looked scared. Kaine acted like the cool kid on prom night.

The Swagger Factor has national repercussions because George W. Bush has lost his. His wavering conservatism has become an active concern among Republicans, who wish he would stop cowering under the bed and start fighting back against the likes of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Wilson. The newly-passive George Bush has become something of an embarrassment. At the nadir of his campaign, Jerry Kilgore actively dodged having to share a stage with the commander in chief.

Tuesday’s vote also ought to throw a fright into Hillary Rodham Clinton, who despite having tried to tack rightward in recent months, doesn’t possess the theatrical skills required to pull off the Republican-in-drag act. Others may succeed in dressing up like Ronald Reagan — but the public won’t buy it from Sen. Clinton.

Equally worrisome for Democrats is the fact that money no longer reliably buys votes. George Soros-backed “reforms” got trounced by Ohio voters — which is awful news for a national Democratic Party that has become hopelessly addicted to alms from the eccentric billionaire trio of Soros, Peter Lewis and Stephen Bing.

Hence, the moral of Tuesday’s election: The party that best praises limited government and traditional virtues will win — and if Republicans won’t do the touting, Democrats will.