Here are some more takeaways from Tuesday’s primary:
1. Republicans will have a hard time portraying Democrats as dangerous socialists.
That seems to be the favorite Republican line these days, but it won’t work here.
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is a corporate-friendly Democrat who, as governor, stood alongside Dominion Energy executives to endorse the now-abandoned Atlantic Coast Pipeline. (He also endorsed, and presumably still endorses, the Mountain Valley Pipeline.)
The actual socialist in the field, Lee Carter, couldn’t even muster 3% of the vote (and was a double loser because he lost his renomination campaign for the House of Delegates, as well).
In all previous gubernatorial elections (with the exception of Mills Godwin in 1973), voters have had to guess what kind of governor the candidate will be.
Here, we already know exactly what McAuliffe will be like. That means Republicans can’t scare voters about some spooky unknown.
On the other hand, it means McAuliffe can’t claim to be something he’s not, because we already know what we’d be getting. That’s likely to be a more fruitful line of attack for Republicans — picking apart McAuliffe’s record as governor.
In military terms, his previous administration constitutes a “target-rich environment.”
2. Democrats will have a hard time portraying Republican Glenn Youngkin as a Donald Trump acolyte.
They’re certainly trying. This week the Virginia Democratic Party blasted out an e-mail claiming “Youngkin is Donald Trump’s hand-picked candidate for governor.”
This simply isn’t true, and Democrats risk their credibility if that’s all they can say.
Trump didn’t make any endorsement in the Republican primary contest until after it was over; that doesn’t count for much.
Other candidates were far more identified with Trump than Youngkin was; some of the best-known Trump-related endorsers lined up behind Pete Snyder instead.
Youngkin certainly played footsie with Trump supporters, but there’s nothing about Youngkin that suggests to us that he’s a Trumper.
He’s certainly not anti-Trump, but a better description might be that he’s a non-Trump; an independently wealthy candidate who doesn’t seem indebted to anyone.
You probably don’t get to be co-CEO of the nation’s second biggest private equity firm by being crude and irrational, two hallmarks of Trumpism.
Youngkin might be wrong on the issues — that’s a matter of political taste — but he’s no Trump.
And, as a blank slate politically, Youngkin will be a more elusive target for McAuliffe than Ken Cuccinelli was in 2013. Even then, McAuliffe barely won — 47.7% to 45.2%. Youngkin comes off as a far more agreeable figure than Cuccinelli ever was, and he doesn’t have a controversial record, either. He has no record whatsoever.
McAuliffe also isn’t as popular as Democrats think he is, Tuesday’s landslide notwithstanding. On Nov. 3, 2017, near the end of McAuliffe’s term, when voters knew him best, the Roanoke College Poll found that only 43% of those surveyed approved of the job he was doing as governor.
Historically, consumers often gravitate to the shiny and new, and Youngkin is this year’s shiny and new. That’s why we say again: Democrats discount Youngkin at their peril.
3. Democrats rebuked their left, but Republicans moved further right.
The most telling votes this week came in primaries for House of Delegate nominations in both parties.
Four Democratic incumbents lost; three of those were well-known progressives who lost to more centrist challengers. (Just how centrist those challengers are may be subject to dispute.)
Meanwhile, other Democratic incumbents withstood primary challenges from their left. The Virginia Mercury summed things up this way: “Primary voters in Virginia delivered a rebuke to the left wing of the Democratic party on Tuesday, sweeping three outspoken incumbents from office and rejecting progressive challengers in all but one race.” Ouch.
Combined with the establishment sweep in the statewide races — Terry McAuliffe, Hala Ayala, Mark Herring — the message seems clear: Democrats, particularly suburban Democrats, aren’t interested in moving further to the left and may even want to pull back a bit.
Significantly, that one incumbent lost to a challenge from his left didn’t represent a suburban district; Steve Heretick is from Portsmouth and seemed an awkward fit for that district. As the Mercury writes, Heretick “had opposed gun control measures and the removal of Confederate monuments.”
For voters concerned about an increasingly polarized political environment, the Democratic results are something of a relief. The Democratic left seems to have more volume than it does numbers.
On the other hand, in two primaries Republicans did just the opposite, choosing to move even further to the right.
Wren Williams of Patrick County easily ousted Del. Charles Poindexter of Franklin County by a margin of 63% to 37% — the first incumbent in this part of the state to be denied renomination since Ralph Smith ousted Brandon Bell in 2007.
To some extent, this was the classic case of a young (32), energetic challenger taking down an older, more laconic incumbent (Poindexter, 79, has held the seat for close to 14 years). That’s a story almost as old as politics.
However, Williams ran to Poindexter’s right. We didn’t realize there was any room to Poindexter’s right, but Williams found it. The big issues was that Poindexter had the guts to dispute Trump’s claims of election fraud, telling the Patrick County Enterprise he hadn’t “seen any evidence of what you may call fraud or something like that.”
In Virginia Beach, another Trump-aligned candidate defeated a more establishment Republican.
Meanwhile, in a non-primary nomination fight a few weeks ago, New River Valley Republicans nominated Marie March, who had attended Trump’s infamous “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan 6 (although she says she left before a mob stormed the Capitol).
Once, Western Virginia was the font of center-right Republican leaders who helped bring down the segregationist Byrd Machine and usher Virginia into the modern-age: Ted Dalton, John Dalton, Caldwell Butler, Linwood Holton and many others. Now the ancestral home of enlightened “mountain-valley Republicans” has become a Trumpistan.
4. Virginia is guaranteed to elect just its second woman to statewide office.