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How Determinative is Winning – or Losing – the Governor’s Race on the Rest of the VA Dem Ticket?

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How much correlation – let alone causation – is there between a party’s performance at the top of the ticket (governor) and the rest of the party’s ticket (LG, AG, House of Delegates)? I looked back historically to 1981 (see numbers below), and a few things jumped out at me.

First off, each election is really unique, and it’s very hard to generalize. Yeah, I know, “duh.” LOL

Second, Virginia has changed a TON since 1981, so I’m not even sure it makes sense to compare 2017 to any election year prior to…I don’t know, 2005? 2001? 1997?

Third, the decline in Democratic House of Delegates seats — from an astounding 96 out of 100 seats in 1960-1962, when Virginia was part of the “solid (Democratic) South,” to just 34 seats in 2002-2004 (and today) — really tells a story about how Virginia has changed, about gerrymandering, about a lot of things. But the correlation between Democratic performance at the top of the ticket and for House of Delegates has been shaky at best. For instance, note that Democrats swept the statewide offices in 1981, 1985 and 1989, yet went from 74 House of Delegates seats in 1981 to just 59 seats after the 1989 elections (a net loss of 15 seats over that period). Also check out 2001, when Democrats won the governorship and also the Lt. Governor’s race, yet got wiped out in the House of Delegates. Or check out the 2013 governor’s race, won by Terry McAuliffe – albeit narrowly – yet with ZERO net gain by Democrats in the House of Delegates. So, sure, all else being equal I’d love to see us win the governor’s race “bigly,” but after looking at the historical numbers, I’m pretty sure that won’t guarantee us big gains in the House of Delegates.

Fourth, while winning the governor’s race doesn’t guarantee wins “down ballot” for Democrats (e.g., Tim Kaine won the governor’s race in 2005, but Dems lost the LG and AG races anyway), LOSING the governor’s race is definitely not a good sign for the rest of the ticket. Thus, since 1981, Dems lost the governor’s race three times out of six elections, and we lost the AG race every single one of those three governor’s race losses and we lost the LG race two of those three times.

Fifth, there’s not necessarily a “dropoff” in votes for the Dems’ LG and AG candidates compared to the gubernatorial candidate. In 2013, for instance, both Ralph Northam and Mark Herring got more votes than Terry McAuliffe (note: this is really not a fair comparison, because McAuliffe had both a Republican and a Libertarian opponent). In 2009, both Jody Wagner and Steve Shannon received more votes than Creigh Deeds (note: this IS a fair comparison). In 2005, both Leslie Byrne and Creigh Deeds received fewer votes (69k and 55k, respectively) than Tim Kaine. In 2001, Tim Kaine received 58k fewer votes than Mark Warner, while Donald McEachin received a whopping 248k fewer votes than Warner. Perhaps the weirdest election results in this regard were in 1993, when the Democrats candidates for governor (Mary Sue Terry) and AG (William Dolan) both lost, yet the Democratic LG candidate (Don Beyer) won — with 214k more votes than Mary Sue Terry! So, bottom line, it’s kind of all over the place when it comes to “dropoff” down ballot on the statewide ticket.

Finally, it’s worth noting that in 6 of the 9 elections I looked at, all three Democrats either won or lost as a team. In the other three elections, 2 of 3 lost (1993), 2 of 3 won (2001) and 2 of 3 lost (2005). So, while far from determinative, I’d sure as heck want us to win – and preferably win big – at the top of the ticket this year, both because that race is inherently important, and also to maximize our chances for LG and AG (and mmmmmayyyybe for the House of Delegates).

1981
WON: Chuck Robb 53.5% (760,357 votes)
WON: Richard Davis 55.4% (750,743 votes)
WON: Gerald Baliles 51.0% (682,410 votes)
LOST: Democrats lost 8 seats in the House of Delegates (going from 74 to 66 seats)

1985
WON: Gerald Baliles 55.2% (741,438 votes)
WON: Doug Wilder 51.8% (685,329 votes)
WON: Mary Sue Terry 61.4% (814,808 votes)
NO CHANGE: Democrats held at 65 seats in the House of Delegates

1989
WON: Doug Wilder 50.2% (896,936 votes)
WON: Don Beyer 54.1% (934,377 votes)
WON: Mary Sue Terry 63.2% (1,096,095 votes)
LOST: Democrats lost 5 seats in the House of Delegates (going from 64 to 59 seats)

1993
LOST: Mary Sue Terry 40.9% (733,527 votes)
WON: Don Beyer 54.5% (947,837 votes)
LOST: William Dolan 43.9% (749,565 votes)
LOST: Democrats lost 6 seats in the House of Delegates (going from 58 to 52 seats)

1997
LOST: Don Beyer 42.6% (738,971 votes)
LOST: L.F. Payne 45.1% (754,404 votes)
LOST: William Dolan 42.4% (702,523 votes)
LOST: Democrats lost 2 seats in the House of Delegates (going from 52 to 50 seats)

2001
WON: Mark Warner 52.2% (984,177 votes)
WON: Tim Kaine 50.3% (925,974 votes)
LOST: Donald McEachin 39.9% (736,431 votes)
LOST: Democrats lost 13 seats in the House of Delegates (going from 47 to 34 seats)

2005
WON: Tim Kaine 51.7% (1,025,942 votes)
LOST: Leslie Byrne 49.3% (956,906 votes)
LOST: Creigh Deeds 49.9% (970,563 votes)
WON: Democrats gained 3 seats in the House of Delegates (going from 37 to 40 seats)

2009
LOST: Creigh Deeds 41.3% (818,950 votes)
LOST: Jody Wagner 43.4% (850,111 votes)
LOST: Stephen Shannon 42.4% (828,687 votes)
LOST: Democrats 5 seats in the House of Delegates (going from 44 to 39 seats)

2013
WON: Terry McAuliffe 47.7% (1,069,789 votes)
WON: Ralph Northam 55.1% (1,213,155 votes)
WON: Mark Herring 49.9% (1,103,777 votes)
NO CHANGE: Democrats neither gained nor lost seats in the HOuse of Delegates (holding at 32 seats)