POLITICS

The stories of 2012 and what they taught Virginia

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Politics,Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- This was 2012: the year Virginia joined the major leagues of politics as a presidential battleground, when a short-lived coup to oust the University of Virginia's president backfired, and when a 9-year-old Boy Scout's roadside salute for a fallen lawman proved decency wasn't dead.

Bid 2012 farewell, but first look back at its major stories.

Virginia was an electoral battleground, and President Barack Obama proved his 2008 victory here was no fluke. That win was the first for a Democrat seeking the presidency since 1964. Winning again this year, however, made Obama the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to carry Virginia in consecutive elections.

Virginia wasn't prepared for an unprecedented saturation of political advertising, most of it making dubious or flatly false claims -- the work of party hacks and hatchet men. Most were funded anonymously by corporations, unions and wealthy individuals willing to spend whatever it took to protect their interests. By election day, it became background noise that viewers tuned out.

"I can't say I've heard anything yet that really helps me make my decision," Henrico County voter Mary Hensley said in mid-September. "All I saw them do is just try to tear down the other party," she said, shaking her head in dismay.

In no state was more spent on TV ads in a Senate race than Virginia. By a 2-to-1 ratio, independent political attack ads favored Republican George Allen or opposed Democrat Tim Kaine. It failed. Kaine won convincingly.

Because of that, 2012 marked the death of Allen's political career. His 1993 election as governor heralded Virginia's most comprehensive statewide Republican expansion since the Civil War. In his prime, the tobacco-dipping, cowboy-booted namesake son of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Washington Redskins coach was the face -- and the hope -- of Virginia's GOP. Virginia ended parole, tightened public education standards and reformed welfare during his four years as governor. Allen was exploring a 2008 presidential bid before an ill-timed ethnic slur in his 2006 Senate re-election loss to Democratic newcomer Jim Webb started his downfall. In the wake of last month's defeat, Allen announced he would not seek elected office again.

For two-thirds of 2012, Gov. Bob McDonnell was a rumored short-lister as Mitt Romney's Republican running mate. That was put to rest in early August in Norfolk when, with McDonnell standing awkwardly aside, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan bounded off the USS Wisconsin and into Romney's embrace before a flag-waving throng of enraptured conservatives.

McDonnell's popularity took a broadside last winter after General Assembly Republicans tried to mandate vaginally invasive pre-abortion ultrasound exams. The political pyrotechnics earned Virginia unflattering news coverage and scathing editorial reviews nationally, made the state the butt of network television parodies, and drew protesters by the thousands -- most of them women -- to Capitol Square. It came to a head in an unsettling scene in March when police in riot gear formed a cordon in front of the Capitol during a demonstration where 30 people were arrested.

The governor had interceded by amending the bill's mandate for an invasive procedure to require only a topical, external ultrasonic exam. It was too little, too late. The issue stained McDonnell and his party among many female voters.

In June, news that the University of Virginia's Board of Visitors had forced President Teresa Sullivan to resign after only two years rocked the proud school Thomas Jefferson established in 1819. Again, Virginia reaped national headlines.

Sullivan's ouster, orchestrated by UVa Rector Helen Dragas, failed two weeks later after a statewide outcry and protests from students, faculty, alumni and donors forced a chastened board to reverse itself.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling folded his campaign for governor, all but clearing the GOP field for conservative activist Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Bolling's path to the nomination was effectively closed in June when the state Republican Party's policymaking central committee, freshly overtaken by pro-Cuccinelli conservatives, voted for a statewide nominating convention instead of a primary. Bolling did not exit gently, promising to be an "independent voice" in public policy and refusing to rule out a third-party run of his own.

Election week hadn't even passed before wheeler-dealer Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a consigliere and rainmaker for his party's Clinton dynasty, declared his encore gubernatorial run. In his first bid, McAuliffe finished second with barely more than a quarter of the vote in a three-way primary behind unsuccessful Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds.

Amid the shrill public discourse of 2012, civility seemed dead. But in mid-October, when Virginia needed it most, a 9-year-old Boy Scout in Woodlawn, Va., provided a powerful antidote for a cynicism epidemic with his simple, poignant roadside tribute to a fallen state trooper.

Lane Snow, a fourth-grader, had been told that that the funeral procession for trooper Andrew Fox would pass along Route 58, directly in front of his house. Fox died after being hit by a sport utility vehicle as he directed traffic Oct. 5 near the Virginia State Fair at Doswell.

After school, he changed into his Scout shirt, kerchief and hat. When he saw the approaching procession of flashing blue lights two miles long, he stood near the road at attention, his arm locked in a full salute for more than 20 minutes until the last car had passed. Tears filled the eyes of grizzled lawmen who witnessed it. A grainy cell-phone photo of it went viral on social media.

Lane's motive?

"Because police and Boy Scouts and firemen are family," he said.

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Bob Lewis has covered Virginia government and politics for The Associated Press since 2000.

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