This is the second and final installment of an interview with nationally known political scientist Dr. Bob Holsworth. The former Virginia Commonwealth University dean is a regular commentator on Virginia and national politics. His writes for national and state publications, as well as on his widely read blog, Virginia Tomorrow, and is a frequent guest on television and radio. He also is an in-demand public speaker and heads his own consultancy. In yesterday's first installment, we covered the current session of the General Assembly and touched on national politics. Today, we look at Virginia's version of health care legislation, the upcoming 2010 mid-term elections, discuss U.S. Senator Jim Webb's 2012 prospects, and examine the Tea Party movement in Virginia. FamilyFoundationBlog: Which is the most interesting GOP Congressional District nominating contest — the 5th, 2nd or 11th — and why? How do you see those campaigns playing out?
Dr. Bob Holsworth: All of these races are very interesting because each of them is competitive. The number of entrants indicate that Republicans believe that 2010 may be a once in a generation opportunity, a year that could potentially rival 1994 in terms of GOP success. At the moment, the battle for the 5th District nomination to challenge Tom Perriello might be the most fascinating, if only because of the number of forces that are, or potentially are, in play, including ones that may have national implications.
There's Robert Hurt, a highly respected member of the Senate who has considerable support from the party's national establishment, but who is also being challenged largely by a set of conservative activists who maintain that Hurt has not been sufficiently supportive of low-tax, small government principles. One question that is being raised is whether the anti-Hurt forces will actually coalesce behind a single candidate or divide their vote in a primary? Recently, things have even gotten more complicated. At least one of the candidates currently in the nomination contest says that he is considering dropping out and running as an independent.
Moreover, Virgil Goode has said that he has not made up his mind about a possible challenge and could even run as an independent Republican. A poll out today says that in a three way race between Hurt, Perriello, and Goode, the former Congressman is in a tie with Perriello with Hurt running third. In any event, I think that a lot of national media will be looking at the 5th to see if the GOP can negotiate its internal tensions productively, something that will have to achieved if a candidate who is hard working and energetic as Tom Perriello is to be defeated.
FamilyFoundationBlog: Is there a credible Republican candidate in the wings to challenge Rick Boucher in the 9th Congressional District? Is Representative Boucher vulnerable?
Dr. Holsworth: It is usually very, very difficult to defeat a long-term incumbent such as Rick Boucher who has been widely applauded for his constituent service, even if a number of his votes may not be consistent with majority views in his district. But if there is a year in which Boucher is vulnerable, 2010 may be it. The problem for the GOP here is very different than in the 2nd, 5th and 11th — it's not clear that the Republicans can recruit a strong challenger. Terry Kilgore and William Wampler have said no, though Eric Cantor was in town yesterday to see if "No" really means "No." Morgan Griffith has said, however, that he is seriously considering entering the contest. If he does, he'll be a formidable challenger — he's tough, politically very skilled, and a very hard worker. But even with Griffith, this would be a tough race, because Boucher has built up a lot of support in the localities that make up the district. But if Morgan enters, it'll be a great race.
FamilyFoundationBlog: How do you see the Tea Party movement in Virginia? Are these people disgruntled conservatives who normally vote Republican showing displeasure at the party (and who may have sat out in 2008) or are they new people getting involved for the first time who can make a difference in upcoming elections?
Dr. Holsworth: I think that it's difficult to say that there is one kind of person attracted to the Tea Party. I think that there are a number of Republican conservatives disgruntled with what Glenn Beck calls "Progressives." I also think that there are many of the same kind of independents who were initially attracted to Ross Perot in 1992 — "the government is broken, we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore." And I think that there are also some people who may not have been very much involved in politics before, but have become mobilized by what they consider to be an inappropriate and ineffective response by the federal government to the economic downturn. It seems to me that they represent sentiments that are fairly broadly distributed at the moment throughout the general population and political figures would be foolish to ignore their perspective in 2010. At the same time, it is not so clear how their influence inside GOP nomination battles will play out and whether this will be positive or negative for the GOP in the general elections. This is one of the reasons why I'm watching the 5th District very closely since it has what appears to be a large and relatively organized set of Tea Party activists.
FamilyFoundationBlog: Are you surprised at how quickly and smoothly the Health Care Freedom legislation has moved through the General Assembly, especially in the Senate?
Dr. Holsworth: Yes. At least until you see that the five Democratic legislators sit in districts where (Governor Bob) McDonnell ran strong and where their own seats could be in jeopardy.
FamilyFoundationBlog: Speaking of health care, as well as all the new government spending Tea Party activists abhor, do you think Senators Webb and Warner have endangered their re-elections by voting for these programs? Will the new conservative movement stay active that long?
Dr. Holsworth: 2014 for Warner is a long, long way off. Webb will obviously have a serious Republican challenger. Webb will not be easy to pigeonhole because there will be numerous instances in both foreign and domestic policy where he will part company with the administration and the Democratic congressional leadership. A big question regarding Webb is how his progressive economic populism be viewed. Will he seen as too liberal for Virginia economically or as authentic guy willing to stand up for the voiceless?
FamilyFoundationBlog: Dr. Holsworth, thank you very much for your time. Your thoughts are always informative and I know our readers have learned a lot.