Joe Biden’s victories this week in Chesterfield County and Virginia Beach illustrate how Democrats’ dominance in the state’s population centers has fueled the party’s winning streak in state elections that dates to 2009.
Biden swept all 10 of the state’s cities and counties with populations of 200,000 or more: the Northern Virginia counties of Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington; the city of Richmond and Chesterfield and Henrico counties; and the Hampton Roads cities of Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.
Collectively, Biden ran up a margin of 635,000 votes in Virginia’s big 10.
(The state’s vote count, though not yet official, solidifies further on Friday. Voter registrars must receive absentee and provisional ballots by noon in order for them to be counted.)
Biden also dominated the state’s next population tier, the 10 cities and counties with populations between 94,398 (Portsmouth) and 179,225 (Newport News.) In that group Biden carried the cities of Portsmouth, Roanoke, Hampton, Alexandria and Newport News as well as Montgomery, Albemarle and Stafford counties.
The two largest localities Trump carried are in that tier—he won Spotsylvania County by about 5,000 votes and Hanover County by about 19,000.
All told, Trump carried 79 of Virginia’s 95 counties, but he lost 18 of Virginia’s 20 most populous localities. Dozens of smaller, mostly rural red counties could not make up the margin. Biden prevailed statewide by about 409,000 votes.
Following Trump’s election in 2016, Virginia saw three “blue wave” elections. Democrats won the top three statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in 2017, took control of the state’s U.S. House delegation while holding Tim Kaine’s Senate seat in 2018, then gained control of the state legislature in 2019.
<&underline>Early votes prevail</&underline>
It took a while to shake out because of unprecedented advance voting, but 2020 turned out to be something of a status quo election. Democrats continued to win statewide contests and Democrats and Republicans retained all of their U.S. House seats—Democrats hold seven, Republicans four.
In Chesterfield and Virginia Beach, as in many population centers around the country, Republicans dominated the election day voting and Democrats dominated the advance votes.
The Virginia Public Access Project reports that in Chesterfield Trump received 61.7% of the votes cast on election day to Biden’s 36.1%. Biden won the larger trove of absentee votes (cast early in person or through mailed ballots), 59.1% to 39.6%.
Chesterfield, Henrico and Virginia Beach released the election day votes first and the advance votes later Tuesday night. That is why Republican challengers Nick Freitas and Scott Taylor appeared to lead congressional contests in the 7th and 2nd districts before Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria ultimately prevailed.
VPAP reports that statewide, Trump carried 61% of the 1.6 million votes Virginians cast on election day and Biden won nearly 64% of the 2.7 million votes Virginians cast in advance.
Biden is the first Democrat to carry Chesterfield County for president since President Harry Truman in 1948. He is the first Democrat to carry Virginia Beach for president since President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
For years Chesterfield, Henrico and Virginia Beach acted as something of a firewall for Republicans in statewide contests, helping to counter Democrats’ wins in Northern Virginia. While that firewall has crumbled during the Trump years amid signs of suburban antipathy, it began to erode before his election. As in Northern Virginia, demographic change was seeding political change in Chesterfield before 2016.
In 2000, according to a county demographic profile, Chesterfield was 76% white. African Americans made up 18% of the county’s population and 3% of residents were Hispanic.
By 2019, according to the U.S. census, Chesterfield’s non-Hispanic white population was 60.6%, while 24.5% of Chesterfield’s residents were African American and 9.5% were Hispanic. An additional 3.7% of county residents were Asian.
In 2004 President George W. Bush carried Chesterfield County by 34,399 votes. In 2008 Republican John McCain won it by 12,103 votes. Trump won the county by just 3,971 in 2016.
Biden prevailed in Chesterfield by more than 13,000 votes.
Mark Warner was the first Democrat to significantly break through in Chesterfield, carrying the county by about 30,000 votes in his 2008 Senate race against Republican Jim Gilmore. That year Warner set a record, garnering 2,369,373 votes statewide—a mark that still stands pending Biden’s final result.
Chesterfield was back solidly in the Republican column a year later as Bob McDonnell, Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli carried the county while winning statewide for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
In subsequent years Chesterfield became more competitive.
Ralph Northam topped Republican E.W. Jackson in Chesterfield for lieutenant governor in 2013. Four years later Northam became the first Democratic candidate for governor to carry the county since Albertis Harrison in 1961.
The demographic change in Virginia Beach has not been as swift as in Northern Virginia or suburban Richmond, but its presidential vote also has shifted in recent years.
Bush carried Virginia Beach by about 33,000 votes in 2004. Four years later McCain edged Democrat Barack Obama there by about 1,400 votes. Trump won Virginia Beach by about 7,000 votes in 2016.
Biden carried Virginia Beach by about 11,000 votes.
Chesterfield and Virginia Beach were not the only Democratic milestones in this year’s election.
Biden also is the first Democrat to carry Lynchburg—home of Liberty University—for president since 1948. Four years after Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. helped Trump win over evangelical voters, both presidents could be leaving office.