Last evening, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA11) spoke about Virginia politics and about impeachment at Virginia Democracy Forward‘s first post-2019 election meeting. Simply put, his perspective on Virginia’s transformation from deep red to true blue was a “tour de force” discussion valued by everyone in the room. This post will focus on that discussion which supports Connolly’s core point:
Virginia’s transformation is an archetypal example of how to transform a state from red to blue. The Democratic Party should pay attention to Virginia and learn from what we’ve done.
— A Siegel (@A_Siegel) November 15, 2019
Now, a step back for a moment reminder, Gerry Connolly has been a mover and (news)maker in the Virginia Democratic Party for several decades now. He started his career with a decade working as a staff member of the Senate Committee of Foreign Affairs. First elected to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 1995, he served as chair from 2003 until he became the Representative from VA11 in January 2009. In that time period, Connolly has observed and participated in a dramatic change in Democratic Party opportunity in Northern Virginia and across Virginia.
According to Connolly,
“In the mid-1980s, Dranesville was beyond our reach. The only time that Democrats won was when there was a three-way race, with two Republicans splitting the Republican vote. In 2007, John Foust was the first to win, one-on-one in his district. He won’t be the last. …
Things have changed.
When I first ran for Supervisor, in a special election, the Board was 6 Republicans to 4 Democrats. I made it 5-5. Soon it was 6 Democrats and 4 Republicans. Now it is 9-1. The School Board is 12-0. And, with Dan Helmer’s victory, not a single Republican is representing Fairfax in Richmond.
If I had told this to people when I started in mid-1980s, they would have laughed and told me “dream on”.
I have just just told DCCC that they need to study Virginia. We are an archetypical example of how to take a red place and turn it Blue. Over the years, Virginia’s Democrats have worked to consolidate gains and minimize losses.
The tipping point was 2017. We were expecting maybe 5-6 seat gains in the House as part of a long-term, incremental path to more power in Virginia. Who would have guessed that we would have won 15 seats in one night?”
Now, while Connolly’s presentation was eloquent and often compelling, this is a specific point to take exception to. While, certainly, the establishment perspective seemed to be that getting to 40-42 Democratic House members would have been a great evening in November 2017, there were many analysts, grassroots activists, and people on the ground in districts who saw much greater opportunity. For example, on Blue Virginia, see If Ben Tribbett’s Historic Virginia “Swing” Scenario Is Correct, We COULD See Major House of Delegates Pickups for Dems This November. The opportunity for major gains was hidden in plain sight … for those who were looking.
“The 2017 election was unbelievable and the Virginia Republicans thought it was a fluke. Two years later, we know it wasn’t.
What fueled it was the Women’s March.”
By the way, at this point there was an amusing moment amid Connolly’s talk. He paused to ask “who among you were at the [Women’s] March?” I believe that Connolly was surprised when every single person raised their hand.
“I don’t know about you, but I went down there sort of dreading it. I thought it would be a funeral environment the day after that inauguration. That wasn’t the environment, at all. It was exciting and empowering. It was ‘we aren’t going anywhere’ and ‘we are getting organized’.
When you get back to the 2017 election, the Republican nominee got the largest number of votes that any GOP candidate for the Governor of Virginia had ever received. Yet, the Democratic candidate did nine points better.
This happened in the 2018 mid-term as well. It is not that Republicans didn’t get their voters out, but that Democrats did better. This has been fueled by women outraged by Donald Trump and that outrage hasn’t gone away.
In 2018, you retired the incumbent Congresswoman in Dranesville by the largest losing margin for any incumbent Congressperson in the nation. Women lead the way in understanding and sensitivity about guns. Why do we need to keep listening to people advocating unlimited guns on our streets? Moms Demand Action has been a wonderful network for mobilizing and educating people. When you have a Congresswoman from a pro-gun control district who gets an A from the NRA, they deserve an F from the voters.
And, it is clear in 2019, people have woken up that elections have consequences. Having majority control in Richmond changes everything. We can pass the ERA. We can pass gun control. We can roll back voter restrictions with no more reasons for voting earlier. After all, the government has no legitimate reasons for knowing why you want to vote early rather than election day. That is your business, not government’s. We should have lots of satellite voting places for early voting. We need to make voting easier for our citizens, not harder.
I also represent Prince William County and the change has been dramatic there. In 2017, every member on the Board was a conservative white guy and no person of color had, in a majority minority community, served on the Prince William Board of Supervisors until 2018. In 2020, there will be four.
Northern Virginia has realigned. A Republican will have a really hard time getting elected in this place for a long time to come.
We need to have the Democrats around the nation pay attention to Virginia.”
Connolly ended his discussion of Virginia’s voyage with a direct acknowledge that grassroots activists were on the oars, pulling hard, to help turn Virginia Blue.
“I congratulate everyone in this room because you are all part of why this happened.”