How the 2022 midterms could be shaped by some easy-to-ignore elections this year – Mother Jones
Most Tuesdays over the past five years, a group of protesters have regularly gathered on a grassy hill along a main thoroughfare in Sterling, Virginia, a remote suburb northwest of Washington, DC. At the start of the Trump administration, as many as 40 people gathered, holding up placards criticizing former Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Virginia) for her voting record which corresponded almost perfectly to the positions of President Donald Trump. Part of their work, combined with the efforts of an army of freshly enraged grassroots activists, led to the success of Democrat Jennifer Wexton, then Virginia State Senator, who beat Comstock midway through 2018. As Trump’s re-election bid loomed, protests continued, particularly in support of the Black Lives Movement following the murder of George Floyd last summer.
In the months following President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in Virginia, a much smaller group showed up at the usual location, and the signs they carried moved away from misery to discontent. “The message was more like, ‘Call this number to get your shot,’ different things like that,” Lana Reed, a leader of the local group Indivisible in Sterling, told me.
After all, the Democrats in Virginia don’t have much to complain about. The party took control of the governor’s mansion in 2017 and toppled the General Assembly two years later, handing Richmond over entirely under Democratic control. Since then, state lawmakers have passed some of the country’s most progressive reforms, including the abolition of the death penalty, sweeping voting rights reforms, and raising the minimum wage to $ 12 per hour. The presidential and off-year state elections had been a measure of the revulsion Trump’s victory had elicited among large swathes of the electorate. And the Democrats’ success in Virginia in these off-year state elections, heralded as an indicator by political observers, foreshadowed the realignments of the two main political parties during Trump’s tenure.
But now what? Trump, of course, is no longer the president, which is both a source of relief but also of concern among Democrats who have relied on anti-Trump fervor to propel the party’s recent successes. But the first statewide Democratic Party of President Joe Biden’s era shows that Trump’s hangover did not go away after the new president was inaugurated. There have never been so many Democrats running for state office in Virginia in recent history, but polls, political experts and trends suggest voters are keen to stick with the status quo.
A crowded field has emerged in the fight for the governor’s mansion, including two candidates, former State Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and State Senator Jennifer McClellan, vying to be the first black female governor of the history of the United States. Ditto for the lieutenant governor race with its six Democratic nominees, one of whom could become the first Virginia Muslim, Hispanic, Jewish or openly gay official to be elected statewide. Fourteen of the 55 Democrats in the House of Delegates have one main challenge; in the last primary elections in 2019, only four faced a primary opponent.
There is a simple explanation for the increased interest of Democrats in running for office. “With a majority in Richmond, many Democrats are inclined to think the office is worth keeping busy,” said Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington and political expert in Virginia. With a unified Democratic majority for the first time in a quarter of a decade, the party’s priorities easily pass through the General Assembly. Chaz Nuttycombe, director of Virginia-based election forecaster CNalysis, explains, “Democrats wouldn’t be in the majority in Virginia House if Trump lost in 2016.”
But all this robust interest always tends to favor the known quantity. Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton associate who served as governor from 2014 to 2018 – but who was not allowed immediate re-election by Virginia’s unusual tenure laws – has been heavily favored to replace Gov. Ralph Northam since entering the race in December. A recent Roanoke College poll found that half of Democratic voters supported him, more than four times the number of those who said they supported Carroll Foy, who garnered just 11% of support. Nuttycombe expects most outgoing Democratic lawmakers to win on Tuesday as well.
McAuliffe enjoys what is, in effect, incumbent status, with the benefit of name recognition and experience that none of the other applicants have. But the instinct to choose him again is another lingering effect of Trump’s presidency, says veteran Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. He compares Virginia’s Democratic primary voters to their California counterparts in 2010, when they picked Jerry Brown as their gubernatorial candidate after eight years in office for Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “They wanted someone who could run the governor’s fucking office,” Trippi explains, “who knew where the damn light switch was.”
It’s the same impulse – ‘Give me the old shoe,’ as Trippi puts it – that led Democratic primary voters to Biden in 2020 after flirting with all the flavors of Democrats in another historically diverse field. In early 2019, Democrats in Virginia suffered the added misery of several scandals in Richmond when a photo of Northam wearing a blackface in college surfaced, as did Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who is also running for governor, has been charged with sexual assault.
But scandals never gained ground in the face of the headwinds of Trumpism, and Democrats have continued to thrive, leading to the broad and diverse field of 2021. âThe group of people running in Virginia is so much deeper and more diverse than it ever was in my lifetime, “Tom Perriello, a former Democratic congressman from Virginia who ran to the left of Northam in the 2017 primary, tells me. Candidates” don’t expect any be the future of the Democratic Party in Virginia, whether they sit in the Legislature, advocacy groups, or a statewide office. “
The spectrum of ideas continued to push the party to the left, even though the candidates proposing these ideas did not survive their primaries. The 2017 governors’ primary sets a precedent for the progressive policies flourishing in Virginia, in part like the legacy of the Trump-era primaries. Northam, for example, closed the gap between himself and Perriello by adding several of his rival’s reforms, such as a $ 15 minimum wage and a debt-free community college, to his platform. Versions of the two proposals became law after the Democrats took control of the legislature.
McAuliffe faces “a new generation of candidates,” says Atima Omara, a Democratic political consultant based in Virginia, with “a more progressive view of the American, multiracial and multi-ethnic”. For example, Carroll Foy staked a lane to the left of McAuliffe, while McClellan called herself a “practical progressive.” Neither took up the squad’s torch, but their positions forced McAuliffe to react accordingly. During his last visit to the governor’s mansion, he promised to “always side with the police”; these days he is highlighting his success as governor in restoring the voting rights of more than 150,000 convicted felons. He also refused to accept campaign money from Dominion Energy, the Virginia utility giant and major political donor – a source of funds more and more Commonwealth Democrats have sworn as the party moves to left.
Omara compares McAuliffe’s approach to Biden’s. Just as the president entered the Democratic presidential primary as a more moderate voice but turned to more progressive positions, so has McAuliffe. âThe changing electorate has pushed Terry McAuliffe to respond to economic and racial justice,â said Omara. “He’s much more compelled to answer that than before.”
Ultimately, Virginia can’t claim her informant status for much anymore, says Trippi. Its increasingly blue hue with every election that passes since Obama’s victory in 2008 has all but wiped out its status as a swing state. And while Trump likely accelerated Virginia’s movements to the left, those changes were already underway, says Annie Weinberg, a seasoned election strategist who has advised Virginia candidates and voter participation efforts. She highlights the âvoter transformationâ campaigns won by candidates of color, such as the current and former Dels. Carroll Foy, Elizabeth GuzmÃ¡n and Hala Ayala, all of whom organized voters who had not received the regular attention of party officials. âSome of these changes happen over the long term and are separate from the Trump effect,â Weinberg said. “It’s not just about energizing people to come out and fight it.”
The open question now is whether popular activism remains strong. Reed, of local Sterling Indivisible group, is bracing for what will happen after Tuesday, when she and her fellow activists begin filling out the names of the top winners on the vote exit postcards they’ve already written for them. general elections in November. . As for these protests? They have completely stopped. But who knows for how long. âIf a problem arises that we want people to act on,â Reed says, âit will start again. “