Editorial: What outside events will influence Virginia’s governor’s race?

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Editorial via The Roanoke Times

In the 1953 governor’s race, Ted Dalton of Radford came close to doing something no Republican had ever been able to do in Virginia — defeat the so-called “Byrd Machine” to win the governorship. He lost the race, but gained stature.

When the 1957 governor’s race came around, Dalton thought he might have an even better chance to break the monopoly that Democrats — conservative Democrats in those days — held on state power.

Then came a national crisis in September of that year. Little Rock, Arkansas, planned to integrate its schools in accordance with the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. Gov. Orval Faubus called out the state’s National Guard to block African-American students from entering. President Eisenhower responded by federalizing the National Guard, to take it out the governor’s hands, and sent in the 101st Airborne to enforce the court’s order.

History remembers that as decisive exercise of federal power against the evil of segregation. Virginia voters in 1957 — almost exclusively white voters in the pre-Voting Rights Act era — saw things differently. Eisenhower was a Republican. Dalton was a Republican, a moderate one running against a segregationist Democrat, Lindsey Almond.

“Little Rock knocked me down to nothing,” Dalton said later. “It wasn’t a little rock, it was a big rock.” Almond won handily, delaying a Republican breakthrough in Virginia for a dozen years.

The Little Rock crisis of 1957 is an instructive piece of history as we look ahead to this year’s governor’s race between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam. This may be an off year in the national election cycle, but this gubernatorial campaign still doesn’t take place in a vacuum. What outside events might intervene to influence the outcome?

If we knew the answer to that, we’d head straight for Vegas and lay good money on the Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather fight.

We can guess a few things, though. For Gillespie, the big unknown is spelled “Donald Trump,” and who dares predict what he will do? Democrats are already eager to tie Gillespie to the unpopular Republican “Trumpcare” health care bills. No wonder: An off-year election sees a lower turnout — older, whiter, more conservative, more amenable to Republicans. Trump didn’t win Virginia last year, so tying Gillespie to Trump is a good way for Northam to energize the Democratic base.

Side note: Republicans are in bigger political bind than they realize on health care. The immediate problem is that for all its imperfections, the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, managed to extend coverage to a lot of previously uninsured Americans. The two proposed Republican fixes so far would throw an estimated 22 million to 23 million off insurance. Even if the Congressional Budget Office score is off by a factor of several million, that’s still a lot of people suddenly without insurance.

How many can Republicans politically afford to uncover? Republicans concerned only with satisfying their Tea Party base might give one number; Republicans worried about winning general elections in swing states might give another. Here’s the real reason that Republicans ought to be careful that whatever they do, they come up with something that is popular with the general public: The history of America is that we swing back and forth between the two parties. Someday, Democrats will be back in charge. If people are still unhappy about health care then, we might well wind up with an enormously expensive single-payer system. Republicans who want to avoid that ought to be extra cautious about whatever system they design now.

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