As my Sorensen friends know I can be fierce partisan—I make no bones about being a Democrat though on occasion I do vote for a good Republican.
I also can be very objective when I put my political historian/scientist hat on. So bear with me as I make some comments regarding the upcoming election.
Key. ? Tossup = Remains with the current party + Pickup by Democrats/or Republicans (Link to Cook Political Report predictions https://cookpolitical.com/analysis/house/virginia-house/why-virginias-delegate-races-could-be-most-telling-2017-elections.) (Link to Larry Sabato’s http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/)
? Governor: Tossup leaning Democratic. Monday update. Believe that several events have taken the wind out of Gillespie’s sail and that in the last 48 hours the Democrats have done everything that is required to win, most importantly focusing on the Get Out To Vote activities. Weather tomorrow is expected to be cold and rainy which I feel may impact Gillespie’s base more than Northam. Watch for early turnout in urban areas–that will be an indication about how serious Virginians take this race. Based on everything I am seeing I think Northam pull it out by 2-4%.
Daily 202 in the Washington Post has a good take on the election. There take on the election is that it is Northam’s to lose. They do highlight another developing issue the split between the progressive wing of the Democratic party and what I call the governing wing. Meanwhile I saw an article from Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch which indicated that the Christopher Newport poll shows Northam up by 5%. Several other tracking polls show the race as either even or Northam with a slight lead. Weather tomorrow is suppose to be cold and wet. One interesting statistic was this “The contest has set a record for absentee voting: “The more than 147,000 absentee votes cast as of Friday night is the most for a nonpresidential year in Virginia history.”’ Lieutenant Governor candidate Justin Fairfax summed up what must happen tomorrow for them to win, using a Star Wars analogy, ‘“I want you to stay on target,” Fairfax said. “Do not let them divide us. Every time they try, stay on target. When the rain is soaking your clothes, when you are exhausted and you can’t move another inch, I want you to use the force and find that energy. … We need you to bring people out to the polls like our lives depend on it – because they do.”’
Sunday update. The article in the Washington Post where Steve Bannon indicated that because of Corey Stewart, Ed Gillespie is going to win causes me to change my Saturday update. I believe this will pull some of the wind out of Gillespie’s sail and truly makes this race winnable by Northam—regardless it will be decided by 1% or less. Having Bannon (who has very high negatives) tie Gillespie to Stewart (whose negatives in Prince William County climb daily and is seen as a buffoon my most in Northern Virginia) and by implication to Trump has the distinct possibility to drive a larger than normal turnout in Northern Virginia and the urban crescent.
Saturday update: Based on a forecast for possible rain on Tuesday, late surge of negative ads by Gillespie I think we have an upset on Tuesday, with Northam losing to Gillespie by 1%. While Northam has about an 8 million dollar fundraising advantage, Gillespie has been blanking the airwaves in the big markets in Virginia as with all his ads they are designed to cause undecided voters and moderates to believe that Northam is sometime of horrible Liberal who protects MS13 and is unpatriotic because he won’t call out NFL players for kneeling during the National Anthem. Jeff Shapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch has a good take here and here on the race here.
Based on latest polling I downgraded the margin from 52% Northam to Gillespie 48% (Wednesday) yesterday to 51% to Gillespie 49% (Thursday). As of Friday I am beginning to have doubts about a Democratic victory. Wind seems to be behind the Republican back. Wildcard could be the Libertarian candidate for Governor—if they poll well above 1% statewide most noticeable impact on Gillespie.
It will be close because of a couple of missteps on his part, the ad of one supporter and having to burn money because of the challenge by Tom Perrillio.
Northam has spent a lot of time raising money when he should have been campaigning. Why, because Tom Perrillio decided in January of last year to challenge him. Certainly Perillio’s right, but it has resulted in Northam to spend time trolling for cash when he should be campaigning. This has hurt his campaign.
Let’s begin with missteps. He and the ticket have largely written off rural Virginia. Yes, I realize that a Democrat can win by taking the urban areas, but you govern when you appeal to a large swath of voters. Will he win in rural Virginia—No. But to win he needs to have a mean average of about 30 to 35 percent from rural counties. While acknowledging the Buena Vista is no longer a Democratic stronghold, not participating in the speech making on Labor Day was a mistake. Ignoring rural Virginia is just plain dumb.
TV ad by the Hispanic group. Plays on fear and will alienate some voters who might vote for Ralph Northam. I realize the campaign does not control this ad but it hurts nevertheless.
Leaving Justin Fairfax off the mailer sent out by a Union. I would have told them no thanks. Leaving Fairfax off was just plain wrong. Jerry Bailies when he ran with Doug Wilder and Mary Sue Terry never to my knowledge never ran away from the fact that Doug Wilder was African America and his running mate. In fact, one of the best ads from either that election or Doug Wilder’s run for Governor was the Good Ole Boy Sheriff with appropriate Southside Virginia accent talking about why he was supporting Doug Wilder.
For Northam to win. Good weather, moderate to heavy turnout in urban areas, and must get 30-35% of vote on average in rural counties. Key is how fired up are Democrats and independents about President Trump. Listening to the Kojo Nnamdi show on October 31, a caller from Warrenton stated, she had always voted Republican all her life but this year she was voting straight Democrat. She described herself as a middle age middle income white women. If this demographic is switching to the Democratic Party good sign for Northam.
On the Republican side, Ed Gillespie has run some great negative ads. MS13 and soft of pedophiles. His most recent ad ties Northam to the NFL protest of taking a knee during the National Anthem. Whether you want to acknowledge it they work (see 1 November Washington Post Daily 202). The key for Gillespie is turnout in rural areas and to do well in urban Virginia against Northam. If Gillespie stays within 5 pts of Northam in the urban areas and holds Northam to less than 30% on average in the rural parts of the state or if turnout is heavy in rural Virginia and weak in the urban crescent Gillespie could win. Regardless the election will be a will result in a long night for the political nerds like me.
Lieutenant Governor: Race for Lieutenant Governor between Vogel and Fairfax. All the conditions above hold and at the end of the day Fairfax wins 51% to 49%.
He will do worse than Northam in the rural areas but will pile up enough votes in urban Virginia to beat Vogel. Fairfax has run an almost flawless campaign. He connects well with voters and he has made no missteps. Vogel comes off as extreme and has not really made a case why she should be Lieutenant Governor. Decision of Northam campaign to leave Fairfax off the advertiser will help Fairfax within African American community—as some may vote only for him and not the other candidates or vote for Fairfax and Herring and not vote for Governor. Endorsement by former Governor Doug Wilder big particularly since he did not endorse either Northam or Herring.
? Attorney General Tossup: Race for Attorney General is the one to watch. Expect a recount as it will be close. Mark Herring who was elected four years ago and who gave up an opportunity to run against Northam for the nomination to be the Democratic candidate for Governor. He barely won four years ago against Obenshain with the race being determined in a recount. Obenshain, the scion of a political family from the Valley of Virginia ran a strong campaign. Herring victory was secured in Northern Virginia. His opponent this year is John Adams. Adams is running his first political campaign. He is a lawyer for McGuire Woods in Richmond and clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. The campaign has been about Herring being out of step with Virginia and not representing her interest on gay marriage etc. Adams comes across as moderate and every bit of a Richmond Main Street lawyer. This will play well in Richmond and detract from Herring in that key suburban area. The election is a tossup.
General Assembly: Democrats pickup 5 seats.
+1 District 2: This district has flipped Democratic 4 years ago; flipped Republican 2 years ago with the Republican incumbent not running for reelection. Democratic candidate is Jennifer Foy and Republican candidate is Mike Makee. Both are graduates of military schools; Foy, VMI and Makee, United States Naval Academy. Original Republican candidate dropped out after irregularities in his bio were highlighted. District is in both Prince William and Stafford counties. Both candidates highlight education and transportation as issues of importance. Demographic changes are moving this district from red to purple. Edge to Foy by 1%.
? District 12: District is in SW Virginia. Democratic challenger is Chris Hurst who was a reporter for WDBJ 7 in Roanoke and whose girlfriend was killed on air in Franklin County. Hurst is running against the incumbent Joseph Yost. Hurst has done will in fund raising and is an attractive candidate. Yost has raised about 100K more than Hurst. District is split between Montgomery, Radford City, and Blacksburg which lean Democratic. Pulaski and Giles County which lean Republican. Governor McAuliffe carried the district four years ago. If Democratic ticket does well may be enough to carry Hurst along. Tossup edge Republicans, too close to call.
+2 District 13: Race to watch. Incumbent is Bob Marshall who is one of the most conservative members of the General Assembly running against Danica Roem a transgender woman. A former reporter, this race has attracted a lot of attention in part because of Roem transgender status. Roem has outraised Marshall with lots of outside money flowing to her campaign. Marshall’s refusal to debate Roem and his refusal to refer to her as “she or her” rather using the term “he or him” has generated a lot of negative press. Roem has made traffic and congestion on State Highway 28 her major issue. Marshall has stayed in the gutter. Demographic changes are altering the makeup of this District. In a squeaker Roem will best Marshall.
= District 28: Open seat of the retiring Speaker Bill Howell. Edge to the Republicans Robert Thomas by 10%.
? District 31: Full disclosure. Scott Lingamfelter was a First Classman (Senior) at VMI when I was a Rat (freshman). I thought he was a jerk then and have not changed my opinion. Incumbent Scott Lingamfelter is running against Democrat Elizabeth Guzman and Independent Nathan Larsen. In 2013 Lingamfelter barely won reelection by defeating Jeremey Pike by 1%. In 2015 he won by 5% by knocking on a lot of doors and wearing out his shoe leather. The district went for Clinton by 10% and for Obama in 2012 by 7%. Guzman is an attractive candidate. Lingamfelter has made lot out of her filing for bankruptcy twice, calling into question whether she can be trusted with the budget of Virginia. Demographically the District has changed since Lingamfelter was first elected. I would rate this as a purple district. This race is a tossup. Edge to Republicans.
+3 District 32: Ballotpedia says this is a race to watch because the incumbent won by less than 55% and Hillary Clinton took the District by 20%. Incumbent is Tag Greason with David Reid the challenger. Both candidates have raise almost half a million dollars each, with the Democratic candidate having a slight edge in money going into the final week of the campaign. Like everything in Northern Virginia Transportation is the number 1 issue. District has been trending Democratic over the last several election cycles. Flips Democratic by 5%.
= District 34: Incumbent Democratic Delegate Kathleen Murphy verses Republican challenger Cheryl Buford. Murphy has won two closes races one by less than a 1% and the other slightly over 1%. Clinton carried the district by over 20%. Incumbent wins.
+4 District 42: Open seat by the retirement of David Albo. Albo was one of the last Republican moderates. He could on to his district as long as he served because he was within the mainstream of his voters district. With his decision to retire this solid blue district is an easy pickup by Democratic candidate Kathy Tran.
= District 50: Very interesting race. The incumbent is Jackson Miller a Republican. Last spring he ran to fill the vacancy created by the death of the Clerk of the Circuit Court who was also a Republican. He lost to relative unknown Democrat, Jacqueline C. Smith. The challenger is Lee Carter a very attractive candidate and a former Marine. Miller has an almost 2 to 1 edge in funding. The State Democratic party after springtime high hopes has pulled support for Carter. The District favors a Republican as it includes precincts in the Western part of Prince William County that tend to lean Republican. Prince William County was once considered strongly Republican but in recent years has begun to trend Democratic, particularly in the eastern portion of the county. Mailer by Miller campaign portraying Carter as being in the same league as Lenin and Marx could backfire—but unlikely. This district favors the Republicans, however, Clinton won it in 2016. Power of incumbency favors Miller. Miller wins by 3%.
= District 51: Incumbent Republican Rich Anderson verses Democrat Hala Ayala. Ayala has generated a lot of enthusiasm and raised 450K verses Anderson’s 250K. She even gave up her government job to run against Anderson. Anderson was not challenged in 2015 and defeated Reid Heddleston by 7% points in 2013. The District is located inside Prince William and Fauquier counties with the majority of the votes in the district being in the rural parts of Prince William and Fauquier. In 2016 district went for Clinton. For Ayala to win must be strong showing in Eastern precincts with decisive vote margin over Anderson. Despite Ayala strong fund raising showing, this district is gerrymandered so the more rural western portions have an undue impact on the Democratic leaning eastern precincts. Demographic work against her and favor Anderson, though I think the election will be closer than in 2013. Anderson by 2%.
+5 District 67: Democratic challenger is Karrie Delaney verses Republican incumbent James LeMunyon. District went for Clinton by over 20%. Covering parts of Fairfax and Loudon counties, think this one to really watch. Major issue is you guessed it Transportation, incumbent seems to be opposed to Toll Roads. Incumbent has reputation of working across aisle and has an almost 3 to 1 advantage in fundraising. Incumbent has clear advantage. Challenge Karrie Delaney by 5%.
? District 72: Open seat Republican incumbent did not run for reelection. Pits Democrat Schuyler Van Valenburg against Republican Edward Whitlock III. Jesus, the issues laid out by both the candidates must have been written by the national party of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Valenburg stresses education and equality; whereas Whitlock stresses core functions of government, job killing regulations, and freedom. Most experts believe Valenburg has a chance, however this district is comprised of Western Henrico county and a portion of Hanover. Clinton won the district by less than 6% last year. Composition of the district favors Republicans. Valenburg’s false claim against Whitlock tilts race in Whitlock’s favor.
= District 86: Incumbent Democrat Jennifer Boysko verses Republican challenger Linda Schulz. District covers part of Fairfax and Loudon Counties. Boysko won 2015 by less than 5%. Hillary Clinton carried district by 35%. Incumbent has an almost 6 to 1 fundraising advantage. As with all Northern Virginia districts Transportation is the number 1 issue. District remains a Democratic seat.
= District 87: Incumbent Democrat John Bell verses Republican challenger Subba Kolla. District covers part of Loudon and Prince William Counties. Bell won in 2015 by 1.9%. Like every district in Northern Virginia Transportation is the major issue. Democratic candidate has slight edge of about 100K dollars over Republican challenger Kolla. District last went Republican for a State wide race in 2009 when McDonnell defeated Deeds by a double digit margin. Democrats retain seat.
= District 93: Incumbent Mike Mullin won in a special election a year ago with 53% of the vote over Heather Cordasco. Mullin and Cordasco are challenging each other again. District covers Newport News, Williamsburg, parts of James City and York Counties. Mullin has about 150K dollars fund raising edge. Mullin won easily in the urban areas with Cordasco winning the more rural areas of James City and York Counties. Cordasco has run ad showing Mullin playing beer pong in college. Who hasn’t. “In my case it would have been me doing a “one toke over the line Sweet Jesus, one toke over the line.” By the way all that information is part of my Background dossier so don’t get your panties all knotted up.” Last statewide election in which the Republicans took the district was in 2009 when McDonnell defeated Deeds. Democrats retain the seat.
= District 94: Newport News City. Incumbent David Yancey verses Shelly Simonds. This is a rematch to the 2015 election in which Yancey topped Simonds 57% to 42%. District is located entirely inside City of Newport News. Clinton carried in 2016 by 49% to Trump 44%. Yancy enjoy a slight edge in fundraising 500+K dollars to 400+K dollars. District has bounced back and forth going for both Democratic and Republican candidates over the last decade. Again power of the incumbent gives Yancey the edge.
? District 100: Democrat Willie Randall verses incumbent Republican Delegate Rob Bloxom. District includes Accomack County and Northampton on the Eastern Shore and Norfolk City. Over 50% of the voters in the district live on the Eastern Shore with the remainder found in Norfolk City. Interesting district and race as the Eastern Shore is where Ralph Northam is from. District is purple with slight republican leanings. How long Northam coattails are will determine the winner of this race. Call this a tossup favoring Bloxom retaining his seat in the General Assembly.
Post Script: Governor. For those seeing this as a referendum on Donald Trump–it probably is. For most Virginians it isn’t. It is a race about who will best guide Virginia over the next four years. As the Richmond Times Dispatch pointed out you have a choice between a steady as you go Doctor and the ultimate party insider. But in the course of the campaign a lot of things happen and moderate Ralph Northam is now seen by many as being only slightly better than Hillary Clinton and Ed Gillespie has moved from being a moderate party insider to being an attack dog for the followers of Donald Trump. Virginia deserves better than the campaign we have followed for the last six months.
I have lost several friends over this campaign because I refuse to let them continue to spread lies about one candidate or the other. The Internet and social media has changed the nature of American politics and not for the better. As I write this I got my Economists for the week, the lead article “Social Medias Threat to Democracy”.
One can argue about whether this paper or that is a Democratic or Republican or whether CNN is liberal and Fox is conservative. The beauty of getting our news from Uncle Walter or the Daily newspaper was it allow the truth to be presented and the bullshit to be filtered out. In the Army I learned early on that the reports of initial contact were usually wrong–as the situation was not developed and people were reacting rather than analyzing. Unfortunately with a 24 hour news cycle and Social Media there is no analysis. Throw the BS out there and let the people figure out what is true, unfortunately most will take it at face value. The lack of analysis has made our politics coarser and more divisive. I long for the days when Democrats and Republicans could disagree agreeably and when possible find common ground for good of people.
General Assembly: There are several political web sites that predict a pickup of 7 to 10 with a couple seeing 12 for the Democrats. Don’t think it is in the cards. As I reviewed the districts the other day and their boundaries and composition I was struck by how many urban areas were broken up to dilute their voters choice and to enhance rural voters choice, example District 100, and District 51, are drawn to favor the Republicans and to disadvantage the Democrats. Can the Democrats flip some of those districts—yes; but not enough to gain back a majority.
What will help, both the parties and the electorate, is fair redistricting. If legislative districts are fairly drawn, and do not favor either of the parties, it will be the electorate who wins. Getting legislators to take their hands off the throttle of redistricting is hard. If fair redistricting happens candidates will have to move philosophically to the middle so they can attract a majority.
Both parties have made it a high art to gerrymander districts. The Democrats did it for years until the Republicans beat them at their own game. Once in control the Republicans have made gerrymandering a true art form of creating districts that defy logic and lack the basic precepts stated in the Virginia Constitution of “compact, contiguous, and share a community of interest.”
At the end of the day what the voters of Virginia want are legislators who do the people’s business in a fair, competent, and efficient manner. For someone trying to find a job in Southwest Virginia, whether there are sanctuary cities is immaterial; that person wants to know what the General Assembly is doing to help them create jobs and opportunity is a impoverished area of the state. Same for the waterman on the Eastern Shore. How can the State government help keep the bay clean and allow the watermen to earn a livelihood fishing as their families have done on the Chesapeake Bay for generations?
Our democratic form of government is about the art of the possible. When one party dominates a States politics as the Democrats did for so many years in Virginia and as the Republicans have in the General Assembly in more recent history, it is easy to stop listening to all the citizens and only listen to those who vote for you. Our nation and commonwealth has a lot of problems. We have infrastructure that needs fixing, we need to insure all citizens, regardless of caste or class, have access to good public schools, that our system of higher education serves all in the Commonwealth. While government can’t solve all the problems, it can be the catalyst for the citizens of the Commonwealth to work together to make our state and nation better. Right now our state and national governments are broken because we have stopped listening to and working with our neighbors.
Here endth the sermon.