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Could Defense Sink Obama in Virginia?

As President Obama prepares to make several campaign stops in Virginia over the weekend, the looming threat of defense budget cuts could prove to be his Achilles’ heel in this crucial swing state.

Congress’ failure to reach a deficit reduction deal means that the series of automatic cuts will go into effect, despite the Obama Administration’s assurances to the contrary. Defense and intelligence funding in particular are projected to take massive hits. But even if common sense prevails and Congress is able to resolve the sequestration issue, the defense budget is likely to fare worse under an Obama second term than under a Romney presidency. That fact may flip Virginia and possibly the 2012 election.

The southeastern region of the state is dominated by military presence and defense contracts, and cuts in funding threaten its prosperity, as the Financial Times reports:

On the ground, voters might have another overriding concern. Hampton Roads, as the region is known, has a heavy concentration of naval shipyards, military facilities and families of US soldiers and sailors. Its residents will want to know how the Obama administration plans to prevent automatic spending cuts to the defence budget worth $500bn over 10 years starting in 2013 – another element of the country’s looming fiscal contraction, or “fiscal cliff”.

Bobby Scott, a veteran Democratic congressman from the area, says about 50 per cent of the local economy is dependent on the Pentagon. “When you pull that plug, everybody suffers,” Mr Scott says.

Voters in Northern Virginia also will likely be affected by these cuts. Historically, government workers and other beltway types have tended to vote Democrat. It’s not surprising, since the federal government supports their lifestyle.

But a lot of government workers in the Northern Virginia are employed either directly or indirectly by the defense and intelligence sectors. After all, both the Pentagon and the CIA headquarters are in Northern Virginia.

Questions about defense spending could split the government employee vote in Virginia between civilian focused employees and contractors one one side, and the Pentagon and intelligence focused voters who are concerned with their future livelihood.

Virginia was a Republican bastion until the 2008 election. Obama would be virtually guaranteed a victory in November if he can hold onto this state, but if the defense funding issue splits the government employee vote in Northern Virginia, and strengthens Romney in the southeast, then Virginia might just swing back to the GOP.


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  • Anthony

    Related material (Why Obama May Be Safe in Virginia) is in the Atlantic – “At first glance, this former Confederate stronghold might seem like one of the harder swing states for the president to hang onto in 2012. Article argues that Virginia’s economics and demographics rather than solely defense apparatus are election variables that may move state.

  • SC Mike

    In their haste to use the budget and sequestration against the GOP, Obama and his minions overlooked the Warn Act’s 60-day layoff notification. They’ve started moving on Taxmageddon, the $607B whack on the economy caused by the expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts and arrival of ObamaCare taxes on investment income, but have to date remained inflexible on sequestration.

    Responsible companies are considering layoffs on or about January 1st; Warn Act layoff notices to employees will have to go out in early November, right before Election Day. That’s not politics, it’s the law.

    We’ll soon find out how voters in Virginia will react because some defense contracts may face stoppages before then. Another federal law, the Antideficiency Act may cause federal contracting officers to balk at issuing new contracts or exercising options on others because of uncertainty about the existence of funds for the contract.

    It’s a fine mess, no?

  • Thrasymachus

    Aren’t these the mandatory defense cuts that the Republicans negotiated for -and got- so that they wouldn’t have to agree to a trigger that contained a mandatory tax increase?

    If Virginians want to blame anybody, they should blame their Republican representatives in the House.

  • Art Deco

    Obama would be virtually guaranteed a victory in November if he can hold onto this state

    Virginia has 13 electoral votes, or 2.4% of all electoral votes. We have held 47 presidential elections since popular balloting began in 1824. There have been three contests (1876, 1916, and 2000) where the electoral vote tally was close enough that a conveyance of 2.4% of the total from one candidate to another would have been decisive. The election of 1876 concluded with a wretched political dispute over the electoral votes of four states due to the balloting therein being shot through with fraud and intimidation, among other problems. The election of 2000 ended with wretched legal and political disputes because the tally in one (decisive) state was so close it taxed to the breaking point the technology of vote tabulation. Somehow I do not think anything was ‘assured’ in either situation.

  • thibaud

    # 3 – what Thrasymachus said. Slashing defense spending is exactly what would happen if Paul Ryan’s ludicrous slash and burn budget were to pass. We’ve already seen the effects of Cameron’s austerity on the UK’s defence capability.

    Once again, Via Meadia tells us that up is down, day is night. Slashing defense is the inevitable result of Grover Norquist’s hijacking of the GOP.

  • Kris

    Slashing defense is the inevitable result of not getting our financial house in order.

  • thibaud

    Hear, hear, Kris.

    All the more reason to make sure that the GOP’s financially-irresponsible, economically-illiterate zealots be kept as far from power as possible.

  • Jim.

    Slashing defense is the inevitable result of the Federal Government going beyond its Constitutional bounds and getting involved in paying for peoples’ retirement and healthcare.

  • rkka

    “Slashing defense is the inevitable result of not getting our financial house in order.”

    Financing two wars with tax cuts is the biggest reason our financial house is in disorder.

  • Art Deco

    Financing two wars with tax cuts is the biggest reason our financial house is in disorder.

    Public sector borrowing during the 2006/07 fiscal year amounted to 1.2% of domestic product. It has for the last several years amounted to about 9% of domestic product. The share of domestic product allocated to the military has changed very little.

  • Kris

    thibaud@7: As opposed to the Democrat’s “When you’re in a hole, keep digging” strategy.

    rkka@9: Come now, do you really expect me to believe that you don’t know the budget numbers?

  • rkka


    “Public sector borrowing during the 2006/07 fiscal year amounted to 1.2% of domestic product.”

    The US Debt/GDP ratio in 2000 was about 57%. The US Debt/GDP ratio in 2007 was about 70%.

    Then the unchecked Republican economic misgovernance, whose main feature was financing wars with tax cuts, 2001-2006 stuck, and tanked the economy. The budget deficit for FY2009, which started on 1 October 2008, was about 10% of GDP.

    And since everything that moves in the Senate gets a Republican filibuster, that’s where we remain.

  • thibaud

    Kris, as your own side’s TPers will be the first to admit, it was Bush who blew out the budget. Whatever one thinks of TARP, it was Bush’s program.

    Maybe this is just the way the blogosphere works, but the worst aspect of this blog is the way its author and his amen choir dig their heels in to defend a cartoonishly one-sided picture of complex economic and political realities.

    I don’t know whether there are enough readers of this blog for it to cause damage to its author’s academic reputation, but it’s certainly dumbing down the discussion. Unfortunate that you choose to play along.

  • Jim.

    @thibaud (14)

    Bush first authorized crisis levels of funding back in 2008, that’s true.

    Obama, perhaps on Rahm Emmanuel’s (or was it Naomi Klein’s?) advice never to let a crisis go to waste, has kept those crisis levels of funding — trillion-dollar-per-year deficits — continue for his whole administration.

    Speaking of cartoonishly one-sided pictures of complex economic and political realities, what are we to make of comments that cherrypick the outcomes of Eurosocialist policies to advance their own agenda of universal coverage?

  • Kris

    thibaud@14: “Kris, as your own side’s TPers will be the first to admit, it was Bush who blew out the budget.”

    That just might be why I used the expression: “When you’re in a hole…”

    On a more general note: on the days when I attempt to be charitable, I try to believe that you’re a relative moderate who is merely trying to provide a mirror argument of sorts to what you see as “a cartoonishly one-sided picture of complex economic and political realities”. The trouble is that you often do so in such an abrasive way that you turn off everybody but your own choir. I don’t quite see the point, but if you’re willing to to to the trouble of writing all your comments, and our host is willing to publish them, va bene.

  • thibaud

    Jim – my point on universal health insurance is simple and can be summarized in two simple bullets:

    – it’s more efficient. Expand the risk pool to the max, and you have more money for everyone’s healthcare.

    – it is not incompatible with economic growth (cf Sweden and Canada’s growth rates, both of which outpace ours, both before and after 2008).

    I make no claims that it somehow addresses every problem of slow growth, globalization, the increasing proletarianization of the US lower middle class (cf Murray’s thesis) etc etc.

    I am simply pointing out that Mead’s ridiculously over-the-top screeds about pensions and healthcare are not grounded in empirical reality.

    Our peers have growing economies and a decent safety net. We can as well.

  • thibaud

    Kris – my apologies, I’ll try to be nicer (to you and Jim and a few others).

    As for those legions of hysterics who come here and cry Leftist!!! Communist!! whenever anyone refuses to go along with their arguments for privatizing the mint and shutting down the gum’mint: No pasaran.

  • Kris

    thibaud@18, thanks for the apologies, though I’m not sure they’re necessary.

    Regarding both your second paragraph and the lecture on your style that I was tempted to deliver:

    Completely off topic, do you have any thoughts on Condi as Veep? (My own eloquent thoughts: She’s an accomplished woman, but meh.)

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