As the dust settles following yesterday's primary election in Virginia, much of the talk that had preceded it about a divided Democrat Party - much of it whipped up by pundits from outside Virginia - seems to have been off base. In contrast, it is the Republican Party that appears to be divided with a very large number of GOP voters proving to be more extreme and racist than the pundits predicted. Ed Gillespie's predicted 20+ point victory turned out to be barely more than 1%. To me, a roughly 25 year veteran of the political trenches, first as a Republican and now more as a de facto Democrat given the extremism and ugliness of the GOP, a couple of lessons stand out. First, it is ALWAYS about turn out and it is crucial to have a grassroots operation in place to get folks to the polls. With a strong get out the vote operation, Northam was able to win over 72% of the vote in the City of Hampton, for example. Second, Donald Trump (who has a 36% approval rate) remains toxic for Republicans in Virginia outside of more extreme GOP circles such as Corey Stewart's base of support. Cutting funding for the Chesapeake Bay restoration, slashing programs that assist people in Appalachia, fanning racism, and pandering to religious extremists simply does not play well in Virginia anymore. If Democrats tie Gillespie and Republicans to Trump in November, it could be a bloodbath of Republicans. A piece Politico looks at the shock waves from yesterday's vote. Here are excerpts:
The establishment favorites won in Virginia Tuesday, but the results still sent shock waves through Richmond and Washington.The state’s gubernatorial primaries were expected to feature a tight race on the Democratic side between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and ex-Rep. Tom Perriello, while former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie was supposed to romp in his race against Donald Trump-inspired Corey Stewart, the former chairman of the president’s campaign in Virginia.
But Northam won easily and early, and it was Gillespie who barely squeaked out a win, sending fear through the heart of the Republican establishment that wrote Stewart off early. The number of ballots cast stunned operatives on both sides: Democratic turnout skyrocketed, reaching nearly 170 percent of what it was last time there was a contested primary in 2009.
It all sets up a titanic battle for the governorship in November, with Northam now favored over a bruised Gillespie.
Here are POLITICO’s five takeaways from Virginia’s contest:
It's always about Trump: Gillespie barely mentioned Trump on the campaign trail.The Trump political apparatus didn’t lift a finger for Stewart. If anything, Stewart drew more mention in the press for his pro-Confederate statements than his ties to Trump.
Even so, the story of the night was Stewart’s shocking strength against someone with vastly more money, name recognition, and appeal to mainstream voters — suggesting that the Trump effect is alive and well in the state where he won the primary last year.
For mainstream Republicans, it may mean that their turnout models need tweaking, as they consistently underestimate the enthusiasm and turnout of Stewart-style Trump voters. For Gillespie, it means the coming months will likely have to be spent trying to win over voters he assumed would be with him, rather than tacking to the middle against Northam.
It's more complicated than Hillary vs. Bernie: It may be tempting to read Northam’s win as yet another victory for the Democratic establishment. But the primary in Virginia underscored that the party’s new reality isn’t so clear-cut.
While some national pundits tried to cast the race as a redux of 2016’s Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders presidential primary — with Northam playing the role of insider favorite and Perriello as the insurgent — the fault lines were murkier than that.
[M]any prominent local liberals were quick to rally behind the state’s no. 2 elected official, while the former congressman had the support of many Barack Obama allies.
A late-breaking endorsement from the Washington Post may have sealed the deal for Northam. Perriello’s own internal numbers showed him dipping 12 points in the week after, according to a Democrat close to the campaign.
[T]he [Democrat] party simply has a different set of internal questions to resolve. Those include whether simply running with the “insurgent" label is enough to get the attention of sufficient voters to cause a real stir, and whether past breaks from party orthodoxy — like Perriello’s on abortion and gun control — are enough to doom a bid.
Democratic Party enthusiasm is very real: One defining characteristic of the Trump era has been the consistently surprising energy from Democrats eager to oppose him. That’s true among activists and also in states that have held elections this year. The high Democratic turnout on Tuesday continued a trend that was highlighted last week in New Jersey — where the party primary attracted higher-than-expected turnout even though the race wasn’t competitive.
That bodes well for his [Notham's] general election chances. If Democrats are going to mount a comeback in the Trump era, governor's mansions must be a big part of it.
What does it mean for 2018 — and 2020? Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who has been facing the prospect of a tough GOP challenge next year, is breathing easier after watching Democrats turn out in such massive numbers while the Republican establishment pick struggled in a much-lower turnout primary.
Another big winner not named Northam or Gillespie on Tuesday: Gov. Terry McAuliffe, whose national ambitions got a boost from Northam’s big win. . . . . A big Northam win suggests that McAuliffe remains popular with the Democratic voting base, and burnishes the governor’s stature. . .
The ghost of Eric Cantor: Gillespie’s close call immediately reminded Virginians and political professionals alike of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning loss in his House race three years ago — another establishment favorite stunned in Virginia by a come-from-nowhere insurgency.
In Cantor’s case, the win by now-Rep. Dave Brat foreshadowed a broader uprising within the party. In Gillespie’s case, the near-loss in a low-turnout, low-attention race now forces GOP leaders and lawmakers alike to reevaluate their positioning ahead of 2018. . . . if Gillespie — a former national chairman and Republican stalwart who was forecast to win by at least 20 points — is vulnerable to an unexpected Trump-inspired challenger, is anyone really safe?