Virginia has been a political disappointment for Republicans
in recent years. The governor is a Democrat, and so are both
U.S. senators. The GOP leads in members of Congress 7-4,
and does control both houses of the legislature. Nevertheless,
Virginia’s modern reputation as a conservative bastion has
faded, primarily as liberal federal government workers and
their families have moved into the northern Virginia suburbs
of Washington, DC.
Although Donald Trump did win several key hitherto
Democratic southern and midwestern states in his upset
victory in 2016, he did not carry Virginia.
Virginia holds its statewide elections in the off-year. So its
race for governor, attorney general, secretary of state and
legislative races will be held on November 6, 2017.
Its race for governor will likely be the bellwether race of the
off-year cycle. It pits the current Lt. Governor Ralph Northam,
a Democrat, against Ed Gillespie, a Republican. The current
governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, is term-limited and must
Mr. Gillespie was a well-known behind-the-scenes GOP
operative for many years, and then a lobbyist in Washington.
When he decided to run for U.S. senate in 2014 against popular
Democratic incumbent Mark Warner, virtually no one gave
him a chance, and he trailed badly in the polls right up to
election day. But when the votes were counted, he only lost by
a shockingly very tiny margin.
This year, he is running against a much less popular figure who
is not an incumbent. Mr. Gillespie has trailed Mr. Northam by
5-10 points in all polls until now. The most recent polls, however,
has the Republican leading the Democrat by 1 point (but another
has him trailing by 14). This possible turn of events goes against
the conventional political wisdom that Republicans are unpopular,
especially in northern Virginia where so many liberal government
Mr. Gillespie has not been a supporter of the new president, but
Mr. Trump has endorsed him.
A victory for Ed Gillespie in 2017 would be a notable shock not
only to his opposition in Virginia, but to Democrats nationally.
It would rebuke not only the current liberal anti-Trump strategy,
but would be a blow to the fashionable Democratic Party
On paper, Ed Gillespie is a weak candidate because of his highly
partisan behind-the-scenes campaign history and his recent role
as a corporate lobbyist in the nation’s capital. In reality, however,
Mr. Gillespie’s campaign savvy and experience is a major asset,
especially in a contest against a bland opponent such as Mr.
Northam. As he showed in his close race with Senator Warner in
2014, Mr. Gillespie is also a tireless campaigner. Although he lost
that year, his political reputation soared.
As happened in 2016, and in elections before that, most voter
opinion polls are underestimating the turnout of Republican and
conservative voters. The 2017 polls in the Virginia gubernatorial
race seemed to be doing this again as evidenced by Mr. Gillespie’s
late poll surge this year.
Democrats will not be indifferent to this possible upset. Already,
former President Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and
other top Democratic national figures are showing up in Virginia
to campaign for Mr. Northam. The Democrat should now see a
massive infusion into his campaign funds as the liberal
establishment attempts to salvage this key governorship. The
Northrup campaign is making its strongest push among the
many black voters in the state. Abortion and gang violence are
also important issues in this state. Gun control is an issue in
Virginia where many of its voters are hunters, but many of its
suburban DC voters are anti-gun. What to do about memorial
statues and names has become a hot issue in this former capital
state stronghold of the Civil War Confederacy.
With less than three weeks until election day, this race is too
close to call. Lt. Governor Northam remains the favorite, and
might well win in the end, but Ed Gillespie is a man of surprises,
and anything can happen in Virginia this year.
Copyright (c) 20017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.