Here’s a guide on what to watch for — and not — on Election Day
They couldn’t be more different but they couldn’t be more similar.
Two Virginia localities — one, a suburb in the southeastern Tidewater; the other, countryside in the southwestern mountains — are, according to operatives in both political parties, emerging as new signposts in state politics and could say a lot about its direction after Tuesday’s midterm congressional elections.
But a caveat: The lopsided Senate contest — a well-financed, highly organized Clinton Democrat, Tim Kaine, against a poorly financed, somewhat organized Trump Republican, Corey Stewart — could produce an exaggerated result, overstating Democratic muscle in areas where the party is strong and those where it may be strengthening.
That would include these new bellwethers — Chesapeake, in Hampton Roads, and Montgomery County, at the gateway to Virginia’s rugged panhandle.
If Democrats win in both it would signal fresh inroads by the party among ordinarily Republican workingclass, military and rural voters. However, population growth and demographic change may prove more powerful factors.
Either way, Democrats could simultaneously expand their footprint and their appeal, auguring opportunities in the 2019 elections to decide the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate, both of which have slender Republican majorities.
This could ripple through other areas, generating unexpected Democratic wins but, more likely, less asymmetrical Democratic losses, perhaps a consequence of local considerations.
For example, in Nelson County, which went Republican in 2016 and 2017 — comfortably in the former; narrowly in the latter — might Kaine prevail because his green-ish credentials appeal to voters in both parties alarmed by a Dominion Energy natural gas pipeline that will soon slice through the county?
And might that pull along Leslie Cockburn, a fullthroated pipeline foe, running for Congress against Republican Denver Riggleman, himself a pipeline skeptic from Nelson, in the open, GOP-friendly, New Jersey-sized 5th District?
Also, keep an eye on Louisa County. Not that it will resist its Republican reflex, but its pattern of development might allow Democrats, such as 7th District congressional nominee Abigail Spanberger, to be more competitive.
Zion Crossroads, on the Louisa-Fluvanna County line, is a magnet for retirees from reliably Democratic Charlottesville. They were among the nearly 80 activists who turned out this past Thursday night at an Italian restaurant in the town of Louisa for a Spanberger getout-the-vote meeting fueled by platitudes and pizza.
Chesapeake is among 10 cities and counties — all of them in Virginia’s urbansuburban eastern crescent — with populations of roughly 200,000 to nearly 1.2 million that are the foundation of the current Democratic ascendancy.
If all of these localities tip Democratic, as they did in the 2017 gubernatorial election, there are not enough votes in the remaining 123 counties and cities for a Republican to catch up in a statewide contest.
This is the Republicans’ dilemma: locked out of the state’s vote troves — and denied statewide office for nearly a decade — they have relied on gerrymandering to retain their grip on the legislature. It is a grip, nonetheless, weakened by Virginia’s ballooning suburbs and the voters therein: affluent, educated; the majority of whom are women and more of whom are non-white.
Of the top-10 vote-rich localities, Chesapeake and Chesterfield County, a Richmond suburb, have resisted the Democratic pull longer than the others. But even before they began surrendering red for blue, these longtime Republican bulwarks were delivering fewer and fewer votes for the GOP.
Chesapeake — a young city, fringed by farmland, that is home to urban blacks, suburban whites and active and retired military — was carried by President Donald Trump and Gov. Ralph Northam. This Republican-to-Democratic flip was hastened by pushback to Trump in a Hillary Clinton-carried state that manifested itself as a spike in off-year turnout.
Next door, Virginia
Beach, won by Trump and Northam, is the anchor of the Republican-held 2nd District. It’s the hometown of first-termer Scott Taylor, who led Democrat Elaine Luria by 7 percentage points in an October poll by Christopher Newport University.
Kaine might help Luria hold down Taylor’s advantage there, possibly making for a Democratic upset. But outside of Virginia Beach, a seaside suburb, this year’s target audience — prosperous, college-educated woman — thins out.
Chesterfield, barely carried by Trump and Northam, is a special case.
It has known Kaine since he entered elective politics in 1994 as a member of Richmond City Council and has been charitable toward him even when voting against him. In 2005, when Kaine was elected governor, it was clear that he had won after Chesterfield reported an underwhelming, 5,000vote majority for his GOP opponent.
This good will for Kaine, assuming it wells up Tuesday, could help lift Spanberger over Republican incumbent Dave Brat. A Chesterfield win for her, paired with improved Democratic performance in Spotsylvania and Culpeper counties, both targeted by Spanberger advertising on Washington television, could mean game over for him.
Montgomery County was won by Clinton and Northam and dumped a Republican delegate for a Democratic challenger. Two reasons for this: the town of Blacksburg, home of Virginia Tech, and the city of Radford, home of Radford University. These state schools ensure a steady and growing supply of voters — these days, Democrats.
Montgomery’s accelerating Democratic proclivity will be a challenge for Republicans in the 2021 redistricting. It is a blue island in a sea of red that, should Democrats take back the General Assembly and take control of mapmaking, could squeeze out a Republican seat in the House of Delegates that stands between two Democratic districts.
If you’re looking for certainty — or what passes for it in politics — look no further than heavily Democratic Northern Virginia, the boundaries of which are slowly creeping south along Interstate 95, toward Republican-leaning Stafford County, and west, out Virginia 50 across deep-red farm country, to the West Virginia line.
It’s not whether the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and majorityminority Prince William — Stewart’s home — and the cities therein, go Democratic, it’s whether they go Democratic by big margins.
No one appreciates this more than Barbara Comstock, the 10th District Republican who survived the Clinton wave in the D.C. suburbs in 2016 by running against Trump.
Facing Jennifer Wexton, Comstock is now running from Trump — and into a perfect storm of angry partisans and angrier newcomers, a number of whom are foreign-born and, because of a xenophobic president, feel unwelcome in their adoptive home.
And after Tuesday, so could the last of the region’s Republican legislators.
This is the Republicans’ dilemma: locked out of the state’s vote troves — and denied statewide office for nearly a decade — they have relied on gerrymandering to retain their grip on the legislature.