NOT SINCE RECONSTRUCTION has a Southern state legislature been controlled by Republicans. Next week in Virginia that may change. In what has become a contest of national importance, with implications for what Congress and President Clinton do in the year ahead, Virginia voters will elect a new House and Senate. If Republicans gain just three seats in each chamber, they will have made history.
Mindful of the stakes, Democrats and Republicans from all over are pouring resources into races for offices that are usually little noted nor long remembered. By the end of September some $16 million had been raised for campaigning. Like 1994's congressional election, the race is becoming a referendum on political philosophy. It is party-driven rather than candidate-driven. All politics is definitely not local.
Gov. George Allen is the Newt Gingrich in this drama. His "Republican Pledge for Honest Change" is a reprise of last year's "Contract with America." Governor Allen has a lot to win and lose in this election. Virginia governors can't succeed themselves. If he is to make his mark on the state -- and his reputation nationally -- he needs to have a friendly legislature in his remaining two years in the office. Given that -- and given that he is the key campaigner for a Republican legislature -- victory will probably put him on most Republican vice presidential short lists for 1996.
In four Southern states -- Florida, Tennessee, North and South Carolina -- Republicans already control one but not the other chamber of the legislature. However, in two of those states, switches not elections gave the party its majority. A Republican victory produced by voters in both chambers in Virginia would have momentous symbolic impact. Doubly so since it would be widely read not just as a take-over of a large and growing state -- but also as an endorsement of the congressional elections of 1994 and a possible preview of 1996's.