jump to example.com

A brave new Virginia: Democrats wins about a lot more than Trump

virginiaYou woke up today in a Virginia that is very different than the one you awoke to a day earlier.

Morning of Election Day, the polls had the governor’s race too close to call, a pick ‘em contest between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie, with the caveats that the polls 52 weeks ago had gotten things so wrong, and that Gillespie had dramatically overperformed his own polling three years ago in what turned into a narrow loss to popular U.S. Sen. Mark Warner.

There was no hope, deep down ticket, that Democrats had any hope of making noise in the House of Delegates races on the ballot. Republicans had a 66-34 majority in the House, a demonstration of the power of gerrymandering in a state that has been basically bright blue since 2006, and even the most diehard operatives on the Democratic side would tell you, maybe we pick up eight or nine seats, but even in saying it they were spinning themselves as much as they were spinning you.

The winds seemed to be at the back of Republicans, who from Gillespie down to the local House candidates were running straight from the playbook of Donald Trump, openly tying Virginia Democrats to Latino gangs, supposedly violent leftists, radical gays and lesbians and transgenders, and various and sundry other enemies of the state.

The assumption was that the strategy was going to work, if only because Democrats from Northam on down seemed to be stuck on the defensive, reduced to saying things along the lines of, um, no, actually, we haven’t accepted any campaign contributions from MS-13 this cycle, thanks for asking.

The old axiom in politics is that if you’re explaining, you’re losing, and Democrats had been doing an awful lot of explaining the past few weeks, backed into corners on sanctuary cities, the removal of Confederate statues, even the unity of the statewide ticket after a controversy over a handful of campaign brochures that omitted lieutenant governor nominee Justin Fairfax at the request of a union group.


Former governor Doug Wilder pointedly endorsed Fairfax without offering similar thumbs-ups to Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring last week, as another controversy began to swirl around the early PR for a new book by former DNC chair Donna Brazille that included sensational claims about how the 2016 party nominating process had been rigged in favor of eventual nominee Hillary Clinton.

Best-case scenario for Dems, it seemed, yesterday, was a narrow win for Northam, who maybe could drag Fairfax and Herring across the finish line with him, maybe a pickup of a couple of seats in the House, and then you have something to clamor about next day about how Virginia had delivered a knockout blow to Trump, even if your own scrapes and bruises might suggest something more along the lines of a split decision.

Credit to Virginia Democrats here, who have been winning a string of split decisions dating back more than a decade, to the upset 2006 Senate win for Jim Webb over Republican George Allen, assumed at the time to be an early favorite for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.

Barack Obama won the presidential votes here in 2008 and 2012, the first wins for a Democratic presidential candidate in the Old Dominion since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Warner won election and re-election to the Senate; Tim Kaine won Webb’s Senate seat in 2012, and was tapped as the vice presidential nominee by Clinton in 2016.

There was a blip in 2009, when Republicans swept the three statewide races, but Democrats swept back in 2013.

All that winning, but it was more like your favorite football team winning a string of 24-23 games than it was, say, Alabama dominating everybody on the way to another national championship.

Election Days turned into long Election Nights, with Republicans leading the vote counts into the 10 p.m. hour because of the way returns tend to come in, from southwest to northeast, before the Democratic-rich Golden Crescent votes put the Ds over the top by 11 or 11:15.

That was how yesterday was supposed to go. Northam would be down five to seven points early, then eek out a narrow win before midnight.

That the AP was able to call the race for Northam at 8:12 p.m. was a sign that the conventional wisdom was no longer wise.

Northam ended up defeating Gillespie by nine points. Fairfax outpolled Republican Jill Vogel by five; Herring won re-election as AG by six and a half.

As it became clear that Democrats were headed toward an easy statewide sweep, the noise at the grassroots level became deafening, with Democratic candidates winning seats in districts that the Ds hadn’t even contested last cycle, knocking off House Republican leaders, making even candidates in districts considered bulletproof sweat out the vote to the last couple of precincts.

At the end of the night, the unthinkable was the new reality. Democrats have picked up 16 seats, with recounts expected in three races where Republicans have narrow leads, any one of which tilting back to the D side meaning, again, this was unthinkable as recently as a few hours ago at this writing, Democrats would have a majority in the House in January.

It shows the power of gerrymandering that a nine-point win at the gubernatorial level translates to, currently, anyway, a 50-50 split at the House level, but it also speaks to the strength of the Democratic effort in 2017.

House Democrats are, at worst, now a 50-50 party running in districts drawn up by Republicans to give them a two-thirds supermajority.

What this means going forward is more than, oh, yay, Virginia just sent a message to Donald Trump, a lot more.

The outgoing governor, Terry McAuliffe, staked his single four-year term on trying to get the legislature to expand Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands of Virginians who can’t afford health insurance but don’t qualify for public assistance under our current chintzy program, and failed because of lack of numbers in the General Assembly.

Republicans still have a majority in the State Senate, but the much more moderate Senate GOP leadership had shown a willingness to work with McAuliffe on Medicaid. Northam heads into January with a headwind from his huge election victory, and a girding in the House that makes movement on Medicaid expansion more likely.

Republicans in the General Assembly have been literal roadblocks toward funding improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure, a key impediment toward economic progress in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, in particular, where gridlock means exhausting commutes for workers and slower delivery times for those trying to move goods from Point A to Point B.

Maybe things get moving, literally, there.

One thing you can guarantee is that our political process won’t be bogged down by endless dumb debates over social-issues bills from the likes of the now-deposed “Bathroom Bob” Marshall trying to legislate the LGBTQ+ community out of existence and putting decisions on women’s health into the hands of government bureaucrats.

It’s a brave new world, this new Virginia that we woke up in today. Healthcare is a priority. Transportation solutions are a priority. Public education is a priority. Bathroom bills are on the back bench.

Virginia stands taller now.

It feels good.

Column by Chris Graham