The "Sluggard Republicans" (as Truth-teller named them) are the remnants of the Mountain-Valley Republicans. In the 50s and 60s this group had electoral success in western Virginia and were, in many ways, more progressive than some of the southern Democrats of the Byrd Machine who dominated state politics. These are the Republicans who elected the first Republican governor in nearly 100 years, Linwood Holton (Tim Kaine's father-in-law) and John Dalton. They also began building the party planting the seeds that eventually captured the General Assembly. The Mountain-Valley Republicans, though basically conservative, did believe in the positive power of government and compromise for the common good. In the recent brawl in Augusta, Emmett Hanger is the most obvious heir to this tradition.
Along came the "Regressive Republicans" (h/t Truth-teller) with an anti-government and no compromise agenda. Some inspired by Reagan, others ideological comrades of the old southern Democrats who felt abandoned by changes in that party, and some driven by an evangelical desire to create an American theocracy. Propelled by hatred of Roe v. Wade, taxes, and a more tolerant and open society they slowly but surely took over the heart and soul (if they have either) of the GOP.
For a while, the old and new coexisted in the Virginia Republican Party and together achieved electoral success by eventually capturing the General Assembly, both U.S. Senate seats, and a majority of the Congressional delegation. Sensing a wind shift, some local sheriffs and court clerks abandoned the party who had supported and elected them and became what might be called "opportunist Republicans" who didn't care as much about principles as their own seats.
But, the Regressive Republicans never really liked or trusted the Mountain-Valley types and they were on a mission of taking over the party and reestablishing the "government in exile" (pre Great Depression government policies/interpretation of the Constitution), overturning Roe, and establishing a theocracy. As their numbers increased in the party structure, they threatened and scared many of the remaining Mountain-Valley office holders into submission. And, significant pressure came from above. For example, Grover Norquist threatening to take down any Republican who did not sign his anti-tax pledge (Emmett Hanger and a few others refused) or a former GOP Senator "advising" a moderate mayor to not run for House of Delegates lest federal grants for his city suddenly dry up.
Fast forward to the 2007 General Assembly elections. Regressive Republicans under the "leadership" of Michael, Mitchell, Taetzsch, Davis and others in surrounding parts of the district promoted a political nobody (but drunk on their influence) named Scott Sayre to challenge Hanger in the primary for state Senate in 2007. A nasty and deceptive campaign ensues (amazing how these "moralists" can lie and cheat in pursuit of their goals) in which Hanger squeaks out a victory. Hanger has amazing staying power among Augusta/Staunton voters, but he was far weaker in other parts of the district. Sayre's supporters blame Democrats for voting in the Republican primary and providing Hanger with the margin, but evidence of that is inconclusive at best. The grist mill reveals some Dems did vote for Hanger out of friendship or because of fear of Sayre, but others supported Sayre hoping a fringe candidate would be easier for the Democrat, David Cox, to defeat in the fall.
Today the GOP is in disarray. The Regressive Republicans have achieved some success with guys like Cline, Lohr, Saxman, and others throughout the valley and Commonwealth - candidates with a quick smile, a folksy manner, and a stealthy right wing agenda. Looking at the next crop of potential statewide candidates - Bob McDonnell and Ken Cuccinelli, for example - finds most in the Regressive Republican mold. Old Mountain-Valley Republicans like Hanger are fighting back, but have become outcasts within their own local committees and are vilified on blogs, letters to the editor, and in the whisper campaign.
In the meantime the Democrats have emerged from their intra-party divisions of the past stronger than ever. Behind such practical moderates as Mark Warner and Tim Kaine the party is resurgent. Local committees up and down the 81 corridor, and across the state are growing in energy, manpower, and money. Individuals who once shied away from Democrats and politics in general are coming forth to get involved and run for office. In 2006 Democrats elected Jim Webb to the U.S. Senate and 2007 they recaptured the Virginia Senate and made gains in the House of Delegates. The 2008 elections offer a great opportunity for Democrats to capture the second Senate seat and several seats in the House of Representatives. And for the first time since 1964, if Barack Obama heads the ticket, Virginia stands poised to vote for the Democratic nominee.
The pendulum of politics has a self-correcting mechanism. The Regressives overplayed a hand that was way out of touch with most people - and they don't even know they've done it. The Sluggards frittered their hand away - but they'll keep fighting. Filling the void are the Democrats with a positive agenda, common sense governing, and the politics of working together for the common good. The same mill that made "Coarse Cracked Corn" also made "Victory Laying Mash." Victory is exactly what is blowing in the wind for Democrats in 2008.