Home 2020 Elections Virginia Politics 2020: 15 Things to Keep an Eye On

Virginia Politics 2020: 15 Things to Keep an Eye On

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Clearly, there have been major changes in Virginia politics over the past couple years, including Democrats winning the “trifecta” – control of the governorship, House of Delegates and State Senate – for the first time in ages. The question is, what will this mean for Virginia politics in 2020? What are some of the main things we should be keeping an eye on as we head into a new year and a new decade? Here are 15 of the top ones:

  1. What will the order of finish be in the Virginia Democratic presidential primary on March 3, 2020? There’s been very little polling in months, with the last I can find by “Research America” in September: Biden 23%, Sanders 9%, Warren 9%, Harris 5%, Buttigieg 4%, Yang 2%, Klobuchar 2%, Booker 1%, Castro 1%. In the end, will the order of finish be something like that…or not? Of course, the earliest caucuses (Iowa, Nevada) and primaries (New Hampshire, South Carolina) could shake things up, so we’ll see.
  2. How will Virginia Democrats govern, now that they have the “trifecta?” Will they push a super-progressive agenda – Green New Deal, higher taxes, etc.? I’d say that’s highly doubtful. Will they go for a much more middle-of-the-road approach and relatively easy “wins” (i.e., ERA ratification, making it easier for people to vote, passing anti-discrimination legislation, protecting women’s right to reproductive health access and choice), sticking heavily with issues that are popular with the electorate? That’s my guess. Will they stay unified or splinter into factions and disunity? Hopefully not, but given the narrow margin in the State Senate, plus relatively conservative Democrat Dick Saslaw as leader, plus the “wild card” known as Joe Morrissey, it’s possible this scenario could play out there. Of course, there are also “conservadems” and “Dominion Dems” in the House of Delegates as well…
  3. How will House and Senate Republicans respond to being in the minority for the first time in years?  Will they do what Republicans did at the national level after Barack Obama’s election in 2008, namely refusing to vote for *anything* proposed/supported by Democrats? Will their entire goal be to obstruct and “resist,” or will they work constructively with Democrats on at least a few issues? What will the tone in the House and Senate be like? How effective will House and Senate Republican leadership be in opposition, something they’re not used to?
  4. Who will the Republican nominees here in Virginia be for U.S. Senate (to face off against Sen. Mark Warner) and U.S. House of Representatives (particularly in the highly competitive VA02 and VA07, and also VA05 and VA10 to a lesser degree)?  The betting right now in VA07 is on Nick Freitas (to take on Rep. Abigail Spanberger), and in VA02 it’s probably between Ben Loyola and former Rep. Scott Taylor (to take on Rep. Elaine Luria). For U.S. Senate, with Taylor having dropped out, it’s hard to say who Republicans will nominate to, presumably, lose badly to Sen. Warner.
  5. Will freshmen Reps. Elaine Luria (D-VA02) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA07) hold their seats in “purple” district? Those two will be the marquee U.S. House races in 2020, and thus will be both heavily defended by Democrats and heavily targeted by Republicans. Both should be tight races, given that Spanberger won her seat by a narrow, 50.3%-48.4% margin in 2018, and that Luria also won by a narrow (51.1%-48.8%). Also, keep in mind that Trump won VA02 (49%-45%) and VA07 (51%-43%), so in both cases, Democrats are playing in “red” or, at best, “purple” territory.
  6. Who will Democrats nominate for Congress? Other than incumbents running unopposed for reelection, will any Democrats be successfully primaried in 2020? Currently, according to VPAP, only Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA11) faces a Democratic primary challenge. Also, who will Democrats nominate in VA01 (to face Rep. Rob Wittman), VA05 (to take on Rep. Denver Riggleman), VA06 (against Rep. Ben Cline) and VA09 (versus Rep. Morgan Griffith)?
  7. Will Democrats win the presidential election in Virginia – for the fourth straight time? I’m assuming that Virginia’s electorate will not vote to reelect Donald Trump on November 3, 2020, making it the fourth-straight presidential election in which Virginia will have gone “blue.” The bigger question is what the margin of victory will be…greater than Hillary Clinton’s 5.3-percentage-point win in 2016 or even Barack Obama’s 6.3-percentage point win in 2008?
  8. Who will announce in 2020 for the 2021 Virginia Governor election? The biggest question, of course, is what former Gov. Terry McAuliffe decides to do. I’m assuming he’ll wait to make that decision until after the November 3, 2020 presidential election, given that if a simpatico Democrat wins the White House, McAuliffe might end up in their administration as Secretary of Commerce or whatever. If Trump, god forbid, wins reelection, or if a Democrat who McAuliffe isn’t simpatico with politically wins, then I’d expect McAuliffe to run for governor of Virginia. Of course, whatever McAuliffe decides to do will likely have a major impact on the rest of the potential Democratic gubernatorial field – LG Justin Fairfax, State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, maybe AG Mark Herring, etc.  Would McAuliffe’s entry “clear the field,” at least to a degree? That will be very interesting to watch. As for the Republicans, the question is whether they continue lurching to the far-right (e.g., with someone like Corey Stewart, Ken Cuccinelli, Dave Brat or…?) and losing elections, or whether they end up nominating somebody with appeal to suburban Virginia voters (except who would that even be? Barbara Comstock, who was defeated in suburban VA10 in 2018?). I’m guessing the former. By the end of 2020, we should know who the main candidates are.
  9. Who will announce in 2020 for the 2021 Virginia Lt. Governor and Attorney General elections? With current LG Justin Fairfax announcing his run for governor, that position will be wide open, with potentially a “cast of thousands” (I’ve heard *many* names rumored) running on both the Democratic and Republican sides. As for AG, the big question is whether or not Mark Herring runs for reelection. If not, then expect to see at least 2-3 Democrats (Del. Charniele Herring? Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor? others?) run. And we’ll also have to see about the Republicans. My guess is that, by the end of 2020, we’ll know the answers to many of these questions.
  10. From a Virginia progressive Democratic politico: “I think we should keep an eye out for how the rumored gubernatorial candidates position themselves on key bills – e.g., [Jennifer Carroll Foy] signing onto the [Virginia Clean Economy Act – VCEA] with [Jennifer McClellan]. I also think we should generally look at how the freshman/sophomore class of delegates do and what sorts of fault lines we can observe between them and the conservadems.”
  11. Also from a Virginia progressive Democratic politico: “I am curious to see how [Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn] holds her caucus together. In general, I think there is a lot of agreement on the Dem side, but issues like affordable housing (Samirah’s bills) and clean energy aren’t going to break neatly into Rs and Ds. Or, even NOVA vs. RuVA.”
  12. From another Virginia progressive Democratic politico: “It feels like we’ll get a handful of easy wins that are actually important but will be dwarfed by the things we can’t get done or won’t choose to get done. People think Dem Gov, Dem Senate, Dem House, the world is our oyster. But Dem is a big tent; many Dems including the Gov aren’t that left, and want to protect economic growth and the budget etc. And many more want to protect their seats in 2-4 years…ERA is super easy day one. I think we will probably get some enviro progress, but not nearly enough, under the [false] ‘protect the economy’ justification. Same for worker/union protections, we’ll get some but not as much as we’d like. On social issues LGBTQ discrimination, etc. we should make huge leaps…Criminal justice, even incremental changes are huge because we are soooo far behind. But changes WILL be smaller than what advocates want for sure. Under re-election justification…For example, we won’t bring back parole 100%, but we might bring it back for juveniles. We won’t legalize marijuana but we will decriminalization.”
  13. How much will Democrats get done on gun legislation? Will they mostly stick with stuff that polls very high, like “universal background checks” and “red-flag laws?” Or will they push further, into areas like “one-gun-a-month” (which is questionable as to its constitutionality), “assault-weapons” restrictions, etc? Also, will the rhetoric on this issue continue to escalate in 2020, or will it calm down at all? Stay tuned…
  14. A few other legislative questions. Will Democrats repeal “Right to Work” (for less) laws or, more likely, modify them somewhat? Will Democrats pass the constitutional amendment for redistricting, or will they instead go more in the direction that Del. Mark Levine and others have been pushing for, namely to pass *legislation* for non-partisan redistricting in 2021? Will there be a big fight over education funding, including pay raises for teachers, and will this in turn lead to a debate over the need for more revenues/taxes? Will Democrats move to weaken “Dillon’s Rule” at all, including on things like localities’ authority to remove Confederate monuments? Will the “Kathy Tran bill” return, and if so will it pass? What other issues will flare up?
  15. How will the new Democratic majorities on the Loudoun County and Prince William County boards of supervisors fare? It will be fascinating to keep an eye on those two counties in particular, both of which had county board which flipped to “blue” on November 5, 2019. I’m also curious to see how Fairfax County does under new leadership (Jeff McKay replacing Sharon Bulova as County Board Chair), with a bunch of new members, and with a unanimously “blue” School Board as well. Oh, and of course how will Democratic Commonwealth’s Attorneys do in Prince William County, Loudoun County, Fairfax County, Albemarle County and Arlington County/Falls Church?