I'm not entirely sure, Gene. I could only guess. So anything I say will be opinion.
You have to understand how grating it is reading the national newspapers talking about this being a referendum on Bush and his (lack of) popularity. Maybe...but probably not. As was reported in the paper this morning, this was the seventh (7th) governor race in a row that ended up the opposite party of the person elected to the White House the year earlier.
Virginia gets labeled a lot of things. But the fact of the matter is that it is a diverse state that on the whole votes pragmatically and votes the issues. Consider this combination of voting blocks:
* Northern Virginia, which includes several counties with the highest per capita PhD rate in the country. Lots of beltway bandit companies, as well as people connected to the federal government.
* The Tidewater area, home of the largest harbor in the world. (This is the area of my birth) The population is in constant flux there with Norfolk Naval Base, Fort Monroe, Fort Eustis, Langley NASA, Langley Air Force base, etc. etc. Plus you have Newport News Shipbuilding. And then there is Virginia Beach - the largest tourist town in the country
* Richmond - former capital of the Confederacy and now largely populated by blacks. Surrounding Richmond city - by contrast - are the sprawling suburbs (where I live), consisting to a greater and greater extent of outsiders hired by large employers (that would include both Rich and I).
* Charlottesville, a town with a rich colonial history. It is home of Monticello and University of Virginia. The beautiful countryside around Charlottesville city is home to the rich and famous, including a higher per capita Hollywood population than you would believe.
* Southwest Virginia. This is a rural area with roots in coal mining, the Bible belt, agriculture, etc.
It's a most amazing cross section of society. At the end of the day, the various political forces balance out.
Considering its proximity and its richness in diversity, my thinking is that any party in The White House begins to smell too much like that party. Neither Democrats nor Republicans typically represent society. Each party has its "base" which brings tremendous baggage. That base grates on Virginians who reside adjacent to DC and house many in the political scene in this country.
Virginia never elects "typical" Democrats and "typical" Republicans. Generally they elect people who are fiscally conservative, demonstrate family values, and don't like the federal government very much. Virginians didn't appreciate being talked down to by "The Blue States" as being a bunch of evangelical yahoos. So they voted like a bunch of evangelical yahoos to spite the political elite. Then with Kaine, they loved the fact that the Warner administration he was part of brought the Virginia economy back into the black after 9/11. (The Pentagon mess really screwed up the northern Virginia economy, as did all the airline issues.) But along with the fiscal conservatism came the fact that Kaine was a missionary as a youth. Also, the previous Democratic governor (Mark Warner) was formerly a highly successful businessman in northern Virginia.
Virginians hate the Democratic tax/spend liberal base. Virginians hate the Republican religious right. (We have to put up with Falwell and Robertson. They have their followers, but most Virginians see them for whom they are.) Basically on the whole they are a lot like a Jefferson libertarian. Neither party represents that position, so Virginians on the net will consistently vote the opposite when one is in power. The evils cancel each other out.
That's my theory.
As for the term limits on the governorship, I am ambivalent. I don't think it has hurt Virginia. If anything, it has created viable presidential candidates as of recent, possibly improving the influence of Virginia in national politics. Wilder made big waves on the national political scene as a fiscally conservative, black, Democratic candidate...
...with a not-so-secret relationship (he is unattached) with Patricia Kluge (former model wife to the richest man in the world).
It's the stuff Hollywood stories are made of.
And mark my word - you will see George Allen (R)...
...and Mark Warner (D)...
Just for the record... If Kerry had chosen Warner instead of Edwards as his running mate, he very well may have won. Warner at least would have carried his own state. And Warner has no baggage. He's the classic fiscally conservative Virginia Democrat that would have balanced Kerry out nicely.
Unfortunately the base of both parties will never get this.