Some vot­ers in Vir­ginia split on Trump

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Front Page - By STEVE PEO­PLES and ALAN SUDERMAN

RICH­MOND, Va. — Repub­li­can state Sen. Siobhan Dun­na­vant wanted to avoid talk­ing about Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump as she courted vot­ers this week on Ridge­field Green Way just out­side Vir­ginia’s cap­i­tal city. The mid­dle-aged man at one door didn’t want to talk about any­thing else.

“I’ve only got one question. Do you sup­port Trump?” he asked.

“Yes,” Dun­na­vant replied.

“Then you’ve got my vote,” he said.

On the side­walk a few min­utes later, Dun­na­vant ac­tively dis­tanced her­self from the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent, ac­knowl­edg­ing he is deeply un­pop­u­lar in her district — de­spite the door­way en­counter. The 55-year-old OB-GYN said she’d pre­fer that Trump stay out of Vir­ginia ahead of Tues­day’s high-stakes elec­tions.

“I don’t want to have Wash­ing­ton, D.C., repli­cated in Vir­ginia,” she told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “I’m run­ning a cam­paign on state is­sues and get­ting state things done.”

Dun­na­vant’s dance speaks to the dire threat Trump has cre­ated for Re­pub­li­cans in Vir­ginia and, more broadly, sub­urbs across Amer­ica. This is where higher-ed­u­cated and more af­flu­ent vot­ers — par­tic­u­larly women — have re­volted against Trump’s GOP. These ar­eas leaned Repub­li­can in the past, but amid shift­ing de­mo­graph­ics and Trump’s tur­bu­lent pres­i­dency, they have trans­formed into the na­tion’s premier po­lit­i­cal bat­tle­ground.

Nearly three years into Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, Vir­ginia’s left­ward shift ap­pears to be rapidly ac­cel­er­at­ing. Since the be­gin­ning of 2017, Democrats have won every statewide con­test, made his­toric gains in the House of Del­e­gates and picked up three ad­di­tional con­gres­sional seats. And on Tues­day, Democrats are just a hand­ful of new seats away from seiz­ing con­trol of both cham­bers of the Vir­ginia leg­is­la­ture for the first time in more than two decades.

Vot­ers across sev­eral other states also head to the polls Tues­day, in­clud­ing Mis­sis­sippi and Ken­tucky, whose high-pro­file gu­ber­na­to­rial races have at­tracted Trump’s di­rect in­volve­ment.

But more than any­where, Vir­ginia’s lower-pro­file state leg­isla­tive elec­tions will test the mag­ni­tude of the GOP’s sub­ur­ban slide.

Demo­cratic victories could re­shape the na­tional po­lit­i­cal land­scape in 2020 — and, per­haps more broadly, pol­i­tics across the South for decades.

Like Vir­ginia, sub­ur­ban North Carolina, Ge­or­gia and Texas have seen ex­plo­sive growth and de­mo­graphic shifts in re­cent years that have given Democrats real mo­men­tum, even if they have yet to break through.

“We are a model for the South,” said for­mer Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has served as a chief sur­ro­gate in the state’s leg­isla­tive elec­tions.

Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence will rally vot­ers in

Vir­ginia Beach on Satur­day. But Trump, who is his party’s most pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal weapon, has been no­tice­ably ab­sent. In­stead, the pres­i­dent ded­i­cated time over the week­end to cam­paign in deep-red Mis­sis­sippi and Ken­tucky.

Vir­ginia Repub­li­can Corey Ste­wart, an un­apolo­getic Trump loy­al­ist who was beaten badly in last year’s U.S. Se­nate race, sug­gested Trump would help his party by ral­ly­ing the base in Vir­ginia in what is ex­pected to be a rel­a­tively low-turnout elec­tion. Still, he feared that the elec­tions could be “a com­plete rout” for Re­pub­li­cans.

“Things are so bad right now in Vir­ginia for a Repub­li­can like me,” Ste­wart said. “Things are mov­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion in the sub­urbs.”

Trump cam­paign spokesman Tim Mur­taugh had only this to say about the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to by­pass Vir­ginia: “Pres­i­dent Trump is fo­cused on the places where he can have the great­est im­pact in 2019, and those are in states hav­ing gov­er­nor’s races.”

Trump may be a ma­jor fac­tor in Vir­ginia’s off-year elec­tions, but he was of­ten a silent fac­tor on the ground as sub­ur­ban can­di­dates scram­bled across House and Se­nate dis­tricts knock­ing on doors to en­sure their sup­port­ers’ vote on Tues­day.

Like many sub­ur­ban neigh­bor­hoods across the na­tion, the vot­ers here in Rich­mond’s sub­urbs tend to have more ed­u­ca­tion and more money than those in ru­ral ar­eas. It’s lo­cated in Hen­rico County, where more than 42% of res­i­dents hold a col­lege de­gree and the me­dian house­hold in­come is $66,447.

They have also trended younger and more racially di­verse in re­cent years. Nearly 30% of Hen­rico’s pop­u­la­tion is African Amer­i­can and 8% is Asian, re­flect­ing the changes in pop­u­la­tion growth since 2000 that have ac­com­pa­nied the county’s left­ward shift in re­cent elec­tions.

The vot­ers here are aware of na­tional pol­i­tics, but in­ter­views on the ground this week sug­gest many are more in­vested in lo­cal is­sues that af­fect their fam­i­lies. On the doorstep, vot­ers are more likely to raise con­cerns about ed­u­ca­tion, health care and, per­haps above all, gun vi­o­lence.

Still, one district voter, El­yse Ward, a 31-year-old mar­ket­ing and tech­nol­ogy man­ager who’s ex­pect­ing her first child later this month, said “it goes with­out say­ing” that Trump is on her mind as she weighs next week’s elec­tion.

“I’m ready for him to go,” Ward said.

Four years ago, the Repub­li­can Dun­na­vant won this Se­nate district by al­most 20 points. This year, she’s fac­ing a fierce chal­lenge from De­bra Rod­man, a col­lege pro­fes­sor who said in an in­ter­view this week that Democrats in Vir­ginia’s leg­is­la­ture rep­re­sent a “fire­wall against the crazi­ness in Wash­ing­ton.”

“With Don­ald Trump in the White House, it’s never been more im­por­tant to vote in state elec­tion,” says one of her cam­paign fly­ers.

Yet Rod­man has dif­fi­cult ques­tions to an­swer about her po­lit­i­cal party as well.

Re­pub­li­cans in re­cent days have seized on Wash­ing­ton Democrats’ push to im­peach the pres­i­dent, hop­ing to cast Vir­ginia’s lo­cal elec­tions as a ref­er­en­dum on im­peach­ment.

“Stop the im­peach­ment witch hunt,” one GOP mailer says, with pic­tures of for­mer pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Rep. Adam Schiff all wear­ing witch hats.

AP Photo/Steve Helber

Sheila Bynum-Cole­man (left), greets voter Mike Griz­zard, on Wed­nes­day at a com­plex in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia. Bynum-Cole­man is run­ning against House Speaker Kirk Cox in Novem­ber’s elec­tion.

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