Webb Exit Could Mean GOP Pick-Up

Republicans start with big advantage

With zero percent of the vote counted, we can now project a Republican pick-up in the 2012 Virginia U.S. Senate race.

It was no great surprise that incumbent Democrat Jim Webb announced plans to retire this morning. Webb dislikes campaigning and positively loathes fundraising, and had been doing little of either. The contest was shaping up to be at least as competitive as his 2006 race, and in fact Webb might have started off as the underdog.

But with Webb out, it will be almost impossible for Democrats to hold the seat.

The only well-known Democrat who would seem like a contender is ex-governor Tim Kaine, who insists he will not run. As chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Kaine will be hard-pressed to explain how staying out of the race is for the good of the party. But even if he does get in, he would be the underdog. He was Mark Warner lite as governor, and would be as a Senate candidate as well.

If Kaine stays out, Democrats have few palatable options. Former congressman Tom Perriello has a lot of fans, but he would face a tough time statewide. Other names floated this morning include state legislators David Englin, Donald McEachin, and Chap Petersen, and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova. None are likely to scare Republicans much.

Though population shifts in the Old Dominion have made statewide Democratic wins less unlikely, 2012 was already shaping up as a Republican year in Virginia. Webb was elected in 2006, a solidly Democratic year nationwide with no presidential race. In 2012, Barack Obama, whose popularity is below 50 percent in Virginia, will head the ticket.

The real race, then, could be the Republican primary -- and the party will now do all it can to prevent a bloody and divisive primary. The best bet for Democrats would be the nomination of a Republican perceived as extreme, like Del. Bob Marshall or Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke. Therefore, GOP activists could rally behind ex-senator George Allen or Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart.

Stewart would be the safer bet. Allen is seen as a bit of a retread by energized GOP activists, and they fear a repeat of the “Macaca” slip of the tongue that probably cost him the election. Stewart is a solid, well-spoken conservative, with Northern Virginia roots. If he’s the GOP nominee, he’s Virginia’s next senator.

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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