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Among the many consequences of the concentration of Democrat-leaning people in urban areas is that the political views of their Republican-leaning neighbors are of no electoral consequence.

Virginia Republicans living in Arlington County or the City of Alexandria are represented by two Democrat US senators, a Democrat congressman, Democrat state senators and delegates, and, with the exception of a single independent on the Arlington County Board, Democrats fill every elected seat in both County and City (not including school boards, which are putatively non-partisan).

The landscape is not much better elsewhere in Northern Virginia, be it close-in Fairfax County or the more distant NOVA suburbs of Loudoun and Prince William Counties. To be a Republican in Northern Virginia is to be reconciled to local political irrelevance, and, in locations such as Del Ray — a trendy Alexandria neighborhood — feeling unwelcome.

But Republican candidates for statewide offices can’t ignore NOVA where there is both money to be raised and voters to be chased.

In both the 2016 presidential and the 2013 gubernatorial elections, NoVa accounted for 28% of the statewide vote (28.5% in 2016 and 27.8% in 2013). Candidates typically estimate that they need about 35% of the vote in Alexandria and Arlington, 40 to 45% in Fairfax County, and 45 to 50% in Loudon and Prince William Counties to have a realistic shot at winning.

In 2009, McDonnel-Bolling-Cuccinelli threesome were the last Republicans to win statewide offices. That election was unusual, a historical peak for statewide Republican voting. Ballotpedia described the outcome:

This election had only 22 counties voting Democratic, the smallest amount in any statewide election in the past eight years. In the case of Newport News City, Deeds topped McDonnell with only 14 votes. McDonnell, with his 58.6% of the general election vote, had the largest percentage win of any gubernatorial race in 48 years.

How have statewide candidates fared in NOVA in the three statewide elections since 2009?

2016 & 2012 Presidential

Northern Virginia is the home of voters who on non-election days are occupied in the conservative punditocracy, right-leaning think tank policy wonks, and believe it or not even some right-of-center federal civil servants. In 2016, many NOVA Republicans joined the ranks of Never Trumpers not supporting their party’s candidate. Comparing 2016 to 2012 vote totals in NOVA cities and counties, there was a remarkably uniform 10 to 12% decrease in votes for the Republican candidate (Trump v. Romney) in the closer-in locations, declining to a 3 to 5% shortfall in the more distant suburbs (Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park).

Where did the 2012 R votes go in 2016? The numbers tell the story – some voted for Libertarian candidate Johnson (in Fairfax Co., Johnson seems to have received almost all the Republican differential (=2012-2016) votes), some look to have voted for Clinton, and some just stayed home. For example, in Alexandria City, the Romney-Trump differential was about -7,000 votes. Clinton received about 5,000 more in 2016 than Obama did in 2012. Johnson’s vote total went up by about 1,500 in 2016 compared to 2012.

All else being equal, something like 500 Republicans in Alexandria just didn’t vote. Arlington results are proportionally similar. With a differential of about 14,000 votes, Clinton 2016 outpolled Obama 2012 by about 10,000 votes, Johnson’s total increased by about 2,600. Leaving a few thousand R voters unaccounted for – they probably just stayed home.

An interesting observation about the numbers – in all the inner NoVa cities/counties, Clinton handily beat Obama’s 2012 vote totals. Only in the more distant suburbs (Pr. William-Manassas–Manassas Park) did 2012 Obama outpoll 2016 Clinton.

Percent (No. of votes)
County/City 2016ClintonTrumpJohnson
2012ObamaRomneyJohnson
Alexandria City76.8 (57,147)17.8 (13,241)2.7 (2,016)
201271.4 (52,434)27.5 (20,205)0.7 (551)
Arlington County77.0 (91,879)16.9 (20,155)3.2 (3,816)
201269.2 (81,178)29.4 (34,433)1.0 (1,176)
Fairfax County65.3 (354,485)29.1 (157,837)2.9 (15,649)
201259.3 (260,835)39.5 (173,786)0.9 (3,818)
Fairfax City62.1 (7,363)31.2 (3,695)3.6 (427)
201257.3 (6,636)41.1 (4,762)1.1 (123)
Falls Church City75.8 (5,810)17.3 (1,323)3.1 (236)
201259.1 (5,006)29.6 (2,141)0.8 (61)
Loudoun County55.4 (99,909)38.6 (69,633)3.4 (6,051)
201251.6 (81,900)47.1 (74,794)0.9 (1,387)
Manassas City55.2 (8,395)39.0 (5,934)3.2 (487)
201255.9 (8,478)42.6 (6,463)1.0 (148)
Manassas Park City61.7 (3,218)33.2 (1,732)3.1 (162)
201262.1 (2,873)36.7 (1,696)0.8 (37)
Prince William County57.4 (83,093)37.3 (54,065)2.9 (4,209)
201257.4 (103,161)41.4 (74,371)0.8 (1,370)

 

The bottom line is that in Northern Virginia, Romney’s 2012 vote totals likely represents what was then the hard-core Republican base as Mr. Romney seems to have had little cross-over appeal. That hard-core base was eroded by Mr. Trump in 2016.

Will it come back and vote for Ed Gillespie for governor this year? Or re-elect Barbara Comstock in 2018?

2014 US Senate (Warner-Gillespie-Sarvis)

How did Ed Gillespie do in NOVA in the 2014 Senate race against Mark Warner?

In this unexpectedly close race, Mr. Gillespie actually won Loudoun County, and gained a higher percentage of the vote than Romney 2012 in Pr. William Co., taking 47.5% of the 2014 vote to Mr. Romney’s 41.4% in 2012. Results in the close-in suburbs suggest that the base remained relatively unchanged: Gillespie 2014 vis-à-vis Romney 2012 in Arlington (26.9% vs. 29.4%), Fairfax Counties (40.2 vs. 39.5), City of Alexandria (27.7 vs. 27.5).

Percent (No. of votes)
County/ City 2014WarnerGillespieSarvis
Alexandria City70.2 (29,008)27.7 (11,456)2.1 (859)
Arlington County70.7 (47,643)26.9 (18,121)2.5 (1,657)
Fairfax County57.7 (176,418)40.2 (122,857)2.0 (6,329)
Loudoun County48.6 (45,042)49.1 (45,500)2.2 (2,081)
Prince William County50.4 (48,146)47.5 (45,376)2.0 (1,911)

 

Mr. Gillespie U.S. Senate race in 2014 won back some of the voters who defected in the 2013 gubernatorial race, won by Terry McAuliffe. Although Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli was a long-time resident and started his political career as state senator from Fairfax County, he was unable to attract the crossover vote needed to win statewide.

Republican candidates for statewide offices can’t ignore NOVA where there is both money to be raised and voters to be chased.

The race was closer than expected, which led to intra-party finger pointing at “the establishment,” at the ill-timed federal government shut down weeks before the election, and at a lack of funding support by the national party.

Still, in the deep blue precincts in Northern Virginia, Cuccinelli was painted as an extremist without much push back, and the NOVA election results shows it. Mr. Cuccinelli’s 2013 numbers were better than Trumps’s 2016 results throughout Northern Virginia, and were similar to Romney’s 2012 percentages in the Loudoun and Prince William.

2013 Virginia Gubernatorial (McAuliffe-Cuccinelli-Sarvis)

 Percent (No. of votes)
County/ City 2013McAuliffeCuccinelliSarvis
Alexandria City72.0 (29,533)22.9 (9,383)5.2 (2,114)
Arlington County71.9 (48,288)22.3 (14,960)5.9 (3,942)
Fairfax County58.4 (176,092)36.4 (109,585)5.2 (15,607)
Fairfax City55.7 (3,984)38.8 (2,774)5.5 (395)
Falls Church City71.6 (3,516)23.2 (1,141)5.1 (251)
Loudoun County49.7 (44,288)45.3 (40,353)5.0 (4,469)
Manassas City48.8 (4,013)46.6 (3,828)4.6 (381)
Manassas Park City53.8 (1,142)41.8 (888)4.4 (93)
Prince William County52.0 (50,409)43.8 (42,410)4.2 (4,081)

 

Cuccinelli’s totals added together with Rob Sarvis (Libertarian) 2013 votes and the Gillespie’s numbers in his 2014 run for US Senate suggests that the right-of-center vote in Northern Virginia has been stable.

Whether the antipathy many NOVA voters showed for Mr. Trump carries over into the 2017 gubernatorial with decreased support for Republican candidates for statewide offices will be a question the Gillespie campaign must address. Cliff Hyra rather than Rob Sarvis will be running for the Libertarian Party, again providing an outlet for voters unhappy with the two major parties.