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A Few of the Many Ways the Coronavirus Crisis Is Impacting – and Could Impact – Virginia Politics

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Among the innumerable impacts of the Coronavirus crisis – including extremely serious stuff like illness, death, loss of income, loss of jobs, pervasive/deep anxiety, etc. – there are, of course, impacts to our political process.

For instance, just in the past few days, several states – Ohio, Maryland, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana – announced that they were postponing their presidential primaries. There also have been increasing calls to ramp up our ability to vote by mail, particularly in case this crisis persists through November. And in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, some analysts have speculated that it could be effectively “frozen in place” – with Joe Biden holding a big, possibly insurmountable, lead in delegates – possibly for months, “with uncertainty about when it all begins again.”

Now, that might not seem as serious as the life-and-death stuff, but I’d argue that our democracy is *extremely* important, and that – as the Washington Post editorialized this morning – “Americans should not have to choose between their personal health and that of the country’s democracy.” I couldn’t agree more.

With that in mind, what are some possible/probable/already-occurringCoronavirus impacts on Virginia politics? Here are a few thoughts – including numerous questions without clear answers – that come to mind.

  • How are VA-07 Republicans going to hold their nominating convention on April 25 if there’s a limit of 10 people in a room? And how does that impact the race, which seemed to have Del. Nick Freitas as the frontrunner for the nomination to take on Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA07) this fall? Could this have an impact on who the GOP nominee is? When that nominee is selected? And then how strong a campaign the GOP nominee will be able to run, given everyone’s (understandable) focus on combatting Coronavirus? Got me, but seems like Coronavirus could make it much harder to raise money, hold rallies (forget that, right?), get out in public (ditto?), get media attention/”oxygen,” stand up a strong “field”/grassroots program to get out the vote, etc.
  • In yet another sign of the times, the Virginia GOP this morning canceled its March 28th State Central Committee metting. I mean, on one level that’s not a big loss, other than that Virginia Republicans won’t be able to get together to talk about how they haven’t won a statewide election since 2009, have lost control of the State Senate and House of Delegates, have only 4 out of 11 U.S. Representatives, etc., haha. But, all joking aside, this demonstrates how difficult it is right now, and could be for months, to conduct the regular business of politics, aka *democracy*, in our state and in our country.
  • Will preparations in Virginia, such as selecting delegates, continue for the Democratic National Convention this summer? Will there even *be* a Democratic National Convention this summer? Who knows at this point.
  • How will the Coronavirus crisis impact other elections, for instance the Democratic nominating contest in VA-01 to take on Rep. Rob Wittman (R)? For instance, one of the Democratic VA-01 candidates, Qasim Rashid, just tweeted this morning: “Last week my campaign released a statement that after 50+ events w/constituents in 6 weeks—we’re stopping all in person events for health & safety. My GOP opponent @RobWittman released no such statement—I just realized why. He hasn’t held a public town hall in One Full Year Wow.” That illustrates very well what we’re dealing with right now.
  • In general, how will the Coronavirus crisis impact the scheduled June 9th Democratic and Republican Virginia primaries, such as in VA-02 between Republicans Scott Taylor and Ben Loyola or in VA-10 between a bunch of candidates? Will those primaries be held on schedule? If so, what will turnout look like? Will that help or hurt any particular candidates?
  • How about the Democratic nominating contest in VA-05 (here are the candidates) to take on Rep. Denver Riggleman (R)? And speaking of Riggleman, what about the nominating convention, scheduled for 4/25, against his main opponent Bob Good?
  • How about the U.S. Senate race? For 100% sound and responsible reasons, Sen. Mark Warner on March 13 announced that he was postponing his scheduled campaign kickoff tour. Of course, Sen. Warner is also super-busy dealing with, you know, helping to save the economy from collapse, etc. As for the Republicans running for the nomination to get crushed by take on Sen. Warner, does anyone even know who these people are? Does anyone care at this point, given everything else going on in the world?
  • What happens to Democratic and Republican candidates and potential candidates for the 2021 Governor’s, Lt. Governor’s and Attorney General’s races? Got me, but again, this ongoing situation can’t possibly make it any easier for candidates to hold campaign kickoffs, raise money, get out on the “stump,” etc. Already, if the Coronavirus crisis had never reared its ugly head, it’s possible that there would have been campaign kickoffs and/or announcements by the long list of potential 2021 candidates. But so far, it’s…verrrrry quiet. How long will that continue? And how might that impact the 2021 statewide races? It’s all a big unknown right now, but I can see how this might benefit those with the highest name ID and the easiest access to campaign cash, and how it might hurt those without those things…
  • Meanwhile, we just had what was, by almost any metric, one of the most historically significant General Assembly sessions in Virginia history. At this point, absent Coronavirus, I presume we’d be talking a great deal about that. Yet…again, we’re not, because we’re all (understandably) focused on other important stuff. So, don’t expect too many high-profile bill signings, as there almost certainly would have been in more normal times. The big question in my mind, at this point, is whether the Coronavirus crisis will result in Gov. Northam treating legislation in a different way (e.g., amending?) than he would have, pre-Coronavirus crisis. For instance, just yesterday, Sen. Chap Petersen – the most conservative Democrat in the Virginia General Assembly, according to VAPLAN’s scorecardcalled for Gov. Northam to “suspend new state laws that unduly burden small business.” Now, I strongly doubt that Gov. Northam will take this Republican-sounding advice, given that if these were good ideas previously, why would there be any reason to think they’re not still good ideas now? To me, it’s a lot more likely, and would make a lot more sense, if anything, for Gov. Northam to amend the budget to increase assistance to Virginians who are being most badly hurt by this crisis. We’ll see over the next few weeks, with the General Assembly’s “Reconvened Session” set for April 22.
  • Speaking of that “Reconvened Session,” how’s it going to work exactly, given restrictions on having more than 10 people in one place at a given time? Also, note that “The State Capitol and the Pocahontas building are closed to the public through March 30, 2020” – at least. And, aside from logistics, what will the “Reconvened Session” cover, exactly? Normally, it’s just a matter of dealing with the governor’s amendments and vetoes, which are mostly not that consequential. This time, with the Coronavirus crisis raging, who knows how consequential Gov. Northam’s changes to legislation could be.
  • Also, what will the Virginia budget look like, now that we’re talking about spending who-knows-how-much money to deal with this crisis? When the General Assembly session ended, just a week ago – although it feels like an eternity at this point – it looked like we had a solid budget that was fiscally responsible while also being progressive. Now, who knows what happens to the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” and to the budget in general, given what we’re now dealing with.
  • Given all that, and potentially a lot more (e.g., dealing with safeguarding our elections against possible disruption from Coronavirus), will Virginia need to hold a Special Session of the General Assembly? Already, we’ve seen several Virginia politicians – Del. Ibraheem Samirah, Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax – call for one. And my gut feeling is that a Special Session is probably inevitable at this point. So when would that happen and what might it – should it – deal with?

So those are just a *few* – very few, as I’m sure there are many more – ways the Coronavirus crisis is impacting and/or could impact Virginia politics in the next few months. Anything else you think should be on the list? Thanks, and stay safe/healthy out there, everybody!