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How Did Our “15 Things to Keep an Eye On” in Virginia Politics in 2020 – Posted a Year Ago – Turn Out?


At the end of December 2019, which now seems like an eternity ago, we posted Virginia Politics 2020: 15 Things to Keep an Eye On. Let’s review them and see how things turn out [In green and bold following each item]. First off, though, note that a year ago, we had basically ZERO idea that there would be a global pandemic in 2020, and that it would dominate the news…so keep that in mind as you look through this list.

  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. [In the end, that Research America poll wasn’t too bad – at least regarding the order of finish – with Biden winning the Virginia Democratic primary with 53.3% of the vote, followed by Sanders with 23.2% and Warren at 10.8%. Of course, there were a lot of twists and turns along the way to getting there, including Biden being left for near-dead politically after Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire, before he started his massive comeback in South Carolina…and the rest is history!]
  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… [Virginia’s General Assembly Democrats didn’t go for higher taxes or a Green New Deal, but they did pass a ton of legislation, including many issues popular with the electorate. One pleasant surprise was how well, generally speaking, Senate Democrats held together, given their slim, 21-19 seat majority, and mostly didn’t splinter into factions and disunity. So credit where credit’s due to Senate leadership on that one. Of course, there was tension – at times a great deal of tension – between House and Senate Democrats, but in the end, the vast majority of legislative priorities passed and were signed into law. Which, in the end, is probably aht most voters care about anyway. So…nice job!]
  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? [For the most part, House and Senate Republicans opposed major Democratic initiatives, at times acting ridiculously and/or obnoxiously, such as their temper tantrum with regard to holding House of Delegates sessions remotely due to the pandemic, and also to an extent with criminal justice and policing reform. Overall, though, it probably could have been worse, given how crazy and extreme the Trump Republican Party has gotten these days. But the bottom line is that Democrats were in charge, and they mostly set the agenda…thank goodness.]
  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. [It ended up being Scott Taylor taking on – and losing to – Rep. Elaine Luria in VA02, with Nick Freitas taking on – and losing to – Rep. Abigail Spanberger in VA07. And for U.S. Senate, Republicans went with someone – Daniel Gade – who had never run before and wasn’t well known or well funded. In the end, Gade lost by 12 points to Warner…a much more comfortable margin than Warner had in 2014 against Ed Gillespie.]
  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. [Both Luria and Spanberger ended up winning – Luria by 6 points and Spanberger by just under 2 points. And both were certainly “marquee” races in Virginia this year, along with a surprise – Dr. Cameron Webb vs. Bob Good in VA05, which Good ended up winning, unfortunately – after first knocking off incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman in a bizarre VA05 GOP nominating process – despite polling indicating a good shot for rising star Dr. Webb to pull the upset. Major bummer.]
  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)? [No incumbent Democratic U.S. House member in Virginia was ousted – or even came close to being ousted – in a primary in 2020. In VA01, Democrats nominated Qasim Rashid, who defeated 2018 nominee Vangie Williams in a close primary. And in VA05, Democrats nominated Dr. Cameron Webb, who racked up an astounding 67% of the vote in a four-way Democratic primary in June.]
  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? [Short answer: yes, by a whopping 10 points. At least at the presidential level, Virginia now appears to be a fairly deep shade of blue politically.]
  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. [McAuliffe opted not to head into the Biden administration, but instead to run for Virginia governor again. And Mark Herring decided to run for reelection as AG instead of running for governor, as he had earlier indicated he would do.  The other potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates – Jennifer McClellan, Jennifer Carroll Foy, Justin Fairfax – mentioned above all entered the race. As for Republicans, they basically continued lurching to the right, with State Sen. Amanda Chase one of two leading contenders  -along with Del. Kirk Cox, who is one of the most conservative/right-wing members of the General Assembly – for VA GOP gubernatorial nomination. However, we still don’t necessarily know the entire VA GOP 2021 gubernatorial field, as we wait for possible announcements from Glenn Youngkin, Pete Snyder, etc. Hell, could Ken Cuccinelli or Corey Stewart even throw their hats in the ring? Probably not, but you never know. Stay tuned…]
  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. [Yep, it’s basically a “cast of thousands” – ok, eight so far, with possibly more on the way – on the Democratic side for Lt. Governor, with Del. Mark Levine announcing just yesterday that he’d be joining Del. Hala Ayala, Del. Elizabeth Guzman, Del. Sam Rasoul, Norfolk City Councilwoman Andria McClellan, Sean Perryman, Paul Goldman and Xavier Warren in the crowded field. As for AG, it looks like neither Del. Charniele Herring nor Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor are running, but Del. Jay Jones definitely IS running, setting up what could be a highly competitive, possibly contentious race for the Dems’ AG nomination in June 2021.]
  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.” [According to the VAPLAN 2020 scorecard, both Jennifer Carroll Foy and Jennifer McClellan had highly progressive voting records in 2020 – Carroll Foy #11 most progressive in the House of Delegates, McClellan #7 most progressive in the Senate. As for ideological splits, you could see some of that on issues like guns, qualified immunity, redistricting reform, the Green New Deal to an extent, etc. But overall, I’d argue that fault lines weren’t so much between the newer delegates and the older delegates, but between the House Dems and Senate Dems.]
  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.” [For the most part, the House Dems held together well and passed a huge amount of progressive and environmental legislation, with the one exception of the godawful redistricting amendment, where we saw deep divides between Senate and House Dems, and also to an extent among House Dems.]
  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.” [This was a FAR-too-pessimistic prediction from the progressive Dem politico. In the end, Democrats had a highly productive, historic session, churning out dozens if not hundreds of important pieces of legislation. Is there still more to do? Hell yes. But did Virginia General Assembly Democrats only get a “handful of easy wins” in 2020? Nope.]
  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… [In the end, Democrats passed seven gun violence prevention bills into law – “These laws implement universal background checks for sales of firearms, require gun owners to report lost and stolen firearms, increase the penalty for recklessly allowing children to have access to loaded firearms, allow localities to ban firearms at certain public facilities or events, establish substantial risk protective orders, prohibit persons subject to domestic violence protective orders from possessing firearms, and restore a limit on the number of gun purchases a person may make per month.” As for the rhetoric…nope, it definitely did NOT calm down at all – see here and here, for instance.]
  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 redistricting reform 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? [Nope, unfortunately, Dems did not ditch so-called “right-to-work” – aka, anti-worker/anti-union laws – in Virginia..at least not in 2020. Also unfortunately, they DID pass the badly flawed constitutional amendment on redistricting. Other than that, COVID-19 scrambled everything, including things like more money for teachers, schools, etc. That prompted a special session, which went on for weeks as the House and Senate attempted to deal with the impact not just of COVID-19, but also of demands for criminal justice and policing reforms in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd on May 25.]
  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? [I’d say it’s somewhat early to judge this one, plus everything was scrambled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It probably will be fairer to judge these new boards after four years.]

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