Home 2019 Elections The Aftermath of Virginia’s 2019 Elections: Tracing Virginia’s Movement from a Red...

The Aftermath of Virginia’s 2019 Elections: Tracing Virginia’s Movement from a Red to Blue State

Virginia Democrats yesterday "delivered the coup de grace to present and future Republican hopes."


by Frank X. O’Leary 

Last night in Virginia, there was an earthquake!  The ground shifted and a “Purple” state went decisively BLUE!  This has been a long time coming.  Virginia’s 20th Century movement from a Blue state to a Red state can be traced back to the civil rights legislation of the 1960’s, under President Lyndon Johnson, and the “Southern Strategy” of President Richard Nixon.  Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s innumerable conservative Democrats in Virginia entered a form of Purgatory, announcing first that they were “Independents,” only to subsequently emerge as full-throated Republicans.  Their effect was clearly visible with the election of George Allen as Governor in 1993 and, but for the actions of highly regarded Republican Senator John Warner (and his opposition to Republican Senate candidate Oliver North) Virginia might well have “Gone North!” in 1994.

In 1993, seven of Virginia’s Congressional seats were held by Democrats.  Ten years later, only three of eleven seats were in Democratic hands.  Now there are, again, seven Democrats in Congress with the prospect of more gains in 2020.  Similarly, both Senate seats were in Republican hands in 2003, but have both been held by Democrats since 2008.

For a forty-year period, starting in 1968, no Democratic candidate for President won in Virginia.  Starting with the Obama victory, no Democratic Presidential candidate has lost and the 2020 election should easily maintain this edge.  Similarly, the last Republican Governor was elected in 2009 and, in fact, no Republican candidate has won a statewide race for any office since then.  This momentum is almost certain to continue in 2021, with the probable candidacy of Democrat Terry McAuliffe for Governor.

Over the last twenty years, Republicans have controlled both bodies of the General Assembly in all but four years, during which Democrats controlled the Senate (and only the Senate).  In particular, this vice-like grip was most apparent in the House of Delegates, where, as recently as 2015, 66 members of the 100-member body were Republican.  This changed dramatically in the Gubernatorial year of 2017, when the Great Blue Wave netted 49 seats, a gain of 15 (and nearly 17) in a single year!  Given the chronically low turnout in the Constitutional Year, repeating or even maintaining this success seemed unlikely in 2019.  (I feared the worst until last week’s VPAP report that absentee turnout was significantly up in 86 of 100 House districts.)  Democrats, however, smelled blood and given intense effort, coupled with massive funding and excellent challengers running in virtually every district delivered the coup de grace to present and future Republican hopes.

Unfortunately, as previously noted, Arlington’s turnout was not able to play a crucial role in this triumph as it has so often in the past.  (Arlington Democrats, however, did influence events elsewhere by generous monetary contributions and service as on-site volunteers in key districts as part of local party strategy.)  My interest in examining our county’s electoral turnout dates to 1989.  It was in that year that I became convinced that the super abundance of Democratic votes in Arlington (and certainly the inner Beltway jurisdictions) made possible the election of our nation’s first modern African-American governor of any state. (An African-American, Pinckney Pinchback, served by appointment as Louisiana’s 24th Governor, 1872-73.)  That interest led to my positing the absentee vote as a predictor of total turnout, which leads us to the question of this year’s predictions.

In my report last week, with 3,182 absentee votes having been cast as of October 29, I predicted a final absentee vote of 5,100.  I blush to disclose that the final tally appears to be 5,137, an error of 37 votes on my part, which should be “close enough for government work.”

I did not fare as well in predicting total turnout.  Given the unique nature of circumstances, I allowed myself a generous predicted turnout range of between 43,000 and 55,000.  The actual turnout was 56,250, 1,250 votes above my maximum prediction, so I get no cigar on that call.  Here is a summary of the last twenty years of elections in the Constitutional year (2019 is not yet official).

Constitutional Years Turnout
Year Active Voters Turnout Absentee %Turnout %Absentee
1999 100,334 37,078 1,208 37.0% 3.3%
2003 102,663 34,141 1,064 33.3% 3.1%
2007 121,746 31,524 1,369 25.9% 4.3%
2011 135,494 35,346 2,010 26.1% 5.7%
2015 134,917 36,896 2,049 27.3% 5.6%
2019 152,093 56,250 5,137 37.0% 9.1%

If nothing else, this table shows the radical departure of voting in 2019, when compared to recent years.  As previously noted, a total turnout on the order of 30 percent (say 45,500) would have been respectable.  (In fact, the Alexandria Registrar was quite on target in predicting a 30 percent turnout in Alexandria versus the 32 percent that actually resulted.)  Further, an absentee vote of about 2,550 in Arlington would have been no surprise.  The more than surprising actual results seem to reflect a determined and well-organized effort by the local Democratic party that energized the electorate.  They not only greatly stimulated the absentee vote they galvanized the voters, despite the lack of contested local races.  I can hardly wait until next year when the future of our nation is at stake.

In closing, I would like to thank Arlington’s Registrar for that office’s long-time support of my predictive efforts.  In particular, Cheryl Scannell who administers absentee voting in Alexandria and Anna Leider who plays the same role in Alexandria have been true public servants.  They both have patiently endured my silly questions and provided invaluable data and insights. Next year, they will have the added burden of explaining to the electorate the “New Rules” for absentee voting.

Speaking of next year, Armageddon is only 363 days away and absentee voting will start in only 316 days.  Until then….

Many Happy Returns!



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