Virginia Republicans Aren’t Completely Out of the Picture
Virginia Democrats should take some comfort, along with a healthy dose of concern, from Tuesday’s election results. Their statewide winning streak is still going strong, with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden picking up the state’s 13 electoral votes and Mark R. Warner (D) winning a third Senate term.
But in the contests for the U.S. House, Republicans showed flashes of the old suburban strength that made them the commonwealth’s dominant force for a generation. And if the GOP can reclaim just a bit more of that vote, then Democrats up and down the ballot in 2021 and 2022 are in trouble.
This doesn’t mean that the Northern Virginia suburbs are suddenly going to revert to their ancestral Republican roots. The days of the 8th Congressional District, for example, sending a Republican to the House of Representatives are probably done and gone. The Democrats’ hold on the 10th District, which elected a Republican House member for nearly four decades until 2018, looks solid right now.
But the story changes downstate, where the results show that Republicans still have plenty of fight left in them.
The case study: the hotly contested, and fantastically expensive, 7th Congressional District race between incumbent Abigail Spanberger (D) and challenger Nick Freitas (R). Unofficial results show Spanberger won, 50.5 percent to 49.3 percent — not much different from her 50.3 percent-to-48.4 percent victory over Republican incumbent Dave Brat in 2018.
Spanberger’s win that year capped the Richmond suburbs’ big swing away from the GOP that began in 2017. In those earlier contests, Ralph Northam became the first Democratic gubernatorial candidate to win vote-rich Chesterfield County since 1961.
Down the ballot, Republican House of Delegates stalwarts John O’Bannon and Manoli Loupassi were swept from office. Democrats solidified their House of Delegates gains in the 2019 election.
But Democrats were unable to extend those gains into the state Senate, picking off only one of their regional targets, Republican Glen Sturtevant in the Chesterfield County-based 10th District. In Henrico County, Republican incumbent Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant was reelected.
The consensus before the 2020 election season got fully underway was that the 7th would be a close race. The coronavirus pandemic complicated matters, delaying the district’s Republican nominating convention from April to July. It also raised questions about how the general election would be run.
As it turned out, the Spanberger-Freitas race was oddly conventional. Spanberger attempted to position herself as an independent, district-first problem solver, while Freitas tagged her as a tax-hiking, big-government member of Team Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker from California. In many ways, it was a rerun of the messages used in the 2018 campaign Spanberger won.
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