|Virginia population change - the areas in blue are the GOP strongholds|
Since my early days in the Republican Party there has been a sea change in Virginia politics and elections - at least outside of carefully gerrymandered districts to favor the GOP (for the record, the gerrymandering occurred well after I left the Republican Party). The new reality is that for Republicans running statewide, especially at the presidential level, Virginia is an increasingly hostile state. Why? The rapidly changing demographics of Virginia and the rising voting strength of the so-called "urban crescent" that stretches from the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., south through Richmond and then on to Hampton Roads. The population of this urban crescent exceeds that of the rest of the state and can, therefore, out vote the GOP strongholds in rural Virginia. A piece in the Washington Post looks at this major - and in my view, very positive - change. Here are excerpts:
A little more than a decade ago, President George W. Bush won Virginia with ease for a second time — an eight-point victory that was never in doubt.
Over the subsequent eight years, nearly the opposite happened: Barack Obama won the state twice, becoming the first Democrat to win here since Lyndon B. Johnson’s victory in 1964.
Now, Virginia appears to be drifting out of reach for Republican Donald Trump; he trailed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by 13 percentage points in an NBC-Wall Street Journal-Marist poll released Friday. Analysts are contemplating taking Virginia off the list of presidential battlegrounds entirely and tucking it neatly in the column of safely blue states.
Where uncertainty remains is whether that status applies only this year, because of the steady decline of Trump’s campaign, or whether it is a sign of a longer-term problem for Virginia Republicans that will extend beyond presidential races in years to come.
What is clear is that the demographics of the state have shifted dramatically in the space of a single decade, with populations of educated, high-income professionals as well as immigrants and other minorities — all voters who tend to choose Democrats — growing in urban areas. These shifts reflect national trends, Pew research shows.
[Trump] also has alienated large swaths of the electorate that have become deciding factors in Virginia races: women, minorities and educated professionals. David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report predicted that Trump is at risk of losing by a landslide in the vote-rich suburbs of Northern Virginia — and that no amount of support in the less-populous rural regions could counteract that.
Even Virginia Republicans acknowledge the challenge. Trump counts few Republican elected officials among his vocal supporters in part due to some of his more inflammatory comments, which have alienated groups including women, Muslim Americans, Hispanics and those with disabilities.
Here’s another way to look at it: From the 1992 to the 2012 presidential elections, the population of Northern Virginia grew from 1.5 million to 2.2 million. And it grew with an influx of a particular kind of voter; in that same time period, in Fairfax County alone, Democrats’ lead over Republicans in Fairfax grew from three points to 15 points, according to election returns, with Obama garnering nearly 6 in 10 votes.
Now, Democrats rely on what may be fast becoming a fail-safe formula: Focus on turning out voters in the “urban crescent” of Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads and the college towns of Charlottesville and Blacksburg, and it becomes really hard to lose. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) used this playbook to defeat Republican Ken Cuccinelli II in the 2013 governor’s race — and Clinton is on track to do the same this year.
Even with the relatively high turnout of a presidential year, there simply aren’t enough Trump voters to overtake Democrats’ edge in the north.
While things are looking more and more positive in Virginia, the same trend is happening in states like North Carolina - and even in Texas. The demographics that favor Democrats are steadily growing and the GOP has done nothing but alienate these voters.