Here’s a guide on what to watch for — and not — on Elec­tion Day

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - LOCAL PERSPECTIVES - Jeff E. Con­tact Jeff E. Schapiro at (804) 649-6814 or jschapiro@ timesdis­ Watch his video col­umn and lis­ten to his pod­cast on Rich­ Fol­low him on Face­book and on Twit­ter, @RTDSchapiro. Lis­ten to his anal­y­sis 8:45 a.m. Fri­day on WCVE, 88.

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.

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