On Tuesday, Virginia Democrats regained control of both the House of Delegates and the State Senate. From one perspective, this Democratic victory seemed inevitable and uneventful. The Donkey Party made big gains in the lower House in 2017 (though a lottery drawing in a tied election went to the GOP and denied Democrats control) and performed very well in federal elections in 2018, flipping three U.S. House seats. Republicans don’t hold any statewide office, haven’t carried the state in a presidential election since 2004, haven’t won a U.S. Senate race since 2002, and have lost the last two gubernatorial contests as well.
But the results could have significant implications beyond the fact that Democrats now hold their first governing “trifecta” in the Commonwealth since 1993 and will control decennial redistricting for both the U.S. House and the state legislature.
Lest we forget, Virginia was on the short list of targets for a Trump reelection campaign determined to expand the map of battleground states beyond Florida, North Carolina, and the three Rust Belt states Trump won by an eyelash in 2016 (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). That’s not looking very likely right now.
More broadly, the suburban base of the Democratic victory in Virginia means GOP losses in areas with well-educated former Republican voters we saw in 2018 may not be self-correcting via some reversion to the mean. Democrats now hold all of the state legislative seats in Northern Virginia. If such voters are about to trend back in Donald Trump’s direction — in Virginia and elsewhere — the evidence is so far lacking. And that could be a very big deal in 2020, as Roll Call’s Nathan Gonzales observes:
Tuesday’s results continued to demonstrate GOP problems in the suburbs since Trump took office. The latest was in northern Kentucky in the Cincinnati suburbs, where Bevin won in 2015 and Beshear won in 2019. Or in northern Mississippi, in the Memphis suburbs where the GOP margin in DeSoto County dropped from 61 points to 20 points, according to Ryan Matsumoto, a contributing analyst to Inside Elections. These are just the latest pieces of evidence after Democrat Dan McCready’s overperformance in the Charlotte suburbs from 2018 to the 2019 special election in North Carolina’s 9th District. It should be particularly concerning for President Trump in his efforts to win Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and Texas in 2020.
It’s also possible the inability of Virginia’s Republicans to make the off-year elections revolve around Democratic scandals in Richmond — where the Democratic governor and attorney general were found to have appeared in blackface photos back in the day, and the Democratic lieutenant governor was accused of sexual assault by two women — is significant, too. If there was ever a circumstance in which changing the subject from Donald Trump’s issues was available, it was in the Old Dominion. It didn’t happen, and may not happen nationally despite the efforts of Republicans to refocus attention on Joe or Hunter Biden or alleged deep state conspiracies against Trump. This president may just blot out the sky with his bizarre personality and egregious misdeeds. If that’s true in 2019, it will likely still be true when he’s on the ballot next year.