Vir­ginia elec­tion out­come re­flects state’s shift

The Garden Island - - Morning Briefing - DON­ALD LAMBRO

Vir­ginia Repub­li­cans were lick­ing their wounds this week af­ter a hu­mil­i­at­ing elec­tion beat­ing from the Democrats, who swept every statewide elec­tive of­fice on the bal­lot.

If there was any doubt that once hard-core, con­ser­va­tive Vir­ginia, for­merly the seat of the old Con­fed­er­acy, was now firmly in lib­eral Demo­cratic hands, Tues­day’s off-year elec­tion nailed that hard real­ity into the his­tory books.

At last count, Demo­crat Ralph Northam, the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, crushed Repub­li­can Ed Gille­spie — a long­time GOP strate­gist — by 54 per­cent to 45 per­cent of the vote to be­come the state’s next gov­er­nor.

More than any­thing else, Gille­spie’s de­feat was seen as a re­buke of Pres­i­dent Trump, whom Northam called a “nar­cis­sis­tic ma­niac,” while crit­i­ciz­ing his op­po­nent for not “stand­ing up to” the pres­i­dent’s poli­cies.

Through­out his cam­paign, Gille­spie kept his dis­tance from Trump, who did not cam­paign for him, and al- most never men­tioned the pres­i­dent in his speeches.

“Ed Gille­spie worked hard but did not em­brace me or what I stand for,” Trump tweeted from South Korea shortly be­fore the fi­nal vote was in.

But in the cam­paign’s fi­nal weeks, as polling num­bers showed Northam strength­en­ing his lead, Gille­spie was not able to change course, nor have much of an im­pact in a state that had grown more Demo­cratic and where Trump was un­pop­u­lar. Re­cent statewide polls gave Trump a 38 per­cent job ap­proval score.

Voter exit polls on Tues­day showed that 28 per­cent of vot­ers iden­ti­fied them­selves as lib­er­als, eight points higher than ear­lier elec­tions.

The same exit polls showed Northam’s voter base was pro­pelled by white, col­lege-ed­u­cated women, vot­ers who wor­ried about health care, and Vir­gini­ans who said they “strongly dis­ap­prove” of Trump pol­i­tics.

Mean­time, the Repub­li­can base had shrunk to just 31 per­cent of the elec­torate, a new low in the party’s vot­ing strength.

An­other strate­gic fac­tor was the wide po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sion be­tween heav­ily Demo­cratic North­ern Vir­ginia and the rest of the state, which is largely ru­ral and re­mains gen­er­ally more con­ser­va­tive.

In the last two decades or so, there’s been a sig­nif­i­cant mi­gra­tion from the Washington metropoli­tan ar­eas into North­ern Vir­ginia, in­clud­ing by many mi­nori­ties, who have moved up the in­come scale and trans­formed the state’s pol­i­tics by mak­ing that re­gion more Demo­cratic.

Prince Wil­liam County, for ex­am­ple, has more mi­nori­ties than whites. In up­per-in­come Loudoun County, the white pop­u­la­tion has de­clined by al­most 30 per­cent since 2000, while Asians are its largest mi­nor­ity group, mak­ing up 17 per­cent of the county.

The state’s grow­ing di­ver­sity was a ma­jor fac­tor help­ing to elect Justin Fair­fax as lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, the first African-Amer­i­can to win a statewide elec­tion in Vir­ginia since L. Dou­glas Wilder won the gov­er­nor­ship in 1989.

It was a nasty gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign on both sides in the TV ad wars. Gille­spie ran weeks of ads that dealt with crime, vi­o­lent Latino “MS-13” gangs and sex of­fend­ers — is­sues that don’t make the top-five list of the vot­ers’ ma­jor con­cerns.

In the fi­nal days of the race, Gille­spie ran a pow­er­ful ad in which he talked about the state’s weak econ­omy that had fallen well be­hind most other states in the coun­try. Had he be­gun his cam­paign on those bread-and-but­ter is­sues that mat­ter most to Vir­gini­ans, he would have run a much more com­pet­i­tive race, and maybe would have won.

Gille­spie is a bright, knowl­edge­able, hard­work­ing guy, who would have been a great gov­er­nor. Un­for­tu­nately, he ran the wrong kind of cam­paign that failed to rec­og­nize the state’s chang­ing po­lit­i­cal com­plex­ion.

Mean­time, the broader po­lit­i­cal pic­ture in next year’s elec­tions is look­ing bleaker for the Democrats and rosier for Repub­li­cans.

The rea­son: Repub­li­cans will be de­fend­ing just eight seats in the 2018 Se­nate elec­tions, while the Democrats will be fight­ing to hold nearly two dozen seats, plus two oth­ers held by in­de­pen­dents who cau­cus with the Democrats.

Many of th­ese Demo­cratic seats are up for grabs in deeply con­ser­va­tive states that Trump car­ried last year, in­clud­ing Mon­tana, Mis­souri, In­di­ana, North Dakota and West Vir­ginia.

“The GOP could amass a fil­i­buster-proof ma­jor­ity by run­ning the ta­ble in those states and other bat­tle­grounds,” Politico re­ported.

There’s a lot at stake in the 2018 midterm elec­tions, but don’t ex­pect the po­lit­i­cal dis­course to im­prove much af­ter this month’s slug-fest in the Old Do­min­ion.

If any­thing, it’s prob­a­bly go­ing to get a lot uglier. ••• Don­ald Lambro has been cov­er­ing Washington pol­i­tics for more than 50 years as a reporter, ed­i­tor and com­men­ta­tor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.