Top Virginia Republican and Democratic campaign strategists discussing Virginia’s 2019 “off-off-year” election this week said “there’s no denying” the impact President Donald Trump had on the vote.
Speaking at the Nov. 12 “After Virginia Votes,” organized by The Virginia Public Access Project and The Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, Matt Moran, chief of staff to outgoing Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, R-66th, said Trump was the “elephant in the room” in the Nov. 5 election, which saw Democrats take control the Virginia General Assembly for the first time in a generation.
“There’s no denying the impact of the national environment and the way that stems from the president,” Moran said. “When you have an unpopular president, the effect is felt all the way down the races.”
Moran added that the national environment played an outsized role in GOP campaigns, limiting the options for messaging and impacting campaign funding across the board.
“The demographic changes that we’re seeing in Virginia have been accelerated and exacerbated by the national environment, and that certainly impacted turnout across the board,” Moran said. “I think the donor class on the Republican side are some of the most disaffected with the president and where the party’s at right now.”
Kristina Hagen, executive director of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said Democrats across the state were fired up, contributing to higher than usual turnout for an off-off-year election.
“Virginians on our side of the aisle were excited and energized and wanted to build off the gains of the ’17 and ’18 cycles,” Hagen said.
Impeachment inquiry, Pence rally
Moran said the ongoing impeachment inquiry into Trump’s conduct related to military aid to the Ukraine played a role in driving Republican voters to the polls, however, and was a, “huge base motivator for us,” based on polling conducted in September and October.
“We definitely saw it, and it may have made some of these races just a tiny bit closer in our favor,” Moran said.
Hagen said the impeachment inquiry played a role “from a base perspective.”
“I wouldn’t say it played a huge role except in maybe the Virginia Beach races,” Hagen said.
Democrats flipped two Senate seats, one in Northern Virginia and another in the Richmond suburbs, giving them a slim 21-19 majority in the upper chamber in 2020. But Republicans in competitive state Senate districts in Virginia Beach held onto their seats.
In the Virginia House of Delegates, Democrats held the 15 seats they gained in 2017 and flipped at least five more, with one likely headed for a recount, giving them a possible 55-to-45 seat majority.
Asked why the GOP chose Virginia Beach for a rally featuring Vice President Mike Pence instead of suburban Richmond, Moran said the perception of the president and the national environment wasn’t as bad in the Hampton Roads area.
“Ultimately, I think that was a good move, I think that helped us with turnout,” Moran said. “It was an area where the voter set meant we could make that happen. Whereas suburban Richmond, I’m not sure that demographics and voter attitudes would have allowed that.”
Because voter turnout was high in the Virginia Beach area, Democrats did well in House of Delegate races there, picking up several seats, but were unable to flip area state Senate seats, Hagan said.
“We would have liked a different result for those Senate races, and it’s entirely possible that having the vice president come in and mobilize the Republicans may have had an impact there,” Hagen said.