Why political followers trust any poll these days is mystifying. Even a well-know, reputable is nearly meaningless in the month of June for any November election. Polling news raised the Virginia GOP’s spirits when Harper Polling showed Republican Ed Gillespie neck-and-neck with Democrat Ralph Northam. Gillespie is a strong candidate, with broad appeal to moderates, but that poll couldn’t be more wrong. Virginia is the next battle in the war on Trump, and the fight unfortunately favors the left.
The Virginia Republicans are facing an uber-backlash election, and they are rolling into it deeply divided. Unfortunately, that’s not all the problems the GOP faces.
Bad facts abound for the Virginia GOP in this November election. Not all of those bad facts can be captured in a little known, snapshot June poll. As a conservative, I’d like to be optimistic about the GOP recapturing the Old Dominion’s Governorship. As an honest analyst, I see a confluence of factors that make such a win not only unlikely, but indeed improbable.
If the anti-Trump resistance is to score a big win, the Commonwealth is its most likely success.
Here are some of the realities and facts that call into question early positive polling.
Virginia is an increasingly deep blue state, with reliable, massive democratic turnout in Northern Virginia that often drives the final result. In fact, in presidential years, most GOP candidates look like they will carry Virginia until Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria County results come in. More than one in every seven votes cast in the entire Commonwealth comes from Fairfax County, which routinely votes at 62-65% for the Democrat. Arlington and Alexandria vote at clips over 70% for democratic candidates. Purple Loudoun County is increasingly blue, and in the last presidential election, voters showed a deep disdain for the GOP.
Of course, this is not a presidential election. This is the off year. Normally, lower turnout improves republican success. In fact, the Virginia governorship is one of only two governors’ races nationally. In short, voter turnout is always at its lowest in this cycle. In a state where democrats hold a numerical advantage, that should be the one silver lining on which the GOP can rely.
Virginia, however, has another tradition about which I have already written.
Every year since 1973 Virginia voters sent a governor to Richmond from the opposite party of the President who won the year previously, until 2013. Even after Virginia went blue in the post-George W. Bush era, the practice of electing the opposite party continued. After the landslide win by Obama in 2008, McDonnell won in 2009. But in 2012, Mr. Obama won a close election, and the next year Mr. Cuccinelli lost, breaking that trend.
The 2013 Governor’s election in Virginia saw a national establishment sit on its hands for a strong, conservative candidate. For sure, that did not help Mr. Cuccinelli. However, the rapidly and indeed daily changing demographics in Northern Virginia likewise broke the Virginia streak because even with a backlash, winning here as a republican statewide is just getting too hard.
This year, Mr. Trump won the election, though Hillary soundly beat him in Virginia. Based on historical trends, the “backlash” would revert to the Democrats on the Governorship. Add in the growing demographic strength, and that seems like any easy call.
Still, the election circumstances are worse for the GOP.
This is an uber-backlash election. Trump is an unpopular president and the Democrats will tie him by party affiliation to Trump no matter how hard he works to steer clear of any such association. How bad is the GOP brand injured by the backlash? In the most affluent county in the country, Loudoun, a door-knocker gave me the palm card for a GOP delegate candidate yesterday. Nowhere, not even in the fine print, did the candidate identify his party. That’s not a brand recognition problem, that’s a “please don’t recognize my brand problem.”
In a purple county, a GOP candidate is running from being identified as republican.
Northern Virginia is the heart of the anti-Trump #resistance, and its densely packed suburbs and towns make GOTV efforts very easy for well-organized, well-funded, democratic operatives. Democratic #resistance energy may not have won in a single, discreet, long-held GOP district in Georgia, but that energy will drive democrat voters to the polls in Northern Virginia in record numbers for an off-year election. National volunteers and democratic operatives will pour off the metro from October through Election Day into deep blue Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax.
Somehow, it still gets worse for the Virginia GOP.
With Northern Virginia already primed to turn out for Northam and the ticket, Northam is well-positioned to score in the burgeoning Tidewater area. His roots and support there will energize their democrats and cut into moderate republican support. Tying down two of the three major population centers helps the Democrats.
You want more bad news? I have it.
Prince William County is a huge county, and a truly swing county in Virginia. Highly populated, it too is turning increasingly blue. The one GOP candidate with a proven record of success there was the losing candidate in the GOP primary. Corey Stewart has been out-punching democrats in that county for years. It’s Stewart’s home base, and his troops have no love for Ed Gillespie. Stewart and Gillespie supporters are like the Hutus and Tutsis. Trying to stop them from killing each other is a more sensible goal than thinking they will live in peace or cooperate.
The primary was angry, bitter, hate-filled, and driven by surrogates bent on destroying each side. The GOP and Gillespie are left with the carnage. The GOP has a complete lack of unity. In fact, since Stewart’s narrow defeat, nearly no effort has been made to heal these GOP wounds. Anything done now to project “unity” will be hollow, and Gillespie will never capture the energy of the Stewart supporters. Some wing of Stewart supporters will sit this election out, and it would not surprise me if a tiny fraction work to stop Gillespie, that’s how bad things became.
Stewart almost won, and yet some Gillespie surrogates think the GOP should be wiping their hands of Stewart. Still, the bigger issue in the primary, looking at it objectively, wasn’t that Stewart almost won. Anyone who knows Stewart knew his brash, brawler-style and track record on tough issues like immigration would keep his core strong. What no one expected was how close it would be. And, it was not close because Stewart was converting souls. It was close because scores of moderate voters sprinted to vote for democratic candidates.
I want to repeat this, because it is critical. Virginians, who in many years might have voted for Gillespie, stood in line to vote for someone from the other party to beat him. That’s very bad news for the Virginia GOP.
I have written over 1000 words and I have not yet fully cataloged the bad facts for the GOP in Virginia for this election cycle.
The Democrats have two strong political ingredients on their ticket that increase the odds of their success. They have an incumbent, which always matters. And, they have a strong African-American candidate, which always matters to democratic voters. Remember, this election has three top spots. It includes the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Lieutenant Governor (Nine people on earth actually know what the Lieutenant Governor does). In this case, the Democratic Lieutenant Governor will drive a key voting demographic to the polls, and thus to everyone on the ticket.
Justin Fairfax is the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. If he wins, he will be the first African-American since Douglas Wilder* in Virginia to hold that office. A former federal prosecutor and current big firm litigator, Fairfax is engaging and popular. He narrowly lost the democratic primary to Herring for the Attorney General position in 2013. He will drive turnout in both Northern Virginia and in particular in the African-American communities in the Commonwealth. Increasing that turnout in an off-year election is always advantageous for the democrats.
The Democrats also have a rare incumbent. Often the Attorney General position is a stepping stone to the Governor’s Mansion in Virginia. The sitting Attorney General, Mark Herring, never showed any interest in that role. He decided very early on to run for re-election as Attorney General. As an incumbent, he enjoys the advantages of incumbency that every incumbent gets. He has name recognition, power, staff, and money. This too hurts the GOP, who otherwise has a dramatically stronger, more capable choice for that position in John Adams.
In every real sense, Mr. Herring is unqualified to carry John Adams’s briefcase into a courtroom.
But, politics knows little about reality.
Herring is a hero to the left for abandoning his obligation to defend the Commonwealth on same-sex marriage. He is an open borders advocate who manipulated state law to the advantage of illegal aliens seeking in-state tuition, and he has been a high profile, liberal democrat heading into an election when energized liberal democrats want a liberal democrat on the ballot. In Fairfax and Herring, liberal have their men.
Record cash and record organizing will pour into Virginia to ensure democratic turnout, and the GOP will be hard-press to outrun all of these factors. However, in the end, races can turn on moments and events. Ask former Senator George Allen about that.
The Virginia GOP greeted the Harper Polling results with such elation because GOP insiders understand the factors at play in this election, and they needed good news and some hope. It’s not my intention to pour cold water on them. Rather, I hope their foot-soldiers will play it like they are as far behind as I believe them to be.
Make no mistake, as a conservative, I greatly prefer the GOP ticket, and I have already said that Mr. Gillespie presents the GOP with its best opportunity to win in November. Moreover, I think John Adams is precisely the candidate all Virginians should embrace.
What I hope to happen, however, doesn’t cloud my analysis of the difficult facts facing the GOP ticket. Right now, if I were asked to make book on this election, given all these facts, I’d take Northam and give 8 points. For the right odds, I’d give 10.
The best news for the Virginia GOP is that unlike my legal predictions, my political predictions are less reliable. Let’s hope so.
For the National Republicans … they need to consider what a Virginia +10 democratic win might do for Democratic hopes, energy, and fundraising for the 2018 election that will put the house and Senate in play.
** The original version of this piece represented that Mr. Fairfax would be the first African American to serve as Lt. Governor of Virginia. Forgetting my history, Douglas Wilder served there, before becoming the first elected black Governor. I appreciate the reminder from a longtime friend and democrat who pinged me about it.
Author: Richard Kelsey
Richard Kelsey is the Editor-in-Chief of Committed Conservative.
He is a trial Attorney and author of the new book on higher education, “Of Serfs and Lords: Why College Tuition is Creating a Debtor Class”
Rich is a former Assistant Law School Dean and Law Professor. At Mason Law Kelsey conceived of, planned, and brought to fruition Mason’s Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property, known as CPIP, drawing on his expertise as a former CEO of a technology company specializing in combating cyber-fraud.
Before returning to private practice, Rich taught legal writing and analysis and an advanced litigation seminar. In 2014 he was elected by the graduating class as the faculty speaker at their graduation.
He is a regular commentator on legal and political issues in print, radio and on TV. Rich has appeared on hundreds of stations as a legal expert or political commentator. He provided the legal analysis for all stages of the Bob McDonnell trial and appeal for numerous outlets including NPR and WMAL.
Rich also writes on occasion for the American Spectator and CNSNews.com.
In his free time, Rich is part of the baseball mafia of Northern Virginia, serving on numerous boards and as a little league and travel baseball coach.
His Twitter handle is @richkelsey.