Virginians talk politics in preparation for election day

Chaz Nuttycombe

Did you know that there’s a major election in Virginia this year?

If you didn’t, don’t worry: not a lot of high-schoolers do. On November 7, 2017, the Commonwealth of Virginia will be voting for the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, as well as their representative in the House of Delegates (Virginia’s state-equivalent of the House of Representatives).

GOVERNOR

The Democratic statewide candidates are somewhat favored to win, especially in the gubernatorial election. This is due to multiple factors, such as the history of Virginia electing Governors who are in the opposite party of the incumbent President since 1977, with the exception of incumbent Governor Terry McAuliffe, who won in 2013 despite the incumbent President being a Democrat. The second reason for why Democrats are favored in the statewide races is that Virginia has been trending blue since Barack Obama’s election, mostly due to the ever-growing diverse region of Northern Virginia. The third is President Trump’s miniscule job approval in the Old Dominion state, averaging around 35%.

Incumbent Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam (D) is running against Ed Gillespie (R). Gillespie ran against Senator Mark Warner (D), and narrowly lost to him by a margin that was smaller than pundits predicted. However, Gillespie’s chances don’t look as good as one would suggest; currently, Northam holds a ~4% advantage over Gillespie in the polls. There are plenty of other current factors that do not favor Gillespie’s chances, though. In the gubernatorial primaries, which were held last June, Gillespie, who is considered an “establishment” Republican, narrowly defeated Corey Stewart, a “Trump-Republican” who ran on an anti-establishment, pro-Trump, pro-confederate monument platform. Only defeating Stewart by 1.2%, polls suggested that the primary was going to be a blowout for Gillespie. Since the primary, Stewart has been hesitant to stump for Gillespie, instead announcing a month after the gubernatorial primary that he will run for Senate in 2018 against Tim Kaine.

Without Stewart helping out Gillespie, he will certainly struggle in the more rural parts of Virginia, especially in the Southwestern Coalfields, which not only went for Stewart overwhelmingly, but went for Trump overwhelmingly as well in 2016.

Trump country isn’t the only area that Gillespie is struggling in, though. In the gubernatorial primaries, more people in Northern Virginia voted in the Democratic primary than the Republican. This is because moderate Republicans in Northern Virginia are frustrated with President Trump, and as a result are not inspired to vote for more Republicans.

On the Democratic side though, Northam has many advantages. While polls did project that the Democratic Primary would be extremely close, Northam defeated former congressman Tom Perriello, a Bernie Sanders-endorsed progressive, by 11 points. Perriello accepted the loss and endorsed Northam, and has continued to help the Virginia Democrats by stumping for him at events and becoming the CEO of WinVA, a Democratic organization focused on electing Democrats in Virginia, up and down the ballot.

Northam is also from the Eastern Shore, the area on the DelMarVa peninsula that is sometimes left out on maps of Virginia. This means that he is projected to do well in the counties that touch the Chesapeake Bay, which usually vote Republican. Add this to a Democratic advantage to Hampton Roads, the Capitol Region and Northern Virginia, as well as a fundraising advantage over his opponent, and you get one heck of an advantage for Northam.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR

The Lieutenant Governor race isn’t as secure as the Governor’s race. Virginia is known to ticket-split in the gubernatorial election years, and sometimes that’ll lead to electing  Lieutenant Governor who is not of the same party as the Governor. The most recent example would be Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling (R), who was elected in 2005, the same year that Governor Tim Kaine (D) was elected.

Justin Fairfax (D), a federal prosecutor who narrowly lost the 2013 Democratic Attorney General to Mark Herring (who went on to win the general election), is the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor. He is running against State Senator Jill Vogel (R), who is the Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor.  This race is considered the closest of the statewide races, with fundraising for the candidates being in a dead heat.

Fairfax also doesn’t have the regional advantages that Northam has. Vogel currently represents the 27th district in the Virginia State Senate, which is in the voter rich Northern Virginia, giving her a home advantage. However, it is not likely that Vogel will best Fairfax in Northern Virginia, which has become more Democratic every year. She will likely not lose by a large margin, however.

Vogel also doesn’t have the division disadvantage that Gillespie has. While she did narrowly win the Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor, besting her opponent, Bryce Reeves, by 2.81%, Reeves happily endorsed her and has stumped for her in events since.

Having a formidable opponent, Fairfax definitely has to work harder than Northam to win. The polls do favor Fairfax over Vogel in a similar margin that they have Northam over Gillespie, but Vogel doesn’t hold as many disadvantages as Gillespie.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Mark Herring (D), the incumbent Attorney General who was elected with an advantage of 907 votes (out of 2,209,183 total votes cast), is running for re-election and will face off John Adams (R), a former Assistant United States Attorney who argued in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which in the words of the Fairfax County Times: “revolved around the question of whether for-profit companies can deny coverage for contraception in employment-based healthcare plans under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Herring is drastically out-raising Adams, garnering twice the amount of money the Republican nominee has raised so far. The incumbent Attorney General also polls roughly as well as Northam does against Gillespie, with a ~4% advantage.

HOUSE OF DELEGATES

In the era of Trump, Democrats are hungry for victories, not only on the federal level, at the state level as well. Throughout 2017, Democrats have focused on the special elections for state governments, trying to come back from the 1,000 plus seats they have lost in state and federal seats since Barack Obama’s election in 2008.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried 54 of the 100 House of Delegates districts, 17 of which are currently held by Republicans. Virginia Democrats are using a strategy called “17 for ‘17,” in which they are giving most of their attention to the 17 districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, and are trying to flip them blue in 2017. This does not mean, however, that they are not giving any focus to districts that Donald Trump carried in 2016. Democrats also consider districts that Trump won by a margin of less than 5% to be “flippable” as well.

In the three districts that Hanover High students attend, Hillary Clinton won one of them. The other two were won by Donald Trump, and by large margins. In the 97th district, which is on the east side of 301, Trump won 68.17% of the vote, whereas Clinton won 27.27% of it. In the 55th district, which is to the west of 301, Trump won 58.27% of the vote, whereas Clinton won 36.60% of the vote.

The last election for Delegate in these two districts was in 2015, when the incumbents, Buddy Fowler (R) of the 55th and Chris Peace (R) of the 97th, won re-election. In the 55th, Delegate Fowler faced a rematch against Toni Radler (D), Chairwoman of the Hanover Democratic Committee. The margins were somewhat similar to the 2016 presidential results: Radler won 39.57% of the vote, and Delegate Fowler won 60.43%. In the 97th, Delegate Peace only had to face an independent who got 21.21% of the vote.

The margins haven’t discouraged Democrats from running in this seat, however. Morgan Goodman (D), a first time candidate who puts the environment and gerrymandering at the forefront of her platform, is challenging Delegate Fowler. Cori Johnson (D), another first time candidate and firefighter, is challenging Delegate Peace. While these seats are not likely to flip, Democrats are trying to contest as many seats as they can so that Republicans have to spread their resources, and Democrats can increase their margins.

The most competitive district is the one that a small amount of Hanover High students reside in: the 72nd. The 72nd district was won by Clinton, garnering 48.6% of the vote compared to Trump’s 44.65%.

In a seat that hasn’t seen a Democratic challenger in a decade, Virginia Democrats are hoping that Schuyler VanValkenburg (D), a government teacher at Glen Allen High School who has taught in Henrico County Public Schools since 2005, can flip it. Jimmie Massie (R), the current incumbent who was first elected in 2007, decided to not seek re-election, instead endorsing Eddie Whitlock (R), the Chairman of the Henrico County Republican Committee. Without the advantage of the incumbency in a seat that narrowly voted for Hillary Clinton, as well as neither candidate holding a significant fundraising advantage, pundits rate this seat as a pure toss-up.

While the suburban northern side of Richmond may not be as competitive as Democrats would prefer, they are still hoping for at least one victory as well as better margins than in 2015, which would likely foreshadowing an increase in competitiveness in the future.

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