No question, Democrats took Republicans to the woodshed on Tuesday night in Virginia. They won all three statewide offices and nearly captured the Virginia House of Delegates.
Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate, captured more votes than any Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia history. But Ralph Northam, his Democratic opponent, captured more than any gubernatorial candidate in state history.
Republicans are right to be nervous about what happened in the Old Dominion on Tuesday, but Democrats would be wise not to overinterpret.
Yes, a shellacking a year out from the 2018 midterms is not good for Republicans, and yes, that it happened because of a large turnout of enthusiastic voters for the other party is doubly bad.
But Virginia has been trending blue for 20 years. Republicans there are just 1-10 in major statewide races since 2005. Hillary Clinton carried it over President Trump. President Barack Obama carried it twice. Both senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, are Democrats.
Fueled by the growth of the federal government, Northern Virginia has both veered left and become the dominant region in terms of influence within the state as other regions, such as coal country in southwestern Virginia and the Tidewater area, have struggled.
Also, for the first time, 156,000 ex-felons, who had their voting rights unilaterally restored under Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, were eligible to vote in the statewide election.
Republicans might pick off an election occasionally in the Commonwealth, but statewide races are out of reach unless Northern Virginia somehow gets annexed to the District of Columbia.
One can quibble over campaign tactics – some said Gillespie should have run closer to Trump; others said he should have created more distance – but Gillespie could hardly run against a first-year president of his own party who fires up the base and who still has that new car smell. Jill Vogel, the lieutenant governor candidate, fully embraced Trump and fared only slightly better.
The fact is Virginia is not Trump country right now. Northam took a 3.3 percent edge into election day and still outperformed it – nearly tripling the projected margin of victory. He attracted “an enthusiastic, more polarized Virginia electorate,” according to the Washington Post, performing especially well in the 18-29 age group, which Hillary Clinton won Virginia without managing to do.
Democrats are fired up.
Trump’s approval ratings are low.
The average midterm loss of House seats since World War II is 25, and Democrats need just 24 to take control. Republicans are frustrated with being mired in a do-nothing Congress that couldn’t even fulfill its seven-year promise to repeal Obamacare. On top of that, several House GOP members have announced their retirement.
It’s time for congressional Republicans to pass tax reform and other key Trump agenda items, even if it means some members have to take tough votes. If they fail to deliver, the consequences could be disastrous.
The numbers favor the Democrats in 2018. It seems they will gain seats, the only question is how many. And that, to a large extent, is up to the Republicans in Congress.
Ford O'Connell (@FordOConnell) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an adjunct professor at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, worked on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, and authored the book "Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery."
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