November 8th, 2017

Virginia: a tide election?

I wasn’t very concerned about yesterday’s Virginia gubernatorial election, because I figured that Northam the Democrat would win and it probably had more to do with Gillespie being a poor candidate than anything else, plus I consider Virginia a basically blue state.

But the results in the state legislative races—and the fact that, as of this sitting, the Virginia House is poised to be controlled by Democrats for the first time in many years (I’m having trouble getting figures on how long it’s been since they had the majority there)—is what is particularly disturbing to me. The magnitude of that victory is unexpected and represents a big change; prior to this election the GOP held approximately a 2-1 majority there.

What does it all mean? I don’t have my finger on the pulse of Virginia politics, but from what I’ve read today in various blogs and newspapers, neither does anyone else, although there’s no lack of theories.

Regarding the governorship, I’ve read that it’s about Gillespie’s RINOism and lack of support of Trump; all RINOs must go! I’ve read it’s a rejection of Trump, and anyone who allies with him (as Gillespie ultimately did) will fail because the people hate Trump. Needless to say, those two things are diametrically opposed—although in my more pessimistic moments I suspect that both of them are correct, reflecting the potentially fatal split in the Republican Party, a split I first noticed long ago but which has been widening and deepening for years. Candidates need to figure out which it is—with Trump or against him?—in order to know how best to approach the 2018 midterms. But one thing of which I’m pretty sure is that a lot of GOP office-holders running for re-election will be primaried and replaced by other candidates, some of whom will be better and some worse.

It’s difficult to get an idea of whether the Virginia House really will end up flipping to the Democrats as a result of yesterday’s vote, but indications are in that direction:

Virginia Democrats have picked up 10 House of Delegates seats and lead in seven more races, putting them within striking distance of taking the majority in the state legislature.

Democrats needed to flip 17 seats heading into Tuesday to retake the majority. And while the gubernatorial contest between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie has dominated national attention, the 100 seats in the state’s House of Delegates could end up being the true bellwethers to gauge Democratic Party’s strength ahead of the 2018 midterms.

In the same article, the Virginia Democratic House leader calls it a “tsunami,” and points out that such a magnitude of Democratic victory hasn’t happened since 1975. What’s going on here? My guess is that it mostly reflects two things. The first is the changing demographics of Virginia, increasingly favoring Democrats. The second is that the Democrats put out a highly organized drive to do this in yesterday’s election and caught the Republicans of Virginia unprepared and flat-footed. For example, there’s this sort of thing. My guess (and I haven’t followed it closely enough to know) is that the state GOP candidates complacently assumed they were safe when they were not, and didn’t put out the same kind of effort.

The Virginia elections are not an isolated phenomenon, either. If you look at special legislative election in other states in this last few months, you will see it start to look like a trend (the following was written in September of 2017:

Of 35 special elections for state legislature since President Donald Trump’s election, Democrats overperformed in 26, meaning they did a lot better than expected, given how Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton did in the same district last fall. In one Oklahoma seat in May, Republican Zach Taylor squeezed out a 50-48 win against his Democratic opponent, Steve Barnes – even though Trump won the district by 50 points last November, indicating Barnes should have lost by much more.

And upcoming races later this month and into November could put Democrats on the path of retaking state legislative bodies. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is optimistic about a Washington state Senate race in November that – if it flips from red to blue – will give Democrats control of the chamber. Democrats already have control of the state House and the governor’s office. The party sees important pickup opportunities as well in Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Minnesota and New York’s state Senate, a chamber now narrowly controlled by Republicans.

The races matter because state legislatures are making a great deal of policy where Congress has been unable to reach agreement. State legislatures will also be redrawing congressional districts after the 2020 U.S. Census. And the contests also provide a political window into how congressional candidates are positioned next year, experts say.

The article goes on to note the Democrats are far more enthusiastic than Republicans, and candidate recruitment is high in the Democratic party. Trump-hatred is a powerful motivator for them, and they want payback for November of 2016, whereas Republicans are feeling angry at legislators of their own party, or at best tepid.

It may seem odd—in fact, to me it does seem odd—to take out one’s rage against a party’s US representatives by failing to turn out to vote for your local, state representatives of that party, but that may be the way it’s working. My sense is that the GOP Congress will be in big trouble in 2018 if something doesn’t change—and pretty soon, too.

12 Responses to “Virginia: a tide election?”

  1. Dave Says:

    Democrats will retake both the house and senate next year should always be the thinking of every republican, republicans are becoming complacent like the democrats in 2016, WAKE THE HELL UP.

  2. AesopFan Says:

    Somewhere in the attic of my mind, I recall seeing some analyses that indicate the composition of State legislatures and governorships ebbs and flows without necessarily being tied to national elections, based both on the reluctance of the electorate to grant either party a “permanent” majority and the “degree of separation” between the national Party policies and the State parties.
    I suspect the changes operate much as Neo indicates (*) by a cyclical alternation of drive and complacency, with varying degrees of success.

    Useful data here (but not the studies I was thinking of); however, the relevant tables would have to be pulled out and the national composition data added.

    *”The second is that the Democrats put out a highly organized drive to do this in yesterday’s election and caught the Republicans of Virginia unprepared and flat-footed. For example, there’s this sort of thing. My guess (and I haven’t followed it closely enough to know) is that the state GOP candidates complacently assumed they were safe when they were not, and didn’t put out the same kind of effort.”

    I suspect the loss of Jon “golden boy” Ossoff in the Georgia election lit a fire under the Virginia party.

    Here’s an old story, but when the Dems organize properly, they run rings around the GOP.

  3. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Constitutional conservatives are opposed by the GOPe every bit as much as by the democrats.

    The GOPe would be more comfortable with Hillary as President. They mistakenly see her as the lesser threat.

    Too soon to say whether a trend toward restoring democrat majorities is emerging.

  4. Oldflyer Says:

    Neo, the paragraphs below were written in response to your comment in the previous thread; but, since that is now out of the forum’s consciousness, and my thoughts are so important (to me), I will throw them in here.

    The point is that the demographics in Virginia put the GOP at a significant disadvantage from the beginning. Then there is the Trump factor. He energizes the Democrats; his core do not support traditional GOP candidates; and he may even discourage mainline Republican voters. It all adds up to disaster. It will be interesting to see the turnout..

    Someone above said that the bulk of Republicans hate the GOPe. I simply don’t buy that. There is frustration; and I feel as much as anyone. On the other hand, I think most Republicans understand the complexity of governing with a narrow majority, and know that is compounded by roadblocks set up by a few ideological stone walls and out-sized egos. Not to say that there is not a significant number who buy into Trump’s destructive rhetoric toward the GOPe. (Aside; the term RINO simply makes me grind my teeth, and mutter rude words. Oddly, most who use it proclaim that they cannot stand the GOP.)

    For the most part, I like the policies that Trump is pursuing, and I like his judicial nominees; but, I fear that Trump may ultimately destroy the GOP. If that turns out to be true, then in the long run his Presidency will be a disaster, because the Left will control the country for a very long time. Love it or not, you have to have a viable party to succeed across the political spectrum. Trump needs to reach out and publicly mend fences. He is, after all, the one with the huge megaphone.

  5. AesopFan Says:

    Oldflyer Says:
    November 8th, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    For the most part, I like the policies that Trump is pursuing, and I like his judicial nominees; but, I fear that Trump may ultimately destroy the GOP. If that turns out to be true, then in the long run his Presidency will be a disaster, because the Left will control the country for a very long time. Love it or not, you have to have a viable party to succeed across the political spectrum.
    * * *
    Although your fears are not unfounded, they may be similar to those expressed by Whigs at the election of Lincoln (no, Trump is not a Lincoln, but Whigs are like the GOP). Abe had the advantage of a political-party-insurgency that already existed, and Trump does not, but the end of the Republican Party per se is not the end of conservatives-in-parties.

    The Left may control parts of the governing and cultural institutions for a very long time (they already have; see Neo’s post on Robert Frost earlier this week), but they do not and never will control the Country.

  6. parker Says:

    GOP congress needs to get its act together. Repeal ocare and require competition to lower costs, simplify the tax code and abolish corporate and estate taxes. Encourage corporations to bring capital back home tax free. The djt administration needs to open an investigations into uranium one, Comey-Lynch shenanigans, fast and furious, and Bengahzi. Damn the torpedoes because the window is closing.

  7. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    I suspect that the GOPe knows exactly what they’re doing. I see their inaction as intentional. Their Big donors are ademantly opposed to the remedies that Constitutional conservatives favor. The GOPe knows that they’re going to take it in the shorts but see it as a necessary set back to regaining control of the party. They figure that without the support of the big donors any third party is doomed to failure and that the base will eventually be forced to return.

  8. Ymar Sakar Says:

    So long as Americans look for miracle solutions from DC, they remain slaves.

  9. Melissa Says:

    I sort of wonder if the ad put out by that Latino group on behalf of Northam had much of an effect on the turnout and results in Va. I know that the DC suburbs in general, both Maryland and Virginia, are home to a lot of immigrants. And I suspect that Trump talk about immigration and travel bans probably turned out a lot of people who badly wanted to vote against anyone in the same party.

    I can only speak anecdotally, but my boyfriend is a 55 year old Moroccan (Muslim) and he hates and fears Trump more than I think is rational. He liked him well enough when he was talking about Mexican immigrants, but when he started talking about Muslims, things changed. I don’t think Trump could do or say anything that would change his opinion at this point.

    From my standpoint, I totally understand why my boyfriend and other immigrants feared Trump and didn’t vote for him. Now that he’s in office though, I think those fears are largely unfounded. Trump has turned out to be far less authoritarian than I thought he would be. And I very much like the fact that he’s rolling back some of what Obama did with his pen and phone. I don’t particularly like the constant tweeting (especially when he is complaining about people) and I wish he had more discipline, but I don’t think he’s the devil that the left portrays him to be. Too bad that reality doesn’t matter. The left has their narrative and that’s pretty much all that will be reported.

  10. Mac Says:

    I live in a very red part of very red Alabama. The state of course went heavily for Trump. You may have heard about our senatorial election that’s in progress. In the Republican primary Trump supported the loser against Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court justice and about as hard-core religious right as you can get. Moore is a fanatic (and I say this as a conservative Christian myself) and something of a flake who is regarded by a whole lot of people as an embarrassment and a danger. Even though he was opposed by Trump he made a somewhat credible case that he was more Trumpian than his opponent.

    So now in the election Moore is facing a very credible and appealing non-crazy Democrat, Doug Jones. I don’t know what the polls are saying now but it’s obvious that Moore is driving a lot of people into voting for the Democrat. I’d be considering it myself if Jones were not committed to supporting his party’s hard line on various social issues–basically if it weren’t for the Supreme Court.

    To judge by the yard sign factor, Moore is losing. The ratio of Jones to Moore yard signs in my area is probably 15 to 1, maybe 20. Truth is I rarely see a Moore sign, but Jones signs are pretty common.

    All by way of saying yes, Trumpian politics may indeed be seriously damaging the Republican Party. Moore is something of a fluke, granted, but he appeals to Trump’s more fervent supporters, and scares the same people Trump does. Yes, the state went for Trump, but Doug Jones is not Hillary.

  11. Yankee Says:

    The national media was all about pushing the idea that this was a big rebuke for Trump and his policies. I think that local factors and the relative weakness of that state’s Republican candidates were more important.

    Up here in Maine, the voters approved Medicaid expansion by referendum, which Governor LePage had vetoed something like five times already. That made the national news, with all the usual suspects cheering it on. Good luck with that one, since there’s no money for it, and taxes are high relative to other states (including Massachusetts). At least that idiotic idea for a casino in York County was overwhelmingly defeated.

  12. The Other Chuck Says:

    Old Flyer sums it very well and without any negative emotional content. Trump needs to reach out and publicly mend fences. The Bannon wing of the party doesn’t want that. They want the so-called GOPe out even if it means the destruction of the Republican Party.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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