I wasn’t very concerned about yesterday’s Virginia gubernatorial election results, because I figured that Northam (D) would win and it probably had more to do with Gillespie (R) being a poor candidate than anything else, plus I consider Virginia a purple state becoming ever more blue.

But the results in the state legislative races—and the fact that, as of this sitting, the Virginia House may be poised to be controlled by Democrats for the first time in many years—is particularly unsettling. The magnitude of that victory was unexpected and represents a big change; prior to this election the GOP held an approximately 2-1 majority there.

What does it all mean? I don’t have my finger on the pulse of Virginia politics, but from what I’ve read today in various blogs and newspapers, neither does anyone else, although there’s no dearth of theories.

Regarding the governorship, I’ve read that it’s about Gillespie’s RINOism and failure to support Trump; all RINOs must go! I’ve read the opposite—that it’s a rejection of Trump, and anyone who allies with him (as Gillespie ultimately did) will fail because the people hate Trump. Needless to say, those two things are diametrically opposed—although in my more pessimistic moments I suspect that both of them are correct, reflecting the potentially fatal split in the Republican Party.

It’s difficult to get an idea of whether the Virginia House really will end up flipping to the Democrats as a result of yesterday’s vote, but indications point in that direction. At least, it’s a strong possibility:

Virginia Democrats have picked up 10 House of Delegates seats and lead in seven more races, putting them within striking distance of taking the majority in the state legislature.

Democrats needed to flip 17 seats heading into Tuesday to retake the majority. And while the gubernatorial contest between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie has dominated national attention, the 100 seats in the state’s House of Delegates could end up being the true bellwethers to gauge Democratic Party’s strength ahead of the 2018 midterms.

In the same article, the Virginia Democratic House leader calls it a “tsunami,” and points out that a Democratic victory of such magnitude hasn’t happened in the state since 1975. What’s going on here? My guess is that it mostly reflects two things. The first is the changing demographics of Virginia (particularly the DC-adjacent north of the state), increasingly favoring Democrats. The second is that the Democrats put out a highly organized drive to turn out the vote in yesterday’s election and may have caught the Republicans of Virginia unprepared and flat-footed. For example, there’s this sort of thing.

And then there’s the felon factor. It’s difficult to know how much difference former governor McAuliffe’s restoring the right to vote to 200,000 felons made, but it’s highly likely that the majority of those votes were for Democrats.

The Virginia elections are not an isolated phenomenon, either. If you look at special legislative elections held in other states during the last few months, you will see something that starts to look like a trend (the following was written in September of 2017):

Of 35 special elections for state legislature since President Donald Trump’s election, Democrats overperformed in 26, meaning they did a lot better than expected, given how Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton did in the same district last fall. In one Oklahoma seat in May, Republican Zach Taylor squeezed out a 50-48 win against his Democratic opponent, Steve Barnes – even though Trump won the district by 50 points last November, indicating Barnes should have lost by much more.

And upcoming races later this month and into November could put Democrats on the path of retaking state legislative bodies. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is optimistic about a Washington state Senate race in November that – if it flips from red to blue – will give Democrats control of the chamber. Democrats already have control of the state House and the governor’s office. The party sees important pickup opportunities as well in Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Minnesota and New York’s state Senate, a chamber now narrowly controlled by Republicans.

The races matter because state legislatures are making a great deal of policy where Congress has been unable to reach agreement. State legislatures will also be redrawing congressional districts after the 2020 U.S. Census. And the contests also provide a political window into how congressional candidates are positioned next year, experts say.

The article goes on to note the Democrats are far more enthusiastic this year than Republicans, and candidate recruitment is high in the Democratic party. Trump-hatred appears to be a powerful motivator for them, and they want payback for November of 2016, whereas Republicans are feeling angry at legislators of their own party, or at best tepid.

It may seem odd—in fact, to me it does seem odd—to take out one’s rage against a party’s US representatives by failing to turn out to vote for your local, state representatives of that party. But that may be the way it’s working, at least for now. The foot-dragging contentious GOP Congress needs to take note, and start acting in a more unified manner, or they may find themselves the minority party in Congress once more. Their window of opportunity is now down to one year.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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