I normally am not a big fan of Roanoke Times editorials, but I thought that yesterday’s – Editorial: 7 questions for the 2021 governor’s race – was actually not bad (although I’ve definitely got some disagreements with it). See below for the Roanoke Times’ seven questions, with my comments in parentheses/blue, followed by seven more questions on my mind as we head towards the 2021 Virginia statewide and House of Delegates races…
- RT: “How will McAuliffe fare with the new landscape of the Democratic Party?…The activist base of the party has moved left” (I’m not at all convinced that the Democratic primary electorate – normally older and relatively “moderate” – will be much different in June 2021 than it’s been in the previous election cycles. Note that in 2017, following Trump’s election and the rise of the anti-Trump “resistance,” the fired-up Virginia Democratic “base” had a choice of whether to nominate Ralph Northam or Tom Perriello and went with the perceived “moderate” in the race over the candidate, Perriello, perceived as more towards the “left” – at least in that race, if not when he was in Congress. Post-Trump, the big question is whether the “resistance” fades away, or perhaps to what degree it shrinks, and also whether the party’s electorate will look more like it did in 2013 – when it went with Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam for governor and LG – and/or 2009 – when it went with Creigh Deeds, the most conservative candidate in that Democratic primary for governor, over Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran, who was running as the most progressive candidate in that race – or whether it will actually vote more “left” than it has in the past. We’ll see. Also, we’ll see if McAuliffe moves “left” somewhat himself, whether on natural gas pipelines, Dominion Energy or whatever, and whether that appears credible to Virginia Democratic primary voters. For instance, note that in 2019, McAuliffe endorsed the progressive Commonwealth’s Attorney candidates Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and Steve Descano over the incumbents…)
- RT: “Just how influential is the left wing of the Democratic Party?” (This is basically the same point as the Roanoke Times editorial page made in #1, but they do add an important point, that Virginia’s Black voters went overwhelmingly for Joe Biden in the Democratic presidential primary back in March 2020 over more “left” candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. On a related note, McAuliffe worked very hard for Biden, and Biden called McAuliffe the “once and future governor of Virginia,” which seemed to tip Biden’s hand regarding his preference in 2021.)
- RT: “Does Fairfax have any support?” (The Roanoke Times is *very* skeptical that he does. I’d like to see some polling, but I tend to agree with that skepticism, especially with two other African-American candidates – Jennifer McClellan and Jennifer Carroll Foy – also in the race.)
- RT: “Who will emerge as McAuliffe’s main challenger?” (With McAuliffe starting off as the heavy favorite among almost all Virginia politicos, this is a key question. Remember, there’s no “Ranked Choice” or “Instant Runoff” voting in Virginia, so whoever wins a plurality – whether it’s 45%, 35% or whatever – wins the nomination. Which means that if this race shakes out as “McAuliffe vs. several possible options to McAuliffe,” the Roanoke Times is probably right that “[i]n a multi-candidate field, one of them [McClellan or Carroll Foy] has to emerge as the main contender — or McAuliffe may find an easy path through a divided field.” Now, if either McClellan or Carroll Foy were to drop out or “drop down” to LG, that could change the picture considerably, but there’s been no indication that either of them will do that.)
- RT: “Which candidate would Carter hurt the most?” (I agree 100% with the Roanoke Times that “Carter won’t be taking votes away from McAuliffe.” More likely, he’d split the “left” vote with Carroll Foy, making it less like that she’d get the nomination, and conversely more like that McAuliffe *would* get the nomination. So yes, “the most likely result of Carter’s candidacy is to make it easier for McAuliffe to win the nomination. Irony abounds.”)
- RT: “Is Virginia now irretrievably Democratic or is there a chance that under the right circumstances a Republican could win?” (Good question by the Roanoke Times. To me, the key question is whether anti-Trump fervor among Virginia Democrats will “abate once Trump leaves office,” and whether Democratic activism and turnout will drop accordingly. If it were to do so dramatically, and if Republicans were smart enough to pick an electable candidate – in other words, almost certainly not Amanda Chase – it’s theoretically possible that Virginia, as it’s done historically, will swing against the party that just took the White House. On the other hand, Republicans haven’t won a statewide election since 2009, while losing the Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate. Also, Virginia just went by 10 points for Joe Biden, and by wide margins for Northam in 2017, Kaine in 2018, Warner in 2020, etc. And, if anything, the Virginia GOP is getting even more extreme and out of touch with the bulk of Virginia voters, who live in the urban/suburban “crescent” from Hampton Roads through the Richmond area to Northern Virginia. So…yes, it’s *possible* that Republicans could win next year, but not likely.)
- RT: “What lessons have Republicans learned from the Trump era?” (As noted above, if anything Republicans continue to move towards the far right and out of the mainstream. Will they pull back from that in 2021? I’m very, very skeptical, and actually think it’s more likely they go with an extremist like Amanda Chase. But IF Virginia Republicans were to nominate someone who’s more of a pro-business “moderate,” perhaps someone like former Carlyle Group CEO Glenn Youngkin, and if Democrats are divided and/or in disarray for whatever reasons, and also depending on how the economy’s doing, what Biden’s approval ratings look like, etc., then…sure, they could win.)
- Will Virginia Democratic “heavyweights” endorse in the Democratic 2021 governor’s primary? (I’m talking about folks like Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, plus Gov. Ralph Northam in particular. I basically agree with Ben “Not Larry Sabato” Tribbett on this one – they’ll almost certainly stay out of it. I mean, what’s the upside for them to get involved in this messy fight, especially given that both Warner and Kaine presumably have good relations with at least two of the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates – McAuliffe and McClellan? I don’t see it, but if either of these two heavweights – Kaine and/or Warner – *were* to endorse , obviously it would be a big deal. How about other endorsements, besides Warner and Kaine? Will Gov. Northam weigh in? Again, I doubt it. How about Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn? House Majority Leader Charniele Herring? Senate Majority leader Dick Saslaw? U.S. House members? Others? The Washington Post? And how much impact will these endorsements have?)
- How divisive will the Democratic primaries get? (My main fear heading into the 2021 Virginia Democratic primaries is that they could do serious damage to the amazing Democratic unity we saw during the Trump years. With Democrats’ “common enemy” gone, will they now form the proverbial “circular firing squad” and start going after each other in harsh ways? Could we, for instance, see schisms deepen among Democrats along ideological lines? gender? racial? geographic? any/all of those? Or will the primaries remain relatively civil? Oh, and if the primaries get nasty, will that do permanent damage heading into the general election, or will Democrats unite against the Republican nominees – particularly if they are extremists like Amanda Chase – regardless of who Democrats supported in the primaries?)
- What will the national political and economic picture look like? (Will Biden/Harris get off to a strong start…or not? Will the country be well on the way towards recovering from COVID-19 and the associate economic downturn…or not? What will Biden’s approval rating look like heading into the fall of 2021? Will there be any major incidents that will shift public opinion on particular issues, such as what happened with the George Floyd murder and the “Black Lives Matter” movement in 2020? Will Trump mostly fade away or will he stick around, and how might that impact Republican unity – or civil war – in 2021? All of these factors – and more – are likely to play a role in determining the Virginia political environment next year.)
- Will Democrats be able to hold the Virginia House of Delegates? (Remember, when Trump assumed office in January 2017, Democrats had only 34 seats out of 100 in the Virginia House of Delegates. Now, following the 2017 and 2019 “blue wave” elections, Democrats have 55 out of 100 in the House. With Trump out of the White House, can Democrats maintain their majority in the House of Delegates? Note that in 2019, there were a number of House seats that Democrat won by only small margins, such as Wendy Gooditis in HD10 with 52.3%, Chris Hurst in HD12 with 53.6%, Joshua Cole in HD28 with 51.8%, Elizabeth Guzman in HD31 with 52.6%, Dan Helmer in HD40 with 52.3%, Lee Carter in HD50 with 53.3%, Schuyler VanValkenburg in HD72 with 53.3%, Rodney Willett in HD73 with 52.2%, Roslyn Tyler in HD75 with 51.0%, Nancy Guy in HD83 with 50.0%, Alex Askew in HD85 with 51.6%, etc. If Democratic turnout falls, relatively speaking, in 2021, can all or most of these folks hold on to their seats? On the other hand, if Democratic turnout does NOT fall off and/or if Republicans are divided/demoralized, could Democrats not just hold these seats but even pick up a few more? We’ll see…)
- Will the Virginia House of Delegates races be run under new or current district lines? (Will the Census be completed in time to draw new district lines for the 2021 Virginia House of Delegates elections? If so, what will those districts look like? Will they end up being drawn by the new “bipartisan” redistricting commission, or will they end up getting kicked to the Republican-dominated Virginia Supreme Court? If the latter, will the Supreme Court draw lines to favor Republicans, or will they give the job to a neutral “special master?” Lots of questions, few answers right now, but if I were betting, right now I’d probably put money on the 2021 Virginia House of Delegates elections being run under current district lines, followed by possibly elections under new lines in 2022, then another set of elections in 2023. And you thought Virginia already had too many elections? LOL)
- How will the Virginia Democrats’ LG and AG primaries play out? (Right now, there are seven Democratic candidates for LG and two for AG – note that Shannon Taylor is listed but is not likely to run, now that Mark Herring is running for reelection. Regarding the LG contest, note again that there’s no “Ranked Choice” or “Instant Runoff” voting in Virginia, so whoever wins a plurality will be the nominee, even if it’s with only 30% of the vote or whatever. Right now, it’s almost impossible to predict how that one’s going to play out, and to what degree Democratic voters will focus on ideology, “identity politics,” electability, name ID or whatever. We’ll also have to wait and see how strong these candidates and their campaigns prove to be. As for AG, how strong will Del. Jay Jones’ challenge to incumbent Mark Herring be? And what will that race focus on? For instance, will Jones try to run to Herring’s “left” in some ways, such as on criminal justice and policing reform? How will Herring respond to that?).
- Will the 2021 Virginia elections be “nationalized” more more “local” in focus? (Back in 2005, when I first got involved in Virginia politics, Tim Kaine and Republican Jerry Kilgore were mostly fighting their race for governor on Virginia-centric issues through the summer, and Kilgore generally maintained a small lead. However, after Hurricane Katrina, President Bush’s approval rating fell, people’s attention shifted to that disaster, and Kaine pulled ahead of Kilgore…going on to win by about 6 points. And in 2009, Virginia Democrats got wiped out, not because of any “local” issues, but because of the massive, national “Tea Party” backlash against the nation’s first Black President, Barack Obama. Then in 2013, a lengthy federal government shutdown seemed to help Virginia Democrats surge into the lead, only to be followed by a messy rollout of the “Obamacare” healthcare.gov website, which Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli hammered in the closing days of the campaign, almost pulling out an upset win over Terry McAuliffe, and almost sinking Mark Herring for AG as well. Finally, we know what happened in 2017, the national “blue wave” beginning here in Virginia. So…again, will the 2021 Virginia elections be determined more by national events, largely outside our control, or by local/state issues? Given what we saw in 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017, personally I’m betting on the former.)
Any other questions you think should be on this list? Feel free to weigh in! Thanks.