I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate Timothy Noah on his new gig at TNR, then immediately pivot to responding to a year-old Slate piece he links to on a post today:

Come off it, my Virginia friends told me. Virginiais a more or less typical Mid-Atlantic state whose conservative rural population is outnumbered by liberals in the booming D.C. suburbs and in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia…

Lately, though, I’ve started wondering whether I had it right the first time. My worries began this past fall when Republican Bob McDonnell managed to get himself elected governor despite having written a master’s thesis that stated, "[E]very level of government should statutorily and procedurally prefer married couples over cohabitators, homosexuals, or fornicators." Not to worry, I was assured; since entering politics, McDonnell had learned to temper his reactionary impulses and work within the mainstream. Then McDonnell issued his famous proclamation declaring April "Confederate History Month" without mentioning that the Confederates fought to preserve slavery…

[After a long recitation of the extreme reactionary politics of McDonnell and Ken Cuccinelli] It would be comforting to conclude this is merely an instance of Virginia’s good ole boys pushing back against the state’s more cosmopolitan snobs, who can be counted on to push back in turn. But McDonnell and Cuccinelli both hail from Fairfax County, which lies in the northern, urban, affluent part of the state, the part that a senior adviser to the 2008 McCain campaign named Nancy Pfotenhauer insisted was not the "real Virginia." (Never mind that McCain himself grew up there.) Obama got 60 percent of the Fairfax County vote. In November, McDonnell carried it!

Maybe it’s just the natural backsliding that sometimes occurs in swing states in reaction to whichever party happens to control the White House. Maybe the ghost of Harry Flood Byrd, the reactionary political boss who ran the state out of his back pocket for 40 years, has decided to take a stroll. Maybe John Edwards and Rielle Hunter are giving fornicators a bad name. Whatever the cause, I would like it to please stop, because I’m starting to feel that I moved here under false pretenses.

I’m going to go ahead and say a) both Timothy and his friends are wrong, and b) the fact that McDonnell is from NoVA is a red herring. Your typical Mid-Atlantic state like MD, NJ, NY, PA, etc, has some city folk, some rural folk, and a big blog of suburban folk that tend to be the actual swing voters. These states tend to wobble between center-left and center-right. But Virginia isn’t like that at all; it’s more like you uprooted a huge chunk of city folk with some suburban folk and poured them into what used to be a deeply conservative red state*. Those people didn’t go away; now they’re just matched for numbers. This is similar to the dynamic in North Carolina as well, but in Virginia it’s going to be exacerbated because they hold elections in odd-numbered years. My prediction is that Virginia will trend blue in elections for President, Senate, and Congress but will still structurally favor very conservative Republicans in statewide elections for some time.

*This is, essentially, what happened – since 1960, the population of the United States has slightly less than doubled, but the population of Fairfax County has quadrupled and it now has a gross product comparable to Vietnam. Just in the last decade the broader NoVA region has added nearly half-a-million people and is now 32% of the population of Virginia.

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