Va. Dems hope to make gains in 2019

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Alan Su­d­er­man

RICH­MOND — With the midterms over, Vir­ginia Democrats are look­ing to keep rid­ing a wave of voter dis­con­tent with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and take con­trol of the state leg­is­la­ture next year.

Vir­ginia is set to re­turn to the na­tional po­lit­i­cal spot­light in 2019 when all 140 state House and Se­nate seats will be up for grabs. It's one of only a hand­ful of states with off-year elec­tions, and will host some of the coun­try's most com­pet­i­tive leg­isla­tive con­tests.

Repub­li­cans cur­rently hold ra­zor-thin ma­jori­ties in the House of Del­e­gates and the state Se­nate, but have been on a los­ing streak since Trump took of­fice. They've lost a near su­per­ma­jor­ity in the state House and three U.S. House seats. Democrats want to build on that mo­men­tum and are work­ing to re­cruit can­di­dates and iden­tify key races to tar­get.

"We're on a roll in this state," said Demo­cratic Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Dick Saslaw.

On Tues­day, Democrats dom­i­nated a U.S. Se­nate race and flipped three con­gres­sional dis­tricts. The suc­cess mir­rored last year's closely watched race for gover­nor, where Democrats trounced Repub­li­cans in all three statewide races in 2017 and won more seats in the state House than vir­tu­ally any­one ex­pected.

Democrats Abi­gail Span­berger and Elaine Luria both won close con­gres­sional races Tues­day thanks to strong show­ings among sub­ur­ban vot­ers un­happy with Trump. Now state Democrats are ey­ing a num­ber of GOP-held leg­isla­tive seats in those same ar­eas as po­ten­tial tar­gets.

"Based on last night's re­sults, we're feel­ing very good about our prospects," said Del. David Toscano, the leader of the state House Democrats.

Vir­ginia's off-year leg­isla­tive elec­tions and sta­tus as a quasi-swing state make it an at­trac­tive place for out-of­s­tate groups to get in­volved, boost­ing at­ten­tion on the races and na­tion­al­iz­ing the de­bate.

In 2015, a gun-con­trol group backed by for­mer New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent mil­lions in an un­suc­cess­ful bid to help Democrats take con­trol of the state Se­nate. And Vir­ginia was swarmed with lib­eral-lean­ing out­side groups last year, look­ing to send a mes­sage of re­buke to the pres­i­dent dur­ing his first year in of­fice.

Up­ping the ante for next year's elec­tions is the fact that the win­ners will get to draw the state's con­gres­sional and leg­isla­tive bound­aries for the next decade. Af­ter Repub­li­cans suc­cess­fully won key statelevel races around the coun­try in 2010 to help con­trol the re­dis­trict­ing process, Democrats have made it a top pri­or­ity to re­verse those gains ahead of the 2021 re­dis­trict­ing.

Vir­ginia pro­vides na­tional party or­ga­ni­za­tions and out­side groups a good venue to fine-tune mes­sag­ing and meth­ods ahead of ma­jor elec­tion cy­cles, said Chris Jankowski, a GOP op­er­a­tive who helped Repub­li­cans keep con­trol of the state Se­nate in 2015.

"It's typ­i­cally the party that got beat in the midterm that's try­ing new things in the run up to the next one," he said.

State Repub­li­cans said they ex­pect many tough races, but said keep­ing con­trol of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly is not a lost cause. They pointed out that Span­berger and Luria won with small mar­gins and were helped by hav­ing Sen. Tim Kaine, a pop­u­lar in­cum­bent, at the top of the ticket. Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date Corey Ste­wart, a die-hard Trump sup­porter and out­spo­ken ad­vo­cate of pre­serv­ing Con­fed­er­ate im­agery, had lit­tle money and per­formed poorly in key sub­ur­ban dis­tricts.

For­mer GOP Del. Greg Habeeb said the Rich­mond and Hamp­ton Roads sub­urbs, as well as the outer sub­urbs of North­ern Vir­ginia, are bat­tle­grounds that Repub­li­cans can win with the right can­di­dates, tone and mes­sage.

"The sub­urbs are to­tally will­ing to vote for Repub­li­cans still," he said.

Sen. Frank Wag­ner of Vir­ginia Beach, where Luria beat in­cum­bent Rep. Scott Tay­lor, said he's not wor­ried about be­ing a top tar­get of Democrats next year.

He said his take­away from Tues­day's elec­tion was that health care was fore­most on vot­ers' minds. Wag­ner noted he broke with his party ear­lier this year to sup­port ex­pand­ing Med­ic­aid ear­lier and said he'll works to con­trol health care costs dur­ing next year's leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

"I'm much more is­sue fo­cused, I think my con­stituents rec­og­nize that," he said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.