Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What's With Virginia Republicans?

Yesterday I said that it's highly unlikely that states will actually adopt the "Pennsylvania plan" in which Republicans take advantage of GOP unified government in states which vote for Democrats in presidential elections to change the electoral vote allocation in those states, either to a district scheme (like the Maine/Nebraska system) or a proportional plan.

So as soon as I posted that, Dave Weigel reports that a Republican state senator from Virginia is pushing a district-based allocation there (and apparently it's spread to Ohio, too).

Well, we'll see.

As Steve Benen points out, Virginia has only gone to the Democratic presidential candidate three times in the last 60 years. It's even worse than that, however: in both 2008 and 2012, Virginia was still more Republican than the national tipping point. Basically, if the nation had moved five points toward Romney (with current rules and uniform swing), Virginia would have gone Republican, with Obama winning 272-266. As it happens this time around, either Pennsylvania or Colorado was next up, with either of them giving Romney a win. But wait! If it was neither PA or CO but next in line New Hampshire that flipped, Romney wins 270-268...and if Virginia had adopted the district allocation scheme, Obama gets four or five of their 13 electoral votes and wins the election.

The same thing, by the way, with Ohio, which is usually slightly more Republican than the nation as a whole. In the election we actually had, a district or proportional plan in Ohio would have given a few meaningless votes to Romney, but in a closer election Obama would be the one benefiting from the split.

If Republicans could force a district plan across the whole country, they would benefit. But doing it in selected states is extremely risky.

So what's happening in Virginia?

One possibility, the one that Benen draws out, is that Republicans are just very pessimistic there; they believe that soon it will be a solid Democratic state, and so they want to lock in rules that will work for them in those circumstances before they get a chance.

A second possibility is that Virginia Republicans, or at least some Virginia Republicans, are very stupid and do not realize that their partisan hardball is very likely to backfire.

And a third possibility is that Virginia Republicans have no intention of doing this, but that one state senator figured he could get some mileage out of proposing it.

My bet is on door #3. But who knows? I guess we'll see what happens, but I'll stick with what I said yesterday: I strongly suspect nothing will happen anywhere on this one.

15 comments:

  1. Actually Virginia was slightly more Democratic than the national average in 2012.

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    1. 2012 national tipping point (O+5.4 in PA) is different from national average (O+3.6 overall). Virginia was in between.

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  2. My bet is on possibility #1. Call me a pessimist, but that's exactly why the Republicans in Texas (my home state - new Virginia transplant) do anything: to solidify their power and make the opinions of anyone who disagrees with them (anyone not old, white, evangelical Christian, and gun-crazy) count for as little as possible.

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  3. Gee, that's lots of possible explanations for something you suggested yesterday would never happen!

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    1. Well, possibility #3, the one I think is correct, is that it won't happen!

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    2. One reason I doubt it will happen in Virginia is the same reason it didn't happen in Pennsylvania after 2010: Republican congressmen from marginal districts won't like it because it means the Democrats will target their districts instead of the state as a whole--thus endangering their seats.

      I don't think Congressmen Wittman, Rigell, Forbes, Hurt, and Wolf are going to like the plan at all. All of them were held to under 60 percent (that sounds like a comfortable margin but Congressmen worry easily) and all come from dsitricts where the presidential race was reasonably close. It's hard for me to think their concerns won't be enough to persuade at least one Virginia GOP state senator--which is all it takes to defeat the plan. (The GOP only controls the Virginia State Senate by the tiebreaking vote of the lieutenant governor.)

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    3. That's a good point.

      It fits with the part of the argument that unlike something such as voter ID, the electoral college schemes create cross-incentives. Every GOP pol wants to suppress the Democratic vote, but this thing isn't in the interests of all of them.

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  4. I think 1 and 3 are plausible - with Virginia already more Democratic than the country as a whole and trending even farther towards them, it's reasonable for Republicans to want to turn a Democratic-leaning state into one that will nearly always give a majority of its electoral votes to Republicans. But they still probably won't do it.

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  5. That article lead me to the one about the size of the House - http://artandhistory.house.gov/highlights.aspx?action=view&intID=200. I hadn't realized how easy (well, compared to some other things) it is to change the size of the House.

    I think there's an interesting article(s) to be written about how, the next time there's one-party control of all three branches, the size of the House could be changed to do X, where X would be interesting to speculate on. Would much smaller districts give more power to urban areas, for example? Or what about a plan to change to 50 seats? Or 5000, to magnify the effects of campaign contributions and data mining on tiny electorates?

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  6. I see this in context with other actions Republicans have taken to try to lock in electoral advantage, such as voter ID laws. If there is enough public scrutiny (what others might complain about as liberal media), maybe there will be plenty of well-deserved backlash. If not, then the GOP might well be able to lock in advantage for a few years. I'm not surprised that they would try. Whose scheme is this anyway--ALEC?

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    1. The difference is that voter-ID laws are popular. The 90% of voters who have photo ID's just can't understand why substantial numbers of people don't, and tend to buy the "fraud prevention" argument, dubious as it is. Dividng the electoral vote--and not even by the percentage of the vote a candidate received statewide but by gerrymandered congressional districts--is not likely to be popular except among partisan Republicans.

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  7. If the entire election was gerrymandered along Congressional lines, Romney would have won (easily). That might have something to do with everything.

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  8. The Virginia State Senate has an exact tie between the Ds and Rs. Even with a Republican governor there's not way this will happen.

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  9. "A second possibility is that Virginia Republicans, or at least some Virginia Republicans, are very stupid and do not realize that their partisan hardball is very likely to backfire."

    I don't think that it's clear either to them or in reality that voter suppression backfires on the GOP. If we can maintain turnout for the the midterm, and especially boost turnout in the next hotbed of voter suppression, they might back off.

    OTOH, we don't see the officials involved suffering, so at this point I think that they see it as penaltyless cheating - if you get caught there's no penalty, so the expected payoff is always positive.

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  10. I wouldn't discount the first possibility. All the growth in population and money in Virginia is happening in Northern Virginia, which is much more blue than the rest of the state.

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