Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Virginia’s legislative elections a test of anti-Trump fervor

Voters cast their ballots in the Knights of Columbus polling station in Newport News, Nov. 5, 2019. (WYDaily/ Julia Marsigliano)
Voters cast their ballots in the Knights of Columbus polling station in Newport News, Nov. 5, 2019. (WYDaily/ Julia Marsigliano)

Virginians are deciding Tuesday which party should control the statehouse in a widely watched contest that will test how voters feel about President Donald Trump and his possible impeachment.

The Old Dominion’s legislative elections are serving as the marquee warm up for the 2020 election cycle, as well as a referendum on the state’s gun laws and abortion rights. Outside groups and political parties are test-driving expensive campaigns to win over and motivate voters in a state that was until recently considered a presidential battleground.

Virginia is one of only four states having legislative elections this year, and the only one with control of the statehouse up for grabs. Republicans currently have a slim majority in both the state House and Senate, but Virginia has been trending blue for years thanks to growth in more diverse and liberal suburbs and cities, and population declines in more rural, conservative areas.

Democrats are looking to take control of both the Executive Mansion and the General Assembly for the first time in more than two decades. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is not up for reelection Tuesday, but has been actively campaigning for his party’s candidates after bouncing back from a near politically fatal blackface scandal earlier this year.

Democrats are hoping voters send a message that the anti-Trump energy powering Northam’s victory two years ago is still robust.

Virginia Republicans, who have generally tried to keep Trump at an arm’s distance, are hoping the specter of Trump’s impeachment will motivate the GOP base to turn out in large numbers.

The local stakes are huge. If Democrats take over, they likely will be able to pass an agenda that Republicans have blocked for years, including stricter gun laws and a higher minimum wage. They’re also hoping to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, making Virginia the final state needed for possible passage of the gender equality measure.

Democrats have been keenly focused on gun issues, saying Republicans should be held accountable for failing to pass new restrictions after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach earlier this year.

Republicans, accusing Democrats of trying to use that tragedy for political gain, have sought to shift the discussion to past Democratic efforts to loosen restrictions for third-trimester abortions.

Republicans also warned of higher taxes and energy prices if they lose the majority.

Tuesday’s election could help determine which party rules for the next decade, as Election Day winners will decide who controls the next redistricting process. A tea party-fueled wave in state legislatures — including Virginia’s — a decade ago helped Republicans fortify their control of the U.S. House for years.

The federal courts recently redid Virginia’s maps, saying Republicans illegally packed too many black voters into certain districts to make surrounding districts friendlier to Republicans. The new map is friendly to Democrats and has put two top Republicans — Speaker Kirk Cox and House Appropriations Chairman Del. Chris Jones — at greater risk of losing their seats.

John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzohttp://wydaily.com
John Mangalonzo (john@localdailymedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

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