Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner jumps into the state's Senate race with a 20-point-plus lead: He drubs Congressman Tom Davis or former Gov. Jim Gilmore, last seen waging a doomed presidential campaign against Rudy McRomney. We take Warner's popularity for granted, but think of what the three candidates are best known for. Davis is a liberal, Gilmore cut the car tax, and Warner passed a hefty tax increase. That's what he's remembered for. He lost a tax hike referendum, took it to the Republican legislature, got it passed, and left office with a budget surplus and a 75 percent approval rating.
How did that happen? Daniel Franklin and A.G. Newmyer's 2005 article "Is Grover Over" pointed out that the salience and electoral pull of anti-tax movements started slipping in the mid-oughts, with Virginia as a prime example.
Norquist and the Club for Growth have vowed to defeat dozens of Republican legislators who supported the tax hike, dubbing them "Virginia's Least Wanted." "We had a bunch of worthless Republicans in the Senate who have been there forever and don't have any core free market beliefs," complained Club for Growth then-President Stephen Moore in an online chat. "They sold us out and then enough Benedict Arnold Republicans in the House went along. The good news is that these Republicans are through politically--we will be sure of that."
Two years ago, anti-tax groups made good on earlier threats to target legislators who referred regional sales tax hikes to voters, unseating the House transportation committee chair. But there is a different mood in Richmond. John Chichester, the Republican president pro tempore of the Virginia Senate who steered the tax hike through as finance chairman, calls Norquist and Moore "generals without armies…. The Norquist crowd--if they had a flame burning someplace, it's dimming now. The shrillness and strident rhetoric probably did their cause more harm than good."
A few months after this article came out some of the liberal Republicans who backed Warner's tax hike got defeated by Norquist-backed candidates. A few months after that those nominees were beaten by Democrats and Warner's lieutenant governor won the governorship. And yet I see the official anti-Warner site is all about how Warner raised taxes after he said he wouldn't.
Anti-tax activists I talk to are hoping for a stronger Republican (like Rep. Eric Cantor) to enter the race but worry that Warner might be unbeatable. So what's that say about anti-tax politics right now?