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The Coming Nightmare for Virginia Republicans

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by HeartCooksBrain, cross posted from Daily Kos

The returns are in, and let’s recap. We’ve just won the Virginia governorship, lieutenant governorship, and attorney general’s race again. And we did it by a wide margin of 8.9 percentage points, our best gubernatorial showing since the blowout win of 1985. That’s something to celebrate.  For all the concern trolling about how Democrats were too focused on urban areas, not focused enough on on urban voters, too aggressive, not aggressive enough, nationalizing the race too much, not nationalizing the race enough, and a variety of other preemptive autopsies, we beat the best Virginia Republicans had to offer. By a lot.

And in the House of Delegates, we flipped what looks to be 15-16 seats. That’s also a big deal. Even in good years, Democrats have never been able to pick off more than a few seats. So our performance this year was great. Some people may be disappointed about not flipping the chamber, but 17 seats was always the furthest of stretch goals for many reasons, not the least of which was that Virginia Democrats always considered it a two-cycle project anyway. That fact that it almost came true is astounding.

But let’s not talk about tonight. Let’s talk about the next three years. Because they won’t be pretty for Virginia Republicans. Now sure, outside of a few states where the remaining “yellow dog” strength is in the process of drying up, Republicans everywhere will not have an easy time under the Trump administration. It’s just the cyclic nature of politics. But even by those standards, Virginia Republicans have some hardships ahead, perhaps the worst of any in the country. To see why, let’s take a walk through the next three years.

2018

Let me begin by saying Tim Kaine is fairly popular, and Clinton fairly comfortably won Virginia in 2016, so even in a better environment, it wouldn’t be easy to dislodge him. Under Trump, that task is fairly daunting. But Corey Stewart? Seriously? He is the embodiment of everything that has cost Republicans Virginia in recent years, and then some. Republicans would be better off not putting anyone on the ballot and hoping Democratic turnout suffers. But blowing their small chance at knocking off Tim Kaine isn’t nearly the extent of 2018. Republicans also have to play defense in the US House.

Let’s look at those races, shall we? The most obviously vulnerable Republican-held seat is Barbara Comstock’s, in the 10th District. Now, I know that it’s early, but she’s in deep shit. First off, Comstock’s in a Clinton district, and not just any Clinton district, but one that went for her by a margin of 10 points. That same year, against a competent, but admittedly 2nd-tier challenger, she won by 5.8 percentage points, and that was when just about every voter in the district believed that Clinton was going to be president. Now you can take this poll with a grain of salt, but the DCCC polled 9 of the most endangered house Republicans, and things looked dire for Comstock, even before Tuesday. She was the worst off of the bunch, losing 39%-48% against a generic Democrat, with approvals at 32%-48%, and Trump underwater with a brutal 37%-59% spread. And consider this:

  • Clinton won a majority in 12 HoD districts, and we won all of them Tuesday Night. Clinton won 52.2% of the vote in VA-10.
  • A full 7 of the 15-16 HoD districts we picked up Tuesday night were wholly or partly in VA-10, which covers 9% of the state.
  • Clinton won VA-10 by 10.0 percentage points. Northam won it by 12.8 percentage points.
  • The county that swung the farthest from T-Mac to Northam is Loudoun. He won it by 20 percentage points, a margin matched only by two Democrats in 40 years, and both were functionally unopposed. About half of VA-10’s population lives in Loudoun.

That’s brutal, and politicians have retired over a lot less. Comstock also won’t be helped by being placed on the same ballot as Corey Stewart. That’s not to say that she’s necessarily doomed, but that a successful reelection campaign will be a massive undertaking.

And that’s not good news for a man by the name of Scott Taylor. He was a state delegate until 2016, when the Hampton Roads-based second Congressional district was reconfigured and made Obama +2, Trump +3. Taylor defeated the fourth CD congressman attempting to carpetbag into the second CD for the Republican nomination, then was essentially handed the election when the Democrats couldn’t find a serious candidate on short notice. Which is to say that Taylor may be a good politician, but he’s also in a very competitive district with little name recognition and no experience with general election campaigning. And while he’s already drawn a serious challenger with great fundraising ability, Dave Belote, the big unknown is whether or not State Senator Lynnwood Lewis, who represents Ralph Northam’s old State Senate district, jumps in. Lewis has been waiting until after the election to make a decision, so we should be hearing from him soon. The fact that Northam won VA-02 by four points probably means that if Lewis ever wants to run for Congress, he’ll do it in 2018.

Two very competitive districts would be a lot on the plate for any party, but two other representatives are doing their best to require the party to bail them out as well. Dave Brat (VA-07) won a shocking upset over Eric Cantor in 2014, but he’s never demonstrated general election appeal. And now that his suburban Richmond district is only 44%-50% Trump and 47%-51% Gillespie, you’d think he might be taking reelection somewhat seriously. You’d be wrong. Instead, Brat only raised a laughable $86K in the third quarter of 2017, about 1/3 of what his two opponents raised. Brat doesn’t seem to realize he’s not running against a pushover like the last two cycles.

As for Tom Garrett’s VA-05, it went from 54%-46% Romney to 53%-42% Trump to 54%-45% Gillespie, so it could be competitive under the right circumstances as well. And how is Garrett preparing for that possibility? Your guess is as good as mine. He sure hasn’t been fundraising, since his last quarter was only $92K and he has just $85K CoH, which would be bad for a State Senator. And, yup, Garrett’s getting outraised by his opponents as well.

Virginia Republicans are exposed. And they’re exposed everywhere. The 5th and 7th are the kind of districts you want locked down by strong incumbents in bad years, but Republicans instead have first and second termers, untested in tough contests, and disappointing fundraisers as well. That’s not to say Democrats are favored to take all, or even any, of those seats, but that Virginia Republicans will probably have to get involved. And the more they stretch themselves out, the more likely things are to fall through somewhere they don’t need to. Also making them stretch? Bob Goodlatte’s not-too-surprising retirement. Which means more Republican resources expended on intra-party fights.

2019

Virginia Democrats are only one seat away from flipping the State Senate, and in 2015 they nearly did, coming agonizingly short of flipping not one, but two seats, just a year after losing the chamber from a retirement (Phil Puckett) in deep-red territory. Of course, 2015 was in the doldrums of the late Obama years, and also before Trump helped tank the Republican brand in suburban Virginia. Now Republicans must defend every seat, including:

  • SD-07, where both Clinton and Obama eked out narrow pluralities. T-Mac and Warner also nearly won this Virginia Beach district, and incumbent Frank Wagner held on by a decent but not intimidating 8.4 percentage points in 2015
  • SD-10, a Clinton 53%-41% district in the suburbs of Richmond. And it’s more than that. Every Democrat after 2009 running statewide has won this district, and I believe that includes this year’s team, although I don’t have the margins on me. In 2015, Glen Sturtevant only managed a 2.7-percentage-point plurality win, with 2.1 percent going to a Green. Sturtevant hasn’t built up a war chest, and will now have to run again in a much worse year for his party.
  • SD-12, a fairly Republican district in suburban Richmond, which Clinton nonetheless won 48%-46%, and Northam almost certainly carried as well.
  • SD-13, which is represented by Dick Black, who you can think of as the Bob Marshall of the State Senate, and whose absolute assholery kept him within 5 points in a 51%-48% Romney district, which is now 50%-44% Clinton.
  • SD-17, a district that Democrats statewide generally lose very narrowly, and is held by Byrce Reeves, whose naked statewide ambitions became evident this year (he lost the GOP primary for Lt. Governor to Jill Vogel).

Are Republican favored to hold each of those districts individually? Probably. Are they favored to hold each and every one of them? That’s asking a lot.

And simultaneously, they must defend the House of Delegates. As of now, Republican have 50-51 seats in the HoD. That means just 1-2 seats will flip the chamber. That’s a much less imposing number than 17. And we’ll be able to get a second crack at some of the districts where we messed up. In some districts, we didn’t realize that Northam would be winning by so much that the district would be anywhere close to competitive, so our candidates were left to fend for themselves. If they’d had serious campaigns in place, they’d probably have been able to ride the blue wave to victory.  We can also put some resources into redder districts and hope for a miracle.

Also important this year? County offices. Republicans hold majorities on the board of supervisors in Prince William, Loudoun and Henrico Counties [note: Democrats last Tuesday won control of the Henrico County Board of Supervisors], which are exactly the kind of places that stopped supporting Republicans downballot in 2017. Notably, we’ll get the chance to beat Corey Stewart again. And there are a variety of offices held by Republicans in blue counties.

2020

Virginia Republicans will most likely enter 2020 arguing for their relevance to the national party. In 2016, Donald Trump’s campaign decided he couldn’t win in Virginia, so it pulled the plug. The Clinton campaign, deciding that they were secure in VA, moved their resources to other states as well. Perhaps not the right other states, but regardless, both of their instincts were correct for Virginia. When the results were counted, Michigan, Maine, Minnesota, NE-02, and Arizona all proved themselves to be more competitive, and it’s entirely possible Virginia will be seen as a blue state in 2020. The lack of resources would further hobble a state GOP that is getting repeatedly outclassed by their counterparts.

And just like in 2018, when they’re about to let a U.S. Senate election go by without a real challenge, 2020 will see Mark Warner up for reelection, and no good way for the Virginia GOP to stop that from happening. I’ve never regarded Warner as particularly savvy, but it’s hard to imagine him making the same mistakes he made in 2014, going after conservative rural voters as the crux of his campaign. Combine that with some strong tailwinds, continued popularity, and a lack of obvious Republican opponent, and the picture isn’t pretty for Republicans.

And in the U.S. House, we’ll get another crack at any of VA-02, VA-05, and VA-07 we didn’t win in 2018, this time with presidential-year turnout. It won’t be fun for Virginia Republicans, is what I’m saying.

2021 and beyond

We have the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s office. That means if we take one State Senate seat and one or two House seats, we’ll win total control of the government. Look, I don’t want to make promises, but that’s doable. More than doable, I’d even say likely. If so, that would be the first liberal government in Virginia since the 1800s. While Democrats controlled the Virginia legislature as late as 1993, that majority was built on conservative Dixiecrat and Byrd machine relics. It was a conservative majority. And there are a lot of policy implications to a liberal majority. But this diary isn’t about Medicaid expansion. It’s about the hell that awaits the VA GOP. So let’s look at what the VA Dems can, and should, pass with their majorities that would affect elections.

  • Automatic voter registration. This should be a given in every Democratic-controlled state. Oregon’s strong version of this law increased turnout dramatically.
  • Full felon reenfranchisement. T-Mac did it for many voters manually, but now we can make it automatic and permanent.
  • Early voting and no-excuse absentee voting. Currently, you need an excuse to vote absentee, which dramatically reduces its reach.
  • Mail voting. Many Republicans will tell you that Colorado switched from purple to blue the moment it became a vote-by-mail state. Virginia should follow Colorado’s example.
  • Ending Right to Work. Strong unions mean good Democratic turnout.
  • New congressional and legislative maps. This one’s big. If you like redistricting minutiae, read on. Otherwise, just know that we can gets some brutal maps implemented.

These are both done using population projections for 2020.

US HOUSE

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Statewide
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NOVA

Districts

  • VA-01: It’s not really Wittman’s district, but it keeps the northern chunk of it, just barely missing his home. It’s a 58%-41% Obama ‘08 district that may very well be majority-minority by 2020. It will be ours, and will most likely feature on open race, as Wittman will likely be running in the 7th.
  • VA-02: This district loses the conservative areas on the southern border, and now contains Virginia Beach and Norfolk. At 33% black, there’s a decent chance it would elect a black candidate, but there’s no guarantee, especially if we hold it going into 2022. Taylor would be DOA in a 60%-39% Obama district that may have actually been friendlier than that to Clinton.
  • VA-03: I took the Third and gave it more rural areas between Norfolk and Richmond to make up for the loss of some Hampton Roads population to the Second. This makes it 40% black instead of the current Third’s 46%. It’s still enough to keep Rep. Scott safe without a sweat.
  • VA-04: While the old Fourth needed blacker rural areas south of Richmond to comply with the Voting Rights Act, the new Fourth will be able to leave those out for two reason: the Richmond area is getting more diverse, and it’s growing faster than the state. This new Fourth actually has a higher black percentage, 35% instead of 33%, which may be necessary, as it’s about a point bluer. It’s still Donald McEachin’s, no sweat.
  • VA-05: This somewhat resembles the current Fifth, but it’s much more urban, losing almost everything above Charlottesville in favor of Lynchburg, Roanoke, and Blacksburg. It also pushes a little west, losing a lot of whiter rural areas between Roanoke, and gaining some blacker rural areas near Suffolk. All of that doesn’t quite make it safe, however. Obama lost the current Fifth 47%-52%, but won the new one 56%-43. 9%. Clinton won this seat, probably by around 51%-44% or so, but the tenuous nature of the Dem coalition, relying on liberal small/medium city whites, suburbanites, and rural blacks, means that this could cause trouble for us in wave years. Luckily, Tom Garrett’s not a strong incumbent.
  • VA-06: The Sixth was already a very red district. But gaining more white rural areas and losing Lynchburg made it even worse. Clinton barely topped 30% here. Goodlatte’s successor will be more than pleased.
  • VA-07: Obviously, this is a very red district, made up of the remnants of whatever couldn’t be made into a Dem district in the east of the state. The primary in 2020 could be unpleasant for the GOP. Rob Wittman, Dave Brat, and Scott Taylor have nowhere else to go, and Tom Garrett may not want a Clinton district. It could be a mess.
  • VA-08: I may or may not have combined redneck-y rural counties with the liberal beltway, but it was necessary to get us to four safe NOVA districts. This one in particular is at least 10% black, Asian, and Hispanic, while a lot of the white population is exurban and rural Republicans. It could very easily elect a non-white rep. But I numbered it the eighth for a reason, and that’s because the Dem power center of the district is still in Alexandria, and Don Beyer will probably want to run here, since it’s where he lives and is not stepping on others’ toes.
  • VA-09: The reason the current 9th “only” went 69%-27% Trump in 2016 is Blacksburg and Martinsville. They’re gone now. 73%-23% isn’t out of the question. Don’t blame gerrymandering though, GOP voters are just geographically sorted poorly. They should really do something about that. It’s putting them at a disadvantage.
  • VA-10: I lost the stuff west of Winchester and made the NOVA lines pusher further in. Whoever beats Comstock will have a comfy 57%-42% Obama and 64%-35%-ish Clinton district waiting for them.
  • VA-11: So the currently 8th and 11th are divided vertically, kind of, whereas the new ones will be divided horizontally, which is to say the naming system will be kind of arbitrary. Connolly and Beyer will not like this map, so they should ideally by able to mess around with the 8th/11th boundary a bit and then decided who runs where.

This is mostly a 8D-3R map, but 7D-4R could happen in a bad year. As I alluded to, Democrats are not at a disadvantage due to geography in VA. It may actually be working for us. While Beyer and Goodlatte’s successor are going to be fine, the other GOP reps will be somewhere between in a tough primary and SOL, Brat in particular.

We could also fairly effectively box them out of the State Senate.

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Statewide
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Richmond

SENATE

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Hampton Roads
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NOVA
  • SD-01/ SD-02: Rural white coal country districts. Trump probably got close to 80 in both. SD-01’s the reddest in the state at R+27.
  • SD-03: This Roanoke/Blacksburg district is not quite safe, but at 57%-42% Obama and D+5, Dems are favored.
  • SD-04/ SD-05: More rural, white SWVA districts, though the 4th has some Roanoke suburbs
  • SD-06: This is the only true swing district in the state. It’s anchored by Danville in the south and Lynchburg in the north, with borders that just take in Martinsville and Farmville, as well as some rural black voters. The final district’s 54%-45% Obama, D+0, and 38% black. Reduced black turnout can be deadly, which makes me suspect we wouldn’t be able to win this one
  • SD-07: White, rural, and Republican
  • SD-08: White, exurban, and Republican
  • SD-09/SD-10: While Obama won both these districts with 55%, these districts, comprised of Richmond and inner suburbs, have both moved left enough to be D+7, and probably bluer by the year.
  • SD-11/SD-12/SD-13: These districts are Democratic enough for us to rely on, and in the low 40s black VAP, which means they will elect the choice of the black community. The 11th is more suburban in character, while the 12th and 13th have a large rural component.
  • SD-14: This district’s pretty rural, but there is Williamsburg thrown in. At 56-43 Obama and D+4 I guess it’d probably be competitive, especially with our famously bad off-year turnout, but I think the right kind of Democrat could hold it indefinitely. At 37% black, there’s a good chance there’s be a black representative.
  • SD-15/SD-17/SD-18: Black VRA districts based in Newport News, Suffolk, and Chesapeake, respectively
  • SD-16/SD-19: Safely Democratic districts in Hampton and Virginia Beach. Both are only 54% white (and dropping), so we could get some minority representation here, too.
  • SD-20: Safely Republican vote sink
  • SD-21: The Eastern Shore can get strange with its voting habits, so I made a 61%-39% Obama, D+10 district to preempt anything strange it might try to pull.
  • SD-22/SD-23: Another pair of rural Republican districts.
  • SD-24/…/SD-35: NOVA is growing. Now it has 12 SDs. They’re all safe D.
  • SD-36/SD-37: These districts combine exurban DC with more rural territory. They’re safely Republican.
  • SD-38/SD-40: These are the last two Republican districts, located in the Shenandoah Valley.
  • SD-39: I know I didn’t strictly need to have that odd tendril going into Staunton and Waynesboro to make this Charlottesville district safe D. But I did, and now it’s a D+10 district with no Republican hope.

That’s a 25D-13R-2 swing map, and one of those swings is very much leaning our way. Coincidentally, veto override is 27 votes.

And the House of Delegates? Well we can’t quite do it as effectively because the districts are so much smaller. And honestly, there’s no point in drawing most of those districts. But know that we can make about 60 districts that are fairly safe for ourselves.

Republicans could get locked out of both chambers for the decade. Which is really to say that Republicans could get locked out of both chambers until there’s a fundamental shift in the nature of the two parties. The population of Virginia is only going to get more diverse, and the white population is only going to get more educated. 2019 could very well be the end, as Republicans lose both chambers, and Democrats immediately make the electorate more liberal through a variety of election reforms, while locking Republicans out of the state legislature. It’s all downhill from there.

The VA GOP has already gone all-in on social arch-conservatism, a variety of cultural grievances and bigotry. That can get you over 80% of the vote in Buchanan County, but urban areas, where the people are, will turn further against you for it. That’s why Democrats have won the last nine statewide offices on the ballot, and will make that 12 in 2020 unless something dramatic happens. The VA GOP has a lot of specific problems they’ll have to deal with in the coming few years, but they’re all manifestations of the central issue. Every day, Virginia gets more diverse and more educated, and every day the GOP’s central message inches closer to a primal yell against diversity and education.

  • old_redneck

    Rumors among VA-01 Republicans are that Wittman will take on Kaine in 2018. I doubt it as Wittman has a powerful subcommittee chair that pulls in big $$$$ for him from defense contractors. Also, Wittman made noise about running for governor but was shunted aside very quickly in favor of Stewart and Gillespie.

    • Who would win a Corey Stewart vs. Rob Wittman nomination contest?

  • woodrowfan

    My biggest relief is that the VA republicans’ idea of dividing the state’s electoral vote by Congressional district is dead (at least for now)

  • Don’t count on the VA GOP to take this sitting down. That said, Corey Stewart just digs the hole they’re in even deeper. Go figure.

    • bluevirginia

      The VA GOP is clueless; good luck to ’em. LOL

    • woodrowfan

      I’ll chip in to buy him a new shovel if he need sit.

  • Blue Heron

    Just want to point out that we won a seat on the Henrico Board of Supervisors on Tuesday so Henrico is now in Dem control. This is an impressive article, but it’s worth noting that Henrico has been trending steadily bluer for a bunch years now, outperforming the state as a whole in voting for the Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, 2012, and 2016. In 2016, every magisterial district went for Hillary, even those that have historically been deeply red. Just sayin’ – Henrico rocks!

    • “Henrico is now in Dem control”

      Starting in January 2018, right?

  • Eastern shore dem

    Great article..

    We love Lynwood here On the eastern shore, and would delighted if he ran for congress.

    One slight glitch is if he won, we’d have a hard time holding his senate seat in the ensuing special election.
    I’d guess that Rob Bloxom might step into it and win easily, but that would open up his delegate seat for Willie Randall.
    Just some more long term thinking..
    we do like people who have paid their dues here..

    • So what do you think, is Lynwood going to run? Thanks.

      • Eastern shore dem

        I’ve heard some positive comments..
        … but ask any politician about running the next office, they will always have some good reasons why they shouldn’t run.

        • I actually heard earlier this evening that he’s not going to run. We’ll see….

  • Jay

    Great article. However, you didn’t mention non-partisan redistricting. That is an imperative. In fact, you seem to endorse a Democratic gerrymandering; particularly when you write that “We could also fairly effectively box them out of the State Senate.” Please clarify.

    • John Manard

      I agree with this comment. I love the idea of a Dem controlled Virginia. But I want it done fairly. The end of this article feels like our side doing what their side did and being okay with it. I have always been a Democrat because I have felt we do the right thing. Which isn’t always the best thing for us as a party. As much I disagree with my conservative VA friends the districts should be fair. Not just gerry mandered to us.