Virginia debacle could seriously hurt GOP presidential nominee

Ford O'Connell & Matt Mackowiak Republican Strategists
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Only two candidates are slated to be on the 2012 Virginia Republican presidential primary ballot. The mainstream media is choosing to frame this predicament as evidence of which GOP candidates are running “serious” campaigns and which are not. But this media-driven narrative largely misses the mark.

The real loser in this ordeal is likely to be the eventual GOP presidential nominee.

Here’s why:

Given that Virginia voters don’t register by party affiliation, the presidential primary is an important tool for identifying potential Republican general-election voters. With only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul on the ballot and no way to write in votes, turnout will likely be low, thereby guaranteeing limited new data.

Add in the fact that the Democrats are not running a competitive primary on the other side, and this situation quickly morphs into a serious predicament for the eventual Republican nominee from a general-election organizing perspective.

Unfortunately for the eventual GOP nominee, knocking Obama out of the White House will be next to impossible without winning Virginia, a state he won in 2008.

Prior to this fiasco, Team Obama had signaled its intent to compete in Virginia in 2012. Many observers believe the Obama campaign has the inside track on winning what is projected to be a tightly contested battle for the Commonwealth, since it will undoubtedly have a larger war chest than the GOP nominee’s campaign and will likely need to cover significantly less terrain given the demographics of the northern and eastern parts of the state.

Winning Virginia has just gotten a little bit easier for Team Obama.

The campaign of one contender, Rick Perry, has already filed suit against the Virginia Board of Elections and the Republican Party of Virginia, challenging the constitutionality of the state’s ballot access laws, which may have been altered in late 2011.

This problem will likely require a solution. With a Republican governor and Republicans in control of the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate, the GOP should be able to fix this when the Virginia legislature meets in January 2012.

The financial, political and organizing impact of an unexpectedly low primary turnout on the Republican Party of Virginia, which was counting on a contested primary to build for 2012 and refill its coffers after an expensive (but successful) off-year legislative election this past November, cannot be overstated.

It is important to note the possible down-ticket impact that the presidential race could have on the 2012 U.S. Senate contest in Virginia, which, at this juncture, is also projected to be a very tight race and could tip the balance of power in the Senate, as it did in 2006. A few contested congressional seats in Virginia may also be impacted.

Since 1980, there have been 66 closely contested battles for U.S. Senate seats, and the Senate candidate who shared the same party affiliation as the presidential nominee who captured the state won 58 percent of the time, according to the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato and Isaac Wood. Therefore, this entire ordeal could not only cost the Republican Party a Senate pick-up opportunity in Virginia, but possibly control of the upper chamber of Congress as well.

Ford O’Connell is a Republican strategist and the chairman of CivicForumPAC. Matt Mackowiak is a Washington and Austin-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC.