RPV Gets the November Blues … Again
In many ways, Virginia was a microcosm of the nation in last night’s midterm elections. For certain reasons, it may be the last time we can say that for a while.
My old party (the Republicans) would like to believe last night was an aberration caused by a drag at the top of the ticket. The party I have chosen to recently call my own (the Democrats) would like to believe last night was the continuation of a trend of “turning the Commonwealth blue.” They may have a point, but not as strong as they would think.
Let’s start by dismissing the GOP scapegoat theory. Republicans across the country were effectively forced to choose between hewing close to Trump or trying to keep their distance (save Ohio and Arizona, where outgoing Governor John Kasich and the ghost of Senator John McCain managed to keep their own stamps on their respective local GOPs). Those who tried distance (including two GOP Representatives in Virginia) failed miserably.
Corey Stewart took the first option. He was the Trumpian’s Trumpian. However, running as a Trump acolyte actually helped Republicans … where Trump was popular. The national results for the Senate and the Governor’s race in Florida bear this out (especially the latter, where 51 percent of voters approved of Trump’s performance).
Last night solidified Donald Trump’s role as the leader and the symbol of the Republican Party.
We saw this all the way down to the local level in Suffolk, Virginia. Not only was Stewart’s performance comparable to Ed Gillespie’s in terms of vote share, but in the city’s rural southwest he actually beat Gillespie’s percentage.
However, in the more suburban precincts north of downtown, Stewart fell below Gillespie (who himself was below Trump). Two of those precincts flipped from Trump to Northam. Tim Kaine extended Northam’s leads in those two and even flipped a third.
This symbolized the simple yet devastating problem for Virginia Republicans: neither they nor he are popular in the suburbs of the Commonwealth. In fact, both are less popular in the suburbs today then they were two years ago.
Republicans were always worried about the 10th District — which Clinton carried in 2016 — but the 2nd and the 7th were Trump districts, however marginally. Had Donald Trump held his suburban vote from 2016, Scott Taylor and Dave Brat would have been re-elected. Simply put: he didn’t, so they weren’t.
Trump carried the 7th by six points and the 2nd by three points. Both Republican Congressmen lost by two. In the 10th, Clinton’s 10-point margin was increased to 12.5. Contrary to what many Republicans had presumed — or hoped — 2016 was not the floor for the party in the suburbs.
This has serious implications for the state legislative elections next year. Democrats are now the favorites to win majorities in both houses. Clinton carried a majority of state senate seats (22, according to VPAP) and Republican Delegates still hold two seats she won in 2016 (the 40th and the 94th).
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Republican Party of Virginia has no remotely comparable figure to John Kasich or John McCain (or Larry Hogan, or Steven Baker, or …). State Senators and Delegates will, again, effectively be forced to run on Donald Trump’s coattails … or in this case, lack thereof.
Now, just because the Democrats are favored to win doesn’t mean they must win. The future is never quite so neat, for next year or next decade. Democrats need to remember that in rural areas — particularly among white voters — Donald Trump clearly has no ceiling. Democrats might also want to consider the serious economic divide that came with the political results.
The more dynamic regions of the nation (and the Commonwealth) are now easily the more Democratic, but that also means areas less developed are more resistant to the Democratic message. Economic integration — and ensuring the 21st century economy doesn’t leave out rural America (or rural Virginia) is essential both for national harmony and for the fortunes of the Democratic Party.
In other words, it was a good night for Virginia Democrats, and they can look forward to more next year. It will still take work, and at some point they will run out of low-hanging fruit, but they’re in a far better position than the RPV — thanks to one Donald J. Trump.