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Editorial: Election gives us more questions

Editorial: Election gives us more questions

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Elections give us answers — but also more questions. Here are some that arose out of this year’s election:

1. How would Donald Trump have fared if he’d had a better response to the pandemic?

It seems he might have won, given how close so many states were. In western countries that have had elections since the pandemic began, incumbents have been re-elected. An example is New Zealand, where the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern imposed tough restrictions to fight the virus.

This should not be read in left-right terms. In Canada, voters rallied behind incumbents. That country has had three provincial elections this year and incumbents were reelected, with bigger majorities, in all three — conservatives in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, liberals in British Columbia. The message seems to be voters will reward politicians, who are seen as successful against the virus.

It’s worth noting the virus rates in the United States rank among the highest in the world — far higher than other developed nations. New Zealand is running a rate of 338 cases per 1 million people; Canada, 6,890. Both rank among the lowest rates in the world — and the three provinces that held elections have rates even lower, another reason for voters to think well of the incumbents. The United States? 29,497. That puts us higher than all but four countries, Armenia, Israel, Kuwait and Panama.

The election showed there was no “blue wave” for Democrats. Democrats retained the House but lost seats. They failed to win a majority in the Senate. They still could, depending on the outcome of two run-offs in Georgia, but this election certainly did not see a widespread repudiation of Republicans at every level such as we saw in the Watergate year elections of 1974.

Instead, this was a personal defeat for Trump, and a personal victory for Joe Biden, who now likely will have to contend with a Republican Senate intent on frustrating much of what he wants to do.

2. How will the presidential election affect next year’s state election in Virginia?

Historically, Virginia’s elections have moved in the opposite direction of the national results. Republican wins in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were followed by Democrats being elected governor in 2001 and 2005. After a Democratic win in the 2008 presidential election, Republicans won the governorship in 2009. That cycle was broken in the 2013 governor’s race, won by Democrats. Trump’s victory in 2016 restored the political version of Newton’s Third Law of Motion to Virginia politics. In 2017, Democrats, energized by Trump’s election, not only won the governorship — by their widest margin in 32 years — they made unexpected gains in the House of Delegates. Democrats followed up by flipping three seats in the 2018 congressional elections and winning control of the General Assembly in the 2019 state mid-terms.

Now we enter another election year, and this is the looming question: Has Virginia changed so much demographically, and have the parties realigned, that it’s impossible for Republicans to win a statewide election in the state? Or, with Trump out of the White House, will the political temperature lower so much Republicans can again be competitive?

We won’t know the answer to that until November 2021 but this year’s election gave Republicans plenty to worry about. They saw Democratic margins swell in some of the biggest and fast-growing parts of the state. As recently as 2004, Loudoun County and Prince William County were voting Republican — by large margins. Now they’re voting Democratic by wider margins. George W. Bush took Loudoun County by 13,111 votes in 2004. Barack Obama won the county by 11,509 in 2008. Hillary Clinton expanded that margin to 30,846 four years ago. This year, Biden expanded it further to a 55,990 votes. Republicans increased margins in rural Virginia but trading Loudoun County for Lee County is not an even trade. Republicans need a candidate who can reclaim a big chunk of suburban voters.

Do Virginia Republicans have it in them to make that kind of course correction? This is, after all, a party that nominated Corey Stewart for the U.S. Senate in 2018 and might nominate Amanda Chase for governor. (the same Chase who appeared with two men who now face weapons charges after showing up outside a vote counting center in Philadelphia). Republicans are delusional if they think Chase is their ticket. It’s even unclear whether a more conventional candidate can win back what has been lost, but he’d be an easier sell. The prospect of a Chase nomination gives Democrats license to move further left; a Cox nomination might induce more caution.

That raises another question: Hubris has brought down many. Will Virginia Democrats now think they are bullet-proof?

3. Will voters continue to embrace early voting once the pandemic has passed?

This was the first year Virginia had “no excuses” early voting, which began earlier than most states. Virginians exercised that option. Statewide, 64% of the ballots were cast absentee — either at the registrar’s office or by a traditional absentee ballot by mail. The figure was higher in places. In Roanoke, 65% of the ballots were cast some way other than on election day. In Arlington, the figure was nearly 82.5%. Americans love convenience and early voting is convenient.

Now here’s a consequence: Because those votes are tabulated in a “central absentee precinct,” we’ll never be able to tell how different parts of town voted. Candidates for city council will not be able to analyze election returns and conclude they need to concentrate on a precinct.

Instead, they’ll have to guess — or campaign everywhere. How might that change things?

— The Roanoke Times

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