Social Issues Not a Factor in VA 7th

On thing that has surprised me in the Virginia 7th District race: Jack Trammell is not following the Democratic playbook for this election cycle.

The recurring theme, for Senate races at least, is to remind voters of the Republicans' "extremist" positions on social issues like abortion, birth control, and marriage equality. Democratic candidates in other races are hammering this home, in part because they see women as a key demographic in this cycle.

Of course, the strategy is not without its risks. Colorado's Democratic Senator Mark Udall has been tagged as "Mark Uterus" for his one-track campaign, and national polls suggest that the issues that drove the "war on women" narrative in 2012 just aren't as salient for voters in 2014. It's possible that Trammell looked at the demographic landscape of the 7th District, and decided that there weren't enough votes to be won by bringing up birth control.

Still, it's somewhat odd to see issues that were so prevalent even two years ago get pushed to the bottom of the agenda. (Literally - Brat lists "Uphold Human Life" as the last of his important issues, after even the super-important need for auditing the Federal Reserve.)

This state of affairs reflects an important feature of recent politics: the dramatic success of the Tea Party and its allies in reframing the political agenda around economic issues over the past six years. I published a piece in the lefty watchdog mag, The Public Eye, this past week, in which I argued that the base of the GOP may still be Christian evangelicals, but they are organized along economic lines now. I "fought" with the editors about this point (politely, of course - they're great folks), and maybe I need more data about this. But I still believe this point from an earlier draft of the article is true:

Most Tea Party organizations avoid the controversial social issues like abortion that social conservatives have pursued for decades. Even after a resurgence of such issues at the state level—witness the Republican “war on women,” in which laws curtailing reproductive rights have metastasized in conservative-leaning states—economic issues remain the main concerns of Tea Party organizations, if not individual members.

My conclusion to this point remained in the article: "Tea Partiers may still love Jesus in their hearts, but they are talking and acting like good neoliberals." That's Dave Brat to a T - he's stuck to his economic message in the campaign. But if he wins on Tuesday, he should be a reliable vote on conservative social issues as well.