One year after presidential elections, two states — Virginia and New Jersey — hold statewide elections that are closely watched as an indicator of voter sentiment a year after (re)electing a president.
To be honest, election analysts who focus on federal politics have little else to do in odd-number years but focus on the races for governor of a deep blue and a trending blue state looking for signs and portents that might have some national relevance.
Whatever Virginia’s 2017 election may have revealed about national politics it certainly delivered a message to the RPV about the stiff winds Republicans face in Northern Virginia (NoVa).
An analysis of Republican candidate performance in NoVa in the 2012 and 2016 Presidential elections, the 2013 gubernatorial election, and the 2014 US Senate election was published by The Republican Standard in August 2017. It revealed that a significant number of NoVa voters who went Republican in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 statewide races did not vote for the Republican candidate in 2016, with most choosing the Democrat, Mrs. Clinton.
One question faced by Ed Gillespie in his 2017 gubernatorial campaign was whether he could, a year into the Trump presidency, win back alienated NoVa Republicans. As shown in the table, Trump underperformed among Republican voters in NoVa cities and counties by 3.5 to 12.5 percentage points compared to Romney (2012) and by 10 to 12 percentage points compared to Ed Gillespie’s 2014 Senate campaign.
Republican votes by NoVa City/County in State-Wide Races Since 2012
2017 Governor (Gillespie)
2016 Presidential (Trump)
2014 Senate (Gillespie)
2013 Governor (Cuccinelli)
2012 Presidential (Romney)
Falls Church City
Manassas Park City
Prince William County
In the 2017 gubernatorial election, the percentage of votes cast for Republican Ed Gillespie recovered by 1 to 3 percentage points compared to Trump’s 2016 NoVa results, but they lagged Ken Cuccinelli’s 2013 percentages by 2 to 6 points and Gillespie’s own 2014 Senate results by 7 to 10 percentage points. For those who don’t remember, Cuccinelli was not a popular figure in Northern Virginia.
That said, the total number of Republican votes in the 2017 race was higher in every NoVa City and County than in the 2013 gubernatorial election. According to the Washington Post and others, turnout was even higher among Democrats in NoVa (as well as Central Virginia, and Hampton Roads). Graphics in the WaPo article illustrates that higher turnout in Republican parts of Virginia was not sufficient to overcome increased turnout in heavily Democrat urban areas.
NoVa is at the center of both the #Resist and #NeverTrump movements. Energized anti-Trump voters became anti-Republican voters, deciding Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial election. Trump underperformed Romney by ten points and more in the most densely populated areas of NoVa. Gillespie’s run for governor underperformed his Senate run by 7 to 10 points. Corey Stewart could be on track to do much worse.
According to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Tim Kaine leads Corey Stewart by 14.5 points, with the most recent poll showing an 18-point lead. Stewart’s candidacy is bad news for candidates such as Barbara Comstock and other down-ballot Republicans throughout Virginia.
A recent poll has Comstock trailing her lesser known opponent, Jennifer Wexton, by 10 percentage points. Stewart’s primary win has turned off Republican donors. Speculation is rampant that Stewart’s candidacy is the reason RPV chairman John Whitbeck resigned. The Republican National Committee has said it is focusing efforts on other Senate races that seem more winnable.
Stewart’s reputation in NoVa can hardly be much more unfavorable. An Alexandria poll worker wrote a piece about the June primary for the Richmond Times Dispatch. On the topic of Stewart she said:
At least a few [voters] asking for both ballots were Democrats who wanted to help Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in his re-election bid by voting for the weakest Republican. They needn’t have worried. Virginia Republicans obliged.
The #Resistance is the tide carrying the Democrat party further left, which may or may not benefit Republicans at the presidential level in 2020. An ascendancy by more progressive candidates is most likely to be reverberate in election results and governance at the local level in one-party areas such as NoVa. It must be asked again, without an urban governing philosophy, that effectively responds to the call of the left, can conservatives lead the Republican Party to even minimal success in the most dynamic areas of the country?