Last night in Kansas, there was a special election for Congress in a bright-red district (the 4th, centered on Wichita — not coincidentally home of Koch Industries) won by Donald Trump this past November by a whopping 27 points over Hillary Clinton. Yet last night, the Republican candidate (Ron Estes) – who aims to be the “next Congressman from Koch [Industries]” – only managed to squeak by with a 53%-46% win after last-minute interventions by the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. That’s right: this was a swing of 20 points away from the Republicans and towards the “blue team” (a “Berniecrat” no less) in the heart of Trump’s America.
Two important caveats and then I’ll make my points: 1) this was a special election, and those can be super flaky in terms of turnout and results; 2) right now Donald Trump is unpopular and Democrats are fired up, but of course that could change between now and November 2017 (or 2018, for that matter). Still, let’s just say there were (and again, just to be clear, this is highly hypothetical, unlikely, etc.) a 20-point swing — or even a 5-point or 10-point swing — in some of the reddest parts of Virginia; how could that impact this year’s Virginia elections for governor, LG, AG and House of Delegates? Here are a few thoughts.
- In 2013, Terry McAuliffe only defeated Ken Cuccinelli by 2.5 percentage points and just 56,000 votes out of 2.2 million cast. That compares to turnout of about 4 million in November 2016, and a 5.3-point margin of victory for Hillary Clinton.
- Cuccinelli racked up big margins of victory in rural and suburban/exurban parts of the state, such as: Hanover County (+13,000 votes), Bedford County (+12,000), Augusta County (+9,000), Rockingham County (+9,000), Chesterfield County (+8,000), Roanoke County (+8,000), Frederick County (+7,000), Campbell County (+7,000), Pittsylvania County (+6,000), Washington County (+6,000), Spotsylvania County (+5,500), Fauquier County (+5,000), Stafford County (+5,000), Franklin County (+5,000), Tazewell County (+5,000), and a bunch of smaller counties with margins of a few hundred to a few thousand.
- Meanwhile, Terry McAuliffe racked up his margins in more urban/suburban places like Fairfax County (+68,000 votes), Arlington County (+34,000), Richmond City (+33,000), Alexandria City (+20,000), Norfolk City (+20,000), Henrico County (+14,000), Portsmouth City (+11,000), Newport News (+8,000), Prince William County (+8,000), Petersburg City (+6,000), etc.
- Notice that Cooch’s support was more spread out, with smaller margins among a larger number of (mostly rural) jurisdictions. In contrast, McAuliffe’s support – as is the case with Democrats generally these days – was more concentrated in a few big cities and/or urban counties, mostly in the urban/suburban “crescent” from NOVA to Richmond City to Hampton Roads.
- So what happens if Republican turnout is depressed this November and Democratic turnout is high because…well, Democrats are f’ing pissed? In Kansas last night, according to David Weigel of the Washington Post, “[Republican] Estes won just 38 percent as many votes as then-Rep. Mike Pompeo (R) last year, and [Democrat] Thompson won 68 percent as many votes as the Democrat who lost to him. In most congressional districts, that sort of turnout gap would have carried the Democrat to victory.”
- Let’s say that there’s anything like that massive “dropoff” gap here in Virginia this November, with Republicans “dropping off” in much larger numbers (for a change) than Democrats? What that could do, of course, is to lead to a much larger victory statewide for Democrats this year than in 2013, and also potentially in the 17 House of Delegates districts Hillary Clinton won but that are currently held by a Republican delegate. Heck, even in some districts Hillary Clinton didn’t win, if Republican “dropoff” is anything like what it was in KS-04 last night, then watch out.
- Leading up to the elections this November, I’d keep an eye on places like the ones I noted above — Fairfax County, Arlington County, Richmond City, Norfolk City, Henrico County, etc for the Dems; Hanover County, Bedford County, Augusta County, Rockingham County, etc. for the Republicans — and see how voter enthusiasm is looking. If it’s like it is now, with Dems fired up and Republicans kinda “meh,” then we’re talking potentially about big gains for Democrats this November. If not, then we’re potentially talking more about a scenario similar to 2013.
- Of course, again, that was a special election in Kansas last night, and those are flaky. Plus, Virginia’s elections aren’t until November, and a lot could happen by then to change the dynamics we’re seeing now. Still, if I were Virginia GOP Chair John Whitbeck or House Speaker-in-Waiting Kirk Cox (R), I’d be pretty nervous right about now…