by EJ Xavier, cross posted from Daily Kos
Sometimes you have to read between the lines. And sometimes you don’t.
“Even if you don’t live in Virginia, this race impacts you. If the Democrats are able to say they won in 2017 — it will have huge implications for 2018.” — Newt Gingrich begging Republicans nationwide to donate to the Virginia 2017 election
Virginia is one of only two states to hold major off-year elections. The other would be New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie is drowning under a record-breaking 73% disapproval rating. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Republicans are shrugging off what looks to be an inevitable defeat in New Jersey and are refocusing their eyes to the battleground of Virginia.
But they don’t seem to like what they are seeing here.
According to Gingrich, Democrats are “enraged and engaged”. For once, Newt speaks the truth. People here are angry, and in the months since the election this anger has transformed into something very frightening to Republicans: grassroots organizing.
Newly energized Virginians are attending protests, demanding to speak to their congressman, and driving hours across sprawling gerrymandered districts to attend town halls. Meanwhile, nervous Republicans mumble distracting nonsense about “paid protesters”, but quietly acknowledge the new reality in fundraising emails.
The Republicans know these people aren’t getting paid. This is political manipulation at its worst. When Donald Trump tweeted his hysterical fever-dreams about “illegal voters,” it was not a coincidence he included Virginia among his targets. Hillary Clinton won Virginia by a comfortable 5 points, and while much of the country is distracted by demographic upsets in the Rust Belt, Virginia leads a trend line along the coastal south that has Republicans scrambling. To maintain power, it is imperative they retain control until the redistricting scheduled for 2021. Because without gerrymandered control, Republicans will start losing. So they are already doubling down on every possible dirty trick from voter suppression to fear mongering. Do not be fooled by the senile old man act; Trump’s attack on Virginia was calculated and aimed right at the heart of this 2017 election.
It’s also no accident that Gingrich’s plea for money focused on vague concepts like “morale”. While Republicans need to drum up financial support, they also know being open about their larger plan risks further mobilizing Democratic voters. What happens in Virginia this November affects the entire nation far more directly than any question of “momentum”. The Republicans have a long-range strategy for these state legislatures.
Virginia Republicans are poised to enact a measure splitting up the state’s 13 electoral college votes based on gerrymandered congressional districts, making it harder for a Democrat to win the White House in 2020. The only thing holding them back is the certainty of veto from the current Democratic governor, a situation they are hoping to remedy this November. Of course the national party is only interested in doing this in a few choice locations like Virginia. There is no Republican proposal to do away with “winner take all” electoral voting in places like Texas. Rather than win the old fashioned way — by convincing people to vote for them — Republicans are instead invested in tactics that disenfranchise anyone who disagrees with them.
In a recent move that surprised no one, Virginia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly blocked bills to reform the redistricting process. A bipartisan system would contribute to fair representation, but since the state leans Democratic, it would also likely result in Virginia adding a couple more Democrats to the House of Representatives, moving the needle in Congress. If recent months have taught us nothing else, it should be this: if Democrats had kept control of even one branch of Congress, Donald Trump would be nowhere near as dangerous.
But here is what really has the Republicans frightened — Democratic organizing in Virginia isn’t just focused on Trump and the federal government. All the shenanigans in D.C. are acting as a catalyst, exploding long simmering frustrations about the complacent incumbents choosing their voters through gerrymandering. The situation is so extreme that despite the majority of Virginians voting for a Democratic presidential ticket last year, Virginia still sent 7 Republicans and only 4 Democrats to the House of Representatives. The state’s own House of Delegates is even more unbalanced, with Republicans holding a staggering 66 to 34 majority over Democrats. How does this happen in in a purple state that leans blue? The answer is twofold: gerrymandering combined with low turn-out off-year elections. Like the one about to happen in 2017.
The question now on the table: will gerrymandering be enough to contain these “enraged and engaged” voters? This November, all 100 seats of the Virginia House of Delegates are up for election, and Democrats will field candidates in at least 45 red-leaning districts, including 17 that Hillary Clinton carried last November.
At a recent community gathering showcasing new candidates, I noticed an interesting trend. These newly minted politicians made a point of mentioning how long it has been since their Republican incumbent has seen a challenger. In some cases, it’s been a decade or more since they had even faced an opponent. That is how safe and cozy these Republican incumbents have become. Election after election, they have been the only name on the ballot.
But now people are standing up and stepping forward: members of the community willing to run for office; citizens who recognize the system is unfairly stacked against them, but will try anyway. To do something. To dedicate the next 8 months of their lives to knocking on doors, speaking at local meetings and town halls, pounding the pavement and handing out yard signs and fliers in the sweltering Virginia summer.
And they need help. Because the district lines have been drawn against them. Because challenging an incumbent is hard even in a fair fight. Because local elections get little press, and elections in off years suffer from low turnout. And because most of these people are just regular folks who are committing to this grind while still going to work and taking care of the kids.
Do not wait for 2018. This November Virginia has an opportunity to deal the first major electoral blow to the Party of Trump. It’s time to teach the GOP some hard lessons. Gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics cannot keep them in power forever. The voices of the majority are rising. And Donald Trump was the biggest mistake they’ve ever made.
The Resistance begins in Richmond.