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Amidst the Triumphs, Election Day Had Warnings for Virginia Democrats

“You’re good, Spaniard, but you’re not that good.” – Proximo, as portrayed by Oliver Reed in Gladiator

My reaction to last week’s election results in Virginia makes me wonder if, somehow, I’m inhabiting a parallel universe.

Did the Democrats accomplish their chief aim of flipping the legislature? Yes.

Did they maximize anti-Trump momentum at the state level? Well, mostly….

Did they sweep aside the Republican Party in Virginia’s suburbs like the waves in Pennsylvania and other places? Ummm….

Part of the reason I’m less sanguine than most Democrats in Virginia is expectations. For reasons known only to me, conventional wisdom seemed to hold that at least a few of the Delegate seats seized in 2017 would be lost. Given that Donald Trump is still in the White House, I never held that view. So while more than a few Republicans came away stunned that the 2017 wave held up, I was not surprised. Moreover, given that Hillary Clinton won a majority of State Senate districts in 2016, I largely presumed the State Senate would flip.

This election did have surprises, though, and for Democrats, they should be taken as warnings.

While Northern Virginia Democrats seized control of the Boards of Supervisors in Loudoun and Prince William, no such wave hit the suburbs of Richmond. Henrico and Chesterfield are still under Republican control locally (Northam carried both in 2017). Virginia Beach (another city that voted for Northam) re-elected its Republican-endorsed City Treasurer. Frank Wagner’s seat remained in Republican hands.

A Democratic Party that was “sweeping the suburbs” doesn’t suffer those losses.

Additionally, the Democrats have to remember the unique weakness of their opponents here. Few if any Republican parties have been as singularly hostile to a major part of its base (economic conservatives) as the Republican Party of Virginia.

If any other state’s GOP raised taxes three times in a decade, they would have been swept from power long ago. More to the point, the present leadership of the GOP – now reduced to future Minority Leaders Norment and Cox – could decide to head for the exits now that power resides elsewhere, giving the party the chance to refresh itself by 2021.

The Democrats, meanwhile, will now face the usual growing pains of the party coming into a dominant position in the state capital. Odds are that it will have little impact next year (the RPV’s best election-year actions were rejecting a tax increase in 2008; it had no impact on the ensuing November election), but 2021 is another matter.

Democrats will face either a fall-off in enthusiasm due to a Democrat in the White House or the convulsing trauma of Trump’s re-election. Republicans, by contrast, are much more likely to turn to an outsider largely free of the current morass. In fact, I would humbly submit that the 2021 GOP nominee for governor is not even someone who holds any elected office at the moment.

Democrats are the majority party in Virginia. That is true. It does not mean we are the dominant party, because we aren’t. We forget that at our peril.