Political dominoes

A Clinton-Kaine win could create a chain reaction in Virginia

  •  | 
Print this page by Paula C. Squires
Article image
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

With a month to go before Election Day on Nov. 8, political analysts say the Hillary Clinton/Tim Kaine Democratic ticket is expected to win in Virginia, even though tightening polls mean anything is possible.  Kaine’s hometown creds  — he’s Virginia’s junior senator and a former governor and Richmond mayor — are expected to give Clinton a boost in a swing state that went for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 after 40 years of supporting Republicans.

While this election season has been one of the most contentious, bizarre and unpredictable in recent political history,  analysts already are looking at the political impact a Clinton/Kaine victory would have on Virginia. 

If the Democrats beat Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, along with three third-party candidates, Kaine’s Senate seat would become open.

The vacancy paves the way for a number of possibilities affecting everyone from Gov. Terry McAuliffe to two of Virginia’s three Democratic congressmen.  

A Kaine vice presidency also gives Virginia national exposure. “Any added attention should improve our economic prospects,” says Stephen J. Farnsworth, a professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. 

Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have a friend in the White House. “Virginia’s military bases will be very well protected if the country has a No. 2 from Virginia,” observes Farnsworth. 

What’s next for McAuliffe?
Meanwhile, back to the political dominoes. If Kaine is elected, the governor has a couple of options in filling the vacant Senate seat: He could appoint himself or another Democrat. Political analysts consider it unlikely that McAuliffe would resign as governor to become a senator. “The risk of a backlash is great. When a governor appoints himself to a job, a lot of voters think there’s something kind of fishy about that,” says Farnsworth.

Besides, political pundits can’t see McAuliffe’s outsized personality boxed into a Senate seat. “He’s an executive type. He’s not the type of person who could go to Washington and deal with 99 other senators, “ says Quentin Kidd, vice provost and director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Newport News.

Under a Clinton presidency, there would be many other opportunities for McAuliffe, a staunch Clinton supporter and the chairman of her 2008 presidential campaign. With his laser focus on job creation as Virginia’s governor, analysts can see him as the country’s commerce secretary or as U.S. trade representative. Yet Kidd envisions McAuliffe as an ambassador. “He’s proud of his Irish heritage. Being named as the Irish ambassador, I see him more in that role than as a cabinet secretary.”

As a cabinet secretary, adds Kidd, “your ability to make wide-ranging decisions is limited. Being an ambassador, you have a wide-open portfolio, even if the scope of your engagement is limited to that state and region.”

A politically astute move would be for McAuliffe to appoint a high-profile Democrat to Kaine’s Senate seat who could beat back a Republican challenger. The appointment would last until the next general election, which in Virginia would be the November 2017 gubernatorial election.

Then a special election would be held, and the winner would hold the Senate seat for the reminder of Kaine’s term, which runs through 2018.  To keep the seat for another six-year term, the incumbent would need to run again in the 2018 general election. 
In other words, McAuliffe’s appointee would have to run twice in two years — no small task.

Bobby Scott or Don Beyer?
That means the Democrats need someone with statewide name recognition and the ability to raise funds.  The most compelling choices, say analysts, are U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott from Virginia’s 3rd District in Hampton Roads and Don Beyer from the 8th District in Northern Virginia.

Scott and Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte of the 6th District have the longest tenure of any Virginian currently in the House or Senate.  (Both  were elected in 1992.) If appointed to Kaine’s seat, Scott would become the first African-American from Virginia to serve in the Senate. 

Beyer, an automobile dealership owner who is serving his first term, was Virginia’s lieutenant governor from 1990 to 1998. He was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1997, losing to Republican Jim Gilmore.

While Scott and Beyer are both strong candidates for the Senate seat,  some analysts predict the nod will go to Scott. “The governor loves the idea of being a history maker,” says Kidd. “He’s demonstrated a clear interest in increasing the voice of minorities, African-Americans in particular, with his stands on voter restoration rights and lawsuits over redistricting.”

Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, agrees that history and political convenience will drive Scott’s appointment. If Scott is the appointee and runs to complete Kaine’s term, says Skelley, his presence on the Democratic ticket would help generate a bigger turnout of African-American voters in the 2017 off-year gubernatorial election. That should help Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the presumed Democratic nominee for governor. 

On the Republican side, Skelley speculates that Scott may get competition from Reps. Dave Brat from the 7th District in Central Virginia or Barbara Comstock from the 10th District in Northern Virginia. “The special election presents an opportunity for sitting members of Congress that are Republicans in the state, because there’s no resign-to-run law in Virginia, and they can run from the safety of their seat. They don’t have to choose between running for re-election and running for the Senate seat in the special election,” Skelley says. 

If Scott is appointed to the Senate seat, the move would create an opening in the 3rd District, a “minority majority” district.  Kidd says he can think of several African-American candidates from that area who might be interested in running for Scott’s seat, including state Sen. Mamie Locke and Delegates Lamont Bagby and Marcia “Cia” Price.

Virginia’s third VP
On a historical note, if Clinton and Kaine are elected, Kaine would be the third Virginian to assume the vice presidency.

Thomas Jefferson served as the country’s second vice president under President John Adams from 1797 to 1801, before becoming president in 1801 and serving two terms.

John Tyler, who was born in Charles City County, became vice president in 1841.  A month after taking that office, he became the first vice president to become president due to the death of his predecessor.  President William Henry Harrison, also a Charles City native, caught a cold during his 90-minute inauguration speech and died from pneumonia. 

Virginia, long known as the birthplace for presidents, has been in a dry spell. If Clinton and Kaine win, would this set the state up for its 9th president?

“The moment you’re vice president, that greatly raises the odds that you are at least considering a future run for president,” says Skelley. “A lot would depend on what happens with Clinton and her presidency.”

Still, the VP role would give Kaine a chance to consolidate his position in the party, gain allies behind the scenes and position himself for a future run.  But first the Democrats have to win.

Kidd expects the race to tighten as it nears the finish line. He predicts a three to five point win for the Democrats over Trump and Pence. “It really depends on how much the third-party candidates pull,” he says.

showhide shortcuts