I decided to take a few days after Tuesday’s primaries in Virginia before writing about what to expect this fall (and what to look for). It’s easy to let somewhat surprising results, like Corey Stewart’s close showing in the GOP gubernatorial primary, have an outsized impact on your views when the results are fresh in your mind.
That being said, I do think there are some likely misconceptions already building about the November general election here in the Commonwealth. Here are some highlights as we look forward at the matchups.
Primary Turnout Isn’t a Strong Indicator
Already, you’ve probably seen Democrats crowing about higher turnout in their primary and Republicans fretting about what it means in November. That’s silly. Let’s take a look at the results of the 2016 presidential primary, for instance:
Over 1 million people voted in the Republican primary, while just shy of 800,000 voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary. Donald Trump would go on to lose Virginia in the general election to Hillary Clinton. Primary turnout is indicative of which race the media and influencers believe is more competitive, and in this particular case, that was the Northam-Perriello matchup, even if it turned out not to be true.
The Republican Party Is Not Too Divided to Win
Another hot take that’s been floating around and that I believe is a myth is that the Republican Party can’t possibly notch victories in November because they’re too divided. This again primarily stems from Corey Stewart’s noxious campaign and strong showing last Tuesday. That being said, I think Stewart supporters will fall into one of four camps:
- They voted for Stewart but they’re generally loyal Republicans so they will hold their nose and vote for Ed Gillespie.
- They voted for Stewart because they are all about Donald Trump (ignoring that Corey was fired) and will eventually vote Gillespie because Democrats will try to tie Gillespie to Trump as often as possible.
- They voted for Stewart because they bought into the “Establishment Ed” storyline, but will learn that Gillespie is more conservative than they thought throughout the campaign and will eventually cast a good faith vote for Gillespie.
- They voted for Stewart because they’re angry populists with racial concerns driving their votes and won’t show up in November. As Shaun Kenney said regarding these voters, screw them.
It’s my belief that the first and second classification of Stewart voters are the largest blocs, and while I wish more fell into the third camp, there will be some. The fourth camp, which includes the likes of the toxic white supremacists who have unfortunately begun linking to my site lately, is small and meaningless. They didn’t vote much before, and they won’t swing the election in 2017.
The Race is Starting Close
It’s also worth noting that the latest public poll in the race has Gillespie tied with Northam in the gubernatorial race. Northam just came out of a bruising primary himself, so the end result is both candidates needing to build their coalitions for November. Gillespie has the resources to do it, while Northam is a bit more drained after spending millions defending against Perriello.
There will inevitably be polls that show Northam with a lead over Gillespie, but we should all be hesitant to take too much stock. Gillespie “trailed” Mark Warner by double digits in nearly every poll in 2014, and lost by less than a point. Pollsters seem to underestimate Ed.
Downticket Races Should Help the GOP
The races for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General feature two highly competent Republican candidates that I believe will outwork their respective opponents. We’ll see whether that translates into a win, but my gut feeling is that the down ballot races will actually help Gillespie.
In addition, Democrats plan on going after numerous popular Republican state legislators and the House Republican Caucus will be working hard to defend those seats. Virginia’s House GOP is good at winning races, which is often overlooked because they win 60+ seats with ease each year. We might end up disappointed when a seat or two flips (or fails to flip), but that’s a byproduct of their continued success. I believe down ballot races for Delegate will also help bolster GOP turnout.
So What Should We Expect?
Short answer? I have no idea.
Long answer? You can expect Ed Gillespie, Jill Vogel, and John Adams to each run disciplined campaigns that will make Republicans proud. You can expect Democrats to try to exploit President Trump’s unfavorability in Virginia and in the process drive home a lot of Corey Stewart voters who are currently planning on sitting out.
Do the Democrats have an advantage in this cycle, in a state carried by Hillary Clinton? You better bet they do. Will that advantage be enough? That’s up to Gillespie, Vogel, and Adams, who can surprise the prognosticators if they make the right moves.