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Purple to Blue

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Virginia stopped being a red state a decade or two ago.
Despite a Democratic sweep of all statewide elections (U.S. senators, governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general), one could maintain the pretense that Virginia is a “purple” state thanks to a Republican-dominated General Assembly. But it has been long apparent that Republican control will end with the 2019 elections. As further evidence for that proposition, as if any were needed, now comes a new Wason Center for Public Policy poll.

Key finding: Democrats lead Republicans by 13% on the generic ballot test among likely voters 40% to 36%. Ds have a strong advantage over Rs in voter enthusiasm: 62% to 49%. More Dems than Republicans say they “definitely” will vote” than either Republicans or Independents. As a general rule, polls are decreasingly trustworthy, but the Democratic advantage is so overwhelming that it cannot all be attributed to implicit bias in the polling methodology.

Come January Democrats will control all statewide offices and the General Assembly. Virginia, we now can say, is the southernmost Northern state — Maryland with a larger rural hinterland.

Meanwhile, Governor Ralph Northam’s popularity has rebounded to a 51% positive rating, up from 40% in April shortly after his blackface scandal which, after comparably opprobrious revelations on the part of Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, Virginia’s media suddenly decided was no longer an issue. Unlike Sen. George Allen’s “macaca” scandal, which the media flogged until muscle was stripped from bone, the media has focused on Northam’s efforts to “make amends” by adopting a “progressive” agenda on race.

A number of random observations.

  • Republicans have failed to change with the times. Their choice of issues is geared mainly to Virginia’s rural/small town base, even as the state has steadily urbanized. The GOP is unlikely to change until it is stripped of power and is forced to confront the new realities.
  • Democrats are moving to the left. Change will be incremental — we won’t become Maryland or New Jersey overnight — but we’ll move in that direction. All sorts of issues that didn’t used to be issues now will be. Expect serious debates over matters such as the right-to-work law and statewide minimum wage.
  • The business lobby, once a powerful influence in state politics, will accommodate itself to the new political realities. Democrats, already the party of Big Money in this electoral cycle, will become the party of Even Bigger Money in the future.
  • Not to be under-estimated is the role of local media in framing issues and setting the agenda. Paralleling national trends, mainstream media in Virginia are aligned ideologically with the Democratic Party. While the media may continue to play governmental watchdog when the stakes are low, it will always side with Democrats when the stakes are high.
  • Virginia will see more spending and higher taxes. Constituencies and interest groups that benefit from bigger government will prosper. Voters who are not beneficiaries of government will become even more alienated.

As a citizen of Virginia, I am distressed by the direction I see the state heading. But as a rebel by temperament, I’m probably better suited to becoming part of the opposition. Let the resistance begin!
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