Where Things Stand in Virginia
Now officially in September, the political campaigns in the most pivotal state of 2017 are in the final stretch. While we have previously profiled what’s at stake in Virginia and the state of play in New Jersey, in this article we take a look at how the final few weeks in Virginia could shake out and how progressive activists across the country could shape it.
As you may have heard, despite Virginia’s national Democratic leanings and the fact that all five statewide elected officials are Democrats, the GOP controls 66 of the 100 State House seats. All 100 seats are up in 2017. Of those 66, Hillary won in 17 of them in 2016. And there are more that have gone for some statewide Democrat in the past decade. That makes Virginia a unique state: despite Republicans’ substantial efforts to gerrymander, population changes are catching up with them.
To capitalize on that fact, Democrats need to hold the governor’s mansion by electing Ralph Northam, the current Lieutenant Governor, and to pick up a host of House seats. With the magic number, 17, being the number of Hillary-GOP seats, there is a clear target for Democrats. But we went further, developing a Legislative District Index (LDI) score for every district in Virginia, based on years of data. The table below identifies the two top districts that Democrats need to protect and the top pickup opportunities. A larger positive number means the district is more Democratic. A negative number means the district leans Republican in statewide and federal races. Maps outlining the possibilities follow.
As the table above shows, there are 13 pickup opportunities where Democrats consistently win in statewide races. And there are another six where Republicans hold only a slight edge. But how are Democrats doing at actually taking advantage?
The evidence in Virginia is clear: Democrats have an edge going into the fall. Two polls have had them up big in the generic ballot (11 and 7 points). Democrats have candidates in districts across the state in the largest numbers ever. A number of candidates have caught fire nationally. Chris Hurst (District 12), the boyfriend of a gun violence victim running in the district that houses Virginia Tech, and Danica Roem (District 13), a transgender woman running a campaign focused on addressing Northern Virginia’s transportation woes, have received national money and attention. And the most-trusted prognosticators agree that Democrats are on track to pick up at least some seats.
Countless progressive groups have gotten themselves engaged in Virginia. From nationally-focused entities like Flippable and Sister District, to Win Virginia, led by former Congressman and candidate for Governor Tom Perriello, to smaller, neighborhood groups that have sprung up on both sides of the Potomac, there is a real excitement and energy locally to make change happen in Virginia.
Within these districts, there are a number of key races that are, by all accounts, overperforming their district fundamentals. Donte Tanner (District 40) is running an energetic campaign in southwestern Fairfax County and Wendy Gooditis (District 10) is turning a true purple-red district into a race. Cheryl Turpin (District 85) has caught fire in fundraising, running laps around her opponent in a must-win district. Schuyler VanValkenburg (District 73) is taking advantage of a retiring incumbent to make a play for a slightly red district outside of Richmond.
Despite the tremendous opportunity, there is still something missing in Virginia — two things, actually, if we really want to take a stab at taking back the State House. The first, not surprisingly, is fundraising. Democrats are doing better than they have in years in that regard, but there is still a well-financed Republican opposition to contend with. Take a look at these numbers from the third quarter of 2017 in the top competitive districts from above.
While Democrats have raised substantial sums of late, we estimate a remaining $2 million deficit for all candidates to be in a position to win and take back the House.
And that brings us to the second point. While there has been tremendous local energy and big announcements about potential large-dollar investments, Virginia has not yet caught fire among national progressive grassroots circles. Perhaps tired from the losses in Kansas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Montana, the call to action hasn’t been offered with the same fever pitch as before. But it’s time that changes. The Virginia House of Delegates is a huge opportunity for rebuilding the Democratic Party. And it’s waiting for the taking. If you are sick of moral victories, of efforts that come up just short, Virginia is the moment for Democrats in 2017. There are blue seats to be won. And if that magic “Ossoff” moment can be created again for the next two months, there will be big gains for Democrats in Virginia and nationally.
EveryDistrict is on the front lines of that battle, along with other great groups. We have supported eleven of these candidates so far, and will be making more contributions to candidates this month. Support our efforts to help get those $2 million in place.