Vir­ginia vot­ers said their choices were shaped more by their at­ti­tude to­ward Pres­i­dent Trump than by the can­di­dates on the bal­lot.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY PAUL SCHWARTZMAN

Michael Ross has been a loyal Repub­li­can for as long as he can re­mem­ber. But vot­ing in Vir­ginia’s gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion Tues­day, the re­tired ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive said he re­jected ev­ery Repub­li­can on the bal­lot and chose Democrats — whether he knew any­thing about them or not.

His rea­sons were not rooted in any par­tic­u­lar can­di­date, is­sue or a change in po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, but in an ever-ex­pand­ing an­tipa­thy to­ward Pres­i­dent Trump and the party that pro­pelled him to the White House.

“I’ve been with the Repub­li­cans my whole life, but what the party has been do­ing is ap­palling,” said Ross, 72, as he was about to get a hair­cut Wed­nes­day in Lor­ton, a sub­urb about 20 miles south of Wash­ing­ton. “It’s com­pletely di­vi­sive, and the pol­i­tics of this coun­try has gone berserk. Trump has demon­strated that he doesn’t de­serve to be pres­i­dent.”

On the bal­lot, Vir­ginia’s elec­tion was about the state’s fu­ture and who would as­sume a slew of elec­tive of­fices, from gov­er­nor to at­tor­ney gen­eral to seats in the House of Del­e­gates. Yet a year af­ter Trump won the White House, vot­ers in Vir­ginia said in post-elec­tion in­ter­views that their choices were shaped more by their at­ti­tude to­ward the pres­i­dent than any can­di­date close to home.

Ask them to iden­tify an is­sue cham­pi­oned by Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D), and they may fum­ble for an an­swer. Ask them the name of the man who was elected lieu­tenant gov­er­nor and they might have to think for a mo-

Ask them to iden­tify who they chose for the House of Del­e­gates, and they were likely to re­ply with a blank stare.

But ask them why they voted Demo­cratic, and their answers were pre­cise and in­fused with anger.

“I don’t like Trump and I don’t like where our pol­i­tics are go­ing,” said Patty Potts, 48, an ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram­mer who lives in Lor­ton. Her hus­band, Mike Potts, 51, a soft­ware process en­gi­neer, re­gards him­self as a fis­cal con­ser­va­tive and a loyal Repub­li­can who re­searches can­di­dates be­fore vot­ing. But he chose only Democrats on Tues­day, and said he didn’t need to study the can­di­dates’ bi­ogra­phies or po­si­tions.

The fact that they weren’t Repub­li­cans was all he needed to know.

“The Repub­li­cans are just so neg­a­tive,” Mike Potts said. “We have kids — 10 and 7 — and we need a lit­tle hope. The Repub­li­cans aren’t giv­ing us any. I’m protest­ing and it feels good in the sense that I’m reg­is­ter­ing my con­cerns about it. Nor­mally I would like to know a lit­tle more about whom I’m vot­ing for, but right now I’m over­whelmed by the protest as­pect of it.”

His sen­ti­ment was shared by Democrats, who said they were fo­cused more on who they were op­pos­ing than who they were sup­port­ing.

“It could have been Dr. Seuss or the Beren­stain Bears on the bal­lot and I would have voted for them if they were a Demo­crat,” Toren Beasley, 60, a mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive, said as he left a Star­bucks in Lor­ton. “I might do more analy­ses in other years. But in this case, no. No one else gets any con­sid­er­a­tion be­cause what’s go­ing on with the Repub­li­cans — I’m talk­ing about Trump and his cast of char­ac­ters — is stupid, stupid, stupid. I can’t say ‘stupid’ enough times.”

Northam is a soft-spo­ken man who twice voted for Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and was lit­tle known be­fore his bid to suc­ceed Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Yet the gov­er­nor-elect was the re­cip­i­ent of more votes than any can­di­date in the com­mon­wealth’s history of gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paigns, and he got more votes than any Vir­ginia Demo­crat in the past 32 years.

The out­pour­ing is rooted in the state’s pop­u­la­tion growth, as well as the fury pro­voked by Trump’s pres­i­dency. But it’s less cer­tain whether Northam’s nine per­cent­age-point vic­tory over Repub­li­can Ed Gille­spie — and De­mo­ment. crats pick­ing up 15 House seats in the Gen­eral Assem­bly — is ev­i­dence that vot­ers are em­brac­ing Demo­cratic poli­cies.

“The dan­ger is that the party mis­reads the elec­tion as a man­date — win­ners do this all the time,” said Mark Rozell, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity. “They take a land­slide vic­tory and make it an af­fir­ma­tion of every­thing that they cam­paigned on, their pol­icy po­si­tions, and them­selves per­son­ally, when in re­al­ity it’s that the other can­di­date is worse or un­ac­cept­able. Or it’s about a na­tional po­lit­i­cal cli­mate that was driv­ing the Demo­cratic mo­bi­liza­tion.”

Rep. Ger­ald E. Con­nolly (D), whose district in­cludes North­ern Vir­ginia, said he was reluc­tant to in­ter­pret Tues­day’s re­sults as a man­date if only be­cause “any­one who claims it al­most al­ways over­reaches.”

But Con­nolly said Demo­cratic vic­to­ries in the leg­isla­tive races, as well as the top statewide con­tests, rep­re­sent a con­sol­i­da­tion of Demo­cratic power, par­tic­u­larly in North­ern Vir­ginia, where Repub­li­cans were trounced.

“It was an af­fir­ma­tion of a Demo­cratic ap­proach,” he said. “Trump fu­eled what hap­pened, and the fuel was red hot and in­tense. But it wasn’t a mindless re­ac­tion to Trump. It was a cog­nizant choice to switch course to a more open, in­clu­sive and wel­com­ing agenda.”

Not in all cases. Even if they re­ject Trump, sev­eral vot­ers said they re­main open to Repub­li­can can­di­dates.

Kathryn Shaw, 57, a home­maker who lives in Stafford, thinks Trump is a “mega­lo­ma­niac — every­thing is about him, it’s not about the coun­try. It’s about his ego and how he’s be­ing per­ceived.” But Shaw said she voted for Gille­spie be­cause “I didn’t like what Northam stood for,” cit­ing his abor­tion rights stance.

“As long as the Repub­li­can doesn’t seem crazy, I will vote for them,” Shaw said. “Trump is the ex­cep­tion, not the rule. It’s his per­son­al­ity, not what he’s do­ing. He just doesn’t seem sta­ble.”

Paul Gal­lagher, 51, a con­sul­tant who lives in Lor­ton, also voted for Gille­spie even though he dis­likes Trump. Gal­lagher, who prefers to sup­port can­di­dates on a case-by­case ba­sis, said that the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was when he used his vote to send a mes­sage. He re­jected Trump and Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton and sup­ported Gary John­son, the Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date.

“Both par­ties can be ef­fec­tive or in­ef­fec­tive,” he said. “The coun­try is po­lar­ized. We need peo­ple to go down the mid­dle.”

But other vot­ers said they are suf­fi­ciently re­pelled by Trump’s con­duct as pres­i­dent — the tone of his rhetoric, his use of Twit­ter — that they saw the elec­tion as a chance to re­buke the Repub­li­can Party as a whole.

“Trump is very rude, he has no heart, and I be­lieve, as a Chris­tian, you have to give re­spect in or­der to get it,” said Dawn Smith, 55, a cashier at Gi­ant who lives in Wood­bridge and who voted for the Demo­cratic ticket. “He’s al­ways try­ing to de­stroy peo­ple, send peo­ple back to their coun­tries. I just don’t like the guy.”

Martin An­drews, 66, a re­tired con­tract­ing pur­chaser who lives in Fair­fax Sta­tion, said he voted for Ron­ald Rea­gan and Ge­orge H.W. Bush, but said he used his vote for Northam to con­vey his un­hap­pi­ness with how Trump com­ports him­self.

“I just think we’ve be­come less civil in our dis­course and that Trump is set­ting the tone,” he said. “He’s com­ing from a place where it’s im­pos­si­ble to in­ter­face with the other party — and we just don’t need that.”

Dave Hughes, 59, a Web de­signer who lives in Spring­field, said he was more fo­cused on Wash­ing­ton than Vir­ginia as he voted for Northam on Tues­day. His mis­sion, he said as he sat out­side a Pan­era Bread, was “send­ing Trump a mes­sage that we’re not go­ing to sit back any­more.”

That nei­ther Northam nor Gille­spie im­pressed him was of no sig­nif­i­cance, he said. What mat­tered more was that “Trump would take credit if Gille­spie won,” Hughes said. “That was his thing, and that could not hap­pen.”

Sit­ting with her cup of soup in­side the Pan­era, San­dra Kil­burn, a re­tired pe­di­atric phys­i­cal ther­a­pist, re­counted hav­ing voted for Ge­orge H.W. Bush and other Repub­li­cans.

But Democrats were her choice Tues­day — up and down the bal­lot.

“Our non­pres­i­den­tial pres­i­dent,” she said, cit­ing her rea­son. “I’m ap­palled.”

“The coun­try is po­lar­ized. We need peo­ple to go down the mid­dle.” Paul Gal­lagher, a Lor­ton con­sul­tant who voted for Ed Gille­spie

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