By Dave Andrusko
Last week Maria Gallagher prophetically quoted political analyst Larry J. Sabato who once said, “Every election is determined by the people who show up.” The point is both very simple and very profound: it’s the people who take the time to cast a vote who decide the outcomes.
Last night in Virginia, Democrats came out in force, something I saw by the size of the turnout at 9:00am in my own precinct in a “swing” county 20 miles from Washington, DC.
The result was a clean sweep of state-wide offices by pro-abortion Democrats over pro-life Republicans: Ralph Northam over Ed Gillespie for governor; Justin Fairfax won over Jill Vogel for Lt. Gov.; and incumbent Mark Herring over John Adams for Attorney General.
There will be–and already are–multiple explanations. For those of us pro-lifers who live in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we know we have our work cut out for us.
When you win, it’s only to be expected that you would extrapolate. Democrats who are oh for five in congressional races since Donald Trump became President assure us that last night’s results (a) are the only ones that count, and (b) a sign of what is to come in the 2018 congressional races.
Really? Let’s see.
As many have pointed out, Virginia is becoming closer and closer to a true blue state. As Marc Fisher of the Washington Post observed, “No Republican has won a statewide election in Virginia since 2009, and what was long considered a swing state is now represented by two Democratic senators [and] has elected Democratic governors in four of the past five cycles.”
And although it gets brushed aside, there was a brutal Republican gubernatorial primary which left the loser embittered and threatening to do nothing to help the winner. Although he made supportive noises near the end of the campaign, it only makes sense that his supporters would have been less than enthusiastic about voting for Ed Gillespie last night. That was a big deal.
But the real extrapolation is that the Virginia outcome means the Democrats are poised to make major gains in 2018. This simply does not follow at all from what happened Tuesday night. Why?
For starters, and by far most importantly, nothing last night showed that Democrats are able to remedy a fatal flaw–their inability to connect with rural voters and/or those without college educations. To quote Fisher (who wrote the most insightful, balanced analysis)
But others warned that the Virginia results may say little about Democratic appeal beyond the mostly coastal states where Clinton did well. “Everything’s coming down to geography,” said Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a longtime Democratic political consultant in Virginia whose base in the state’s rural south went heavily for Gillespie.
“This is the triumph of Clintonism and the urban crescent strategy. The Democrats are just going after the heavily populated areas and the college graduates. All their wins tonight are in the new Virginia, where people moved to from out of state, and the party is saying the hell with the rest of the state.”
The shape of Northam’s victory gave Democrats both hope and pause. He drew larger portions of the vote than Clinton did in every region of Virginia, outperforming her especially among young people and white women with college degrees, according to preliminary exit polls. But Northam failed to make gains in Democratic weak spots such as with rural and less-educated voters.
Fisher came back to that theme later in his analysis:
Even amid their evening of celebration, some Democrats worried that the Virginia victory would mask the fact that the party has still not found a way to connect with voters between the coasts.
Stanley Greenberg, a longtime Democratic campaign strategist, said Northam was “running as Hillary Clinton. It’s the Republicans who talk about the economy, not the Democrats.” Northam’s emphasis on Virginia’s economic success under Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) sent an alienating message to struggling working-class voters who live beyond the affluent suburbs, Greenberg said.
“The Democratic elites mostly live in very dynamic metro areas, and they don’t wake up hungering for change,” said Greenberg, who was a pollster for President Bill Clinton and Al Gore and informally advised the Hillary Clinton campaign. “If you don’t give people some sense that you are going to make their lives economically better . . . then they are going to give more of an audience to the argument Trump and Gillespie made.”
What else tells us that there isn’t a reason to draw broad nationwide conclusions from the results in Virginia? Virginia was the only Southern state Clinton won in 2016. It is atypical in the extreme.
And, as Political Director Karen Cross has written multiple times (for example, here), “In 2018, there are many opportunities to replace a pro-abortion United States Senator with a pro-life Senator.”
And none of this addresses something we’ve written about–the brewing fratricide battle within the Democratic Party over what happened in 2016, made even more volatile by former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile’s explosive new book. Brazile essentially argues the DNC sold its soul to the Clinton campaign in exchange for help with its enormous debt.
But she went much further, as this quote from a review in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution illustrates:
“We had three Democratic parties: The party of Barack Obama, the party of Hillary Clinton, and this weak little vestige of a party led by [Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz] that was doing a very poor job getting people who were not president elected,” Brazile wrote, criticizing the former DNC chairwoman for incompetence. Her criticisms focused primarily on the three. She even wrote at one point, “[Obama] left it in debt. Hillary bailed it out so that she could control it, and Debbie went along with all of this because she liked the power and perks of being a chair but not the responsibilities.”
Brazile accused Obama of caring “deeply about his image” and using the DNC to fund “his pollster and focus groups.” This was especially odd considering Obama was in his second term as president, so he was unable to run for the position again, she said.
A bad night for pro-lifers in Virginia, clearly. But to jump from that–as pro-abortion Democrats and their media allies have already done–to conclude 2018 will be a banner year is to miss the forest for the trees.