It’s a bad time to be a Republican, post-election 2019.
With a handful of exceptions, the results of Tuesday’s balloting made clear that Virginia voters are trending more firmly Democratic.
Come January’s swearing-in ceremony, Democrats will fully control state government — although the wielding of power will begin even before then, in the pre-filing of bills and preparations of committee assignments.
Democrats already hold the governorship, lieutenant governorship and attorney generalship. Majority victories in both the state Senate and House of Delegates give them a clean sweep in state leadership.
Voters previously had created a version of checks-and-balances by electing Democrats to statewide offices and maintaining Republican majorities in the House and Senate. That meant neither party had unobstructed power to push its ideas through. It meant each party had to negotiate with its opponent and reach a level of compromise in order to get things done.
Or rather, that’s what it meant in theory, at least. Yes, sometimes the process worked exactly that way.
But too often it resulted in stalemate rather than compromise and progress. Take, for example, the Republicans’ stonewalling of a special session this past summer that was supposed to address tightened gun legislation following the mass shooting in Virginia Beach.
Gov. Ralph Northam had played the card of partisanship in the first place when calling for the special session. Republicans countered his play by convening the session as ordered, but adjourning after a mere 90 minutes without substantive action — delivering a slap in the face to the gun-control group.
Republicans might have thought voters would forget about this maneuver and its implied insult come Election Day. They might have thought they had sufficient political strength to withstand any potential backlash. They might have thought they would energize their base, generating an even greater level of support among conservatives.
They were wrong.
We suspect that the terminated gun control session became the final straw for liberals who had watched most of their legislative proposals come to grief in the GOP-dominated legislature.
We suspect that the gun session energized them much more than it strengthened the Republicans. After all, Democrats already were invigorated by legislative gains made in the 2017 election. While politics is fickle and political momentum can shift or fade, that does not seem to have occurred here. Democrats moved from strength to strength, capitalizing on previous gains and fanning voter enthusiasm for change.
A few other possible influences ought to be considered, as well.
» One is money. Although Republicans are generally held to be the party of big money, this year Democrats — including out-of-state interests — funneled large donations into Virginia, considered a bellwether state. Much of the money was used to “test drive” messages that might be used in the 2020 election cycle, reports The Associated Press.
» Additionally, Virginia has been trending more Democratic over the past several elections. Much of this has to do with changing demographics, in two regards:
In recent decades, Virginia has attracted more residents from other, and often more liberal, states — changing the make-up of the commonwealth’s voter pool — although most recently, reports the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center, in-migration has slowed and out-migration has accelerated.
Many of these new residents have flocked to growing suburbs in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads, drawn by jobs. Meanwhile, the commonwealth’s rural counties have been losing population, reports the center — some seeing significant loss. Rural residents are typically more conservative than suburbanites, and so the growing concentration of population in urban and suburban regions intensifies the liberal vs. conservative divide and adds an urban vs. rural geographical component as well.
Democratic House candidate Elizabeth Alcorn cited that division in her loss to Republican incumbent Rob Bell in the 58th District.
“If state Democrats are serious about changing districts and winning elections, they need to put their money where their mouths are and recruit and support candidates in rural districts,” she said.
Regionally, most Republicans bucked the statewide trend, with incumbents holding onto their seats or — as in the case of Chris Runion in the 25th House District, where an incumbent was retiring — installing a replacement Republican.
Locally, votes followed the trend, with Democrats winning handily in Charlottesville City Council and Albemarle Board of Supervisors elections, and even in races for supposedly non-partisan constitutional offices such as Albemarle commonwealth’s attorney.
The growth of Democratic power is no longer just a trend; instead, Democratic dominance is now an accomplished fact. Virginia is in for further changes as that power shift begins to shape state policy and state legislation.