Henry Clay was the first American politician to really understand the power of infrastructure to build a strong economy. His American system demanded better roads and bridges and modernized the American economy, allowing it to compete with the Europeans.

Taking a page from Clay, Dwight Eisenhower built the federal highway system, helping America secure its world economic dominance for generations.

The elections in Virginia last week remind us that infrastructure remains a potent political issue. Northern Virginia has exploded in population and its rapid growth has caused massive gridlock.

The Democrats used clogged highways as a bludgeon to beat the Republicans, edging out illegal immigration as the dominant issue in many of the closest elections.

Republicans shouldn’t cede the issue of infrastructure to the Democrats. It is an issue that can lose elections for the GOP if Republicans misplay the issue as they did in Virginia.

In the Old Dominion, it became a regional contest, with those Republicans in the rest of Virginia stopping highway funding for Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax because they didn’t want increased taxes going for roads that they don’t use.

That kind of regional pique killed the Republicans in Fairfax, and has hurt Republicans running for statewide office, making a reliably red state the royal color of blue.

Traffic congestion is not only a growing problem in Northern Virginia. Try getting caught up in the Hillside Strangler outside Chicago, or Venture Highway in Los Angeles, or just about any suburb anywhere. Traffic is a real problem and it is only going to get worse.

The National Republican leadership is loath to raise taxes for infrastructural improvements. I appreciate that concern. But Republicans better come up with common-sense alternatives, such as cutting spending in other places to pay for more highway funding, contractor oversight to cut down on waste and fraud to hold down the costs, or privatization models that will spur more building of roads.

Republicans should also come up with incentives to improve the telecommunications infrastructure, with more broadband deployment and more WiFi capabilities. If more people can work from home or from their local coffee shop, we just may have more productivity and less traffic.

In any case, the Republicans need to start offering real solutions to the problems that affect the lives of ordinary Americans. At the philosophical level, it is nice to talk about federalism and other obscure topics. But we should also offer concrete ways that we can govern that will be superior to the Democrats. And improving our nation’s infrastructure is one place to start.