Virginia, a red state for decades, has begun to turn blue. From 2008 on, Virginians have consistently voted for Democratic presidential candidates while slowly electing more Dems at the federal, state and local levels.
The state’s legislative elections in just a few months, however, are of particular importance: With the census coming in 2020, whoever wins control of the Virginia legislature in November will have power over redistricting, the process by which legislative and congressional districts are drawn. Republicans hold extremely narrow majorities in both the Virginia House of Delegates and Virginia Senate. If Democrats can win control of those chambers, they’ll be able to redraw the GOP-gerrymandered maps — and maintain power through the 2020s.
It looks like the Dems have every reason to be optimistic. Despite a string of scandals for Virginia Democrats, with Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s use of blackface and the allegations of sexual assault against Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax, it’s Virginia Republicans who seem to be losing their grasp on constituents. Democratic candidates are raking in far more donations at the grassroots level, and a recent string of sexist and homophobic comments by Republican incumbents certainly hasn’t helped.
“It looks like the pressure is starting to get to the Virginia GOP,” said Jessica Post, executive director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to state legislatures, earlier this month. “Republicans are trying to distract from their abysmal record, but then make comments like these that show just how extreme and out of touch they are. When Virginia Republicans reveal their true selves, we should listen.”
Dems Finally Investing In State Elections
Democratic campaign groups are the first to admit that for years, Republicans had them beat in state legislature campaign fundraising. But after the 2016 election, Democrats have started catching up.
“We started turning things around in 2016,” said Matt Harringer, the press secretary for the DLCC. “So far, looking at our second-quarter numbers, this is shaping up to be the best start to a cycle we’ve ever had.”
The DLCC reported on July 12 that it had raised $5 million in the second quarter of 2019. The Republican Legislative Campaign Committee did not publish its second-quarter earnings or respond to HuffPost’s requests for them.
The DLCC has had its eyes set specifically on Virginia, and invested $1 million into the state’s elections earlier this year. The group says the state’s GOP is in “full meltdown mode,” while Democrats continue raking in donations at the grassroots level.
We are on the cusp of making Virginia all blue, we just need to take it. Chris Bolling, executive director, Democratic Party of Virginia
Fundraising aside, Republican candidates have generally struggled to stay relevant to their increasingly liberal constituents. Amanda Chase, an incumbent GOP state Senate candidate, called rape victims “naive” earlier this month, while the sitting House speaker, Kirk Cox, has found himself floundering in “unfamiliar territory” since his district was redrawn under Virginia lower court-approved maps. Meanwhile, GOP state Sen. Bryce Reeves was busy calling out a colleague’s sexual orientation in a meeting with the NRA over Independence Day weekend — about a year after sending out homophobic fliers to constituents.
Stuff like that is “going to cost them control of the General Assembly this November,” Harringer boasted.
But it’s not just the national Democrats who are focused on winning in Virginia ― state organizations are rallying, too.
Last month, the Virginia House and Senate Democratic caucuses, the Democratic Party of Virginia, the Way Ahead PAC, and the DLCC all came together to announce the “Take The Majority 2019” campaign. The campaign aims to pick up where 2017 left off, when the Dems picked up 15 state House seats, and flip the House entirely.
“We sent Donald Trump a historic message in 2017 when we swept all three statewide offices and picked up 15 House of Delegate seats,” said the Democratic Party of Virginia’s executive director, Chris Bolling.
“We will make history yet again this November by giving Democrats control of the House, Senate, and Governor’s Office for the first time in 26 years. We are on the cusp of making Virginia all blue, we just need to take it.”
All About Redistricting
There’s another group that’s especially invested in flipping the Virginia House: the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former Attorney General Eric Holder. Virginia was the group’s first electoral victory after it formed in 2017 following significant investments in successful state campaigns.
After the 2010 elections, Virginia became one of the most heavily gerrymandered states in the U.S., resulting in years of lawsuits about partisan and race-based gerrymandering that ultimately ended last month when the Supreme Court voted in favor of leaving in place a 2018 decision that GOP-drawn maps were invalid because they discriminated against black constituents.
“As a party, we were not prepared or focused on the issue of redistricting in the way that Republicans were in 2011,” Holder told ThinkProgress this week, echoing groups like the DLCC that have acknowledged their failure to secure seats in state elections.
So Holder created a group “focused solely on the issue of redistricting as we get closer to 2021.”
In 2017, the NDRC’s investments in Virginia paid off with the election of Northam and those 15 delegate seats ― thus giving a Democrat veto power over redistricting for the first time since 1991.
The group has every intention of showing up in 2019 as it did in the last election cycle. In November 2018, it announced its 13 electoral targets in the 2019 and 2020 elections, and Virginia is one of them ― particularly because, for the last decade, Virginians have had to vote under partisan maps while courts deliberated their legitimacy.
“Sure, there’s recourse when bad maps are in place, there are still racial gerrymandering claims you can bring,” Patrick Rodenbush, the group’s communications director, told HuffPost.
“But in the meantime, people who are voting in these [gerrymandered] districts have had to vote in what the courts found were racial gerrymanders. They’re voting on maps that are illegal.”
Ultimately, the best way to prevent this from happening in the future is winning down-ballot elections from the outset, he said.
“The underlying premise here is that the best way to have fair maps is to put in place those who are supporting them from the get-go so you don’t have to play catch-up for the next 10 years.”