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Editorial: Five takeaways from Virginia's election results

Editorial: Five takeaways from Virginia's election results

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Here are five takeaways from this year’s election in Virginia:

1. Virginia no longer is a swing state.

It’s a Democratic state with a strong Republican majority in rural areas. Virginia now has gone Democratic four presidential elections in a row. Furthermore, Joe Biden ran stronger in Virginia than any Democratic presidential candidate since Franklin Roosevelt in 1944. Preliminary returns show Biden took 53.67% of the vote, just above the 53.5% Lyndon Johnson took in 1964 and the 52.6% Barack Obama took in 2008. Before that you have to go back to Roosevelt’s 57.2% against Thomas Dewey.

2. Republicans are stuck in the low 40% range in Virginia.

Republicans haven’t won a statewide election since 2009. The closest they came to changing that was in the 2014 Senate race, when Ed Gillespie nearly took down Mark Warner. The vote then was 49% to 48%. This time, Warner rolled over Daniel Gade 56% to 44%.

The Trump years have not been kind to Republicans in Virginia. They’ve lost control of the General Assembly and they’ve lost seats in the U.S. House. Corey Stewart, a controversial acolyte of Donald Trump, took just 41% in his 2018 Senate race against Tim Kaine.

This time, Republicans nominated the more appealing — but underfunded — Gade. He didn’t do much better. The worrisome part for Republicans is that suburbs (and some cities) once were part of their base are now realigning toward Democrats. Virginia Beach went Democratic for the first time in a presidential race since 1964; Chesterfield County and Lynchburg for the first time since 1948.

Republicans are gaining votes in rural Virginia, but that’s not an even trade. Last time, Trump won Lee County by 5,916 votes.

This time, he expanded his margin there to 6,874 votes. However, four years ago Hillary Clinton won Loudoun County by 30,846 votes; Biden expanded that margin to 54,699 votes. Adding votes in Lee doesn’t help Republicans when they’re losing more in Loudoun.

Republicans will not win a statewide race in Virginia again until either of two things happen — and possibly both at the same time: 1. They field a candidate who can win back a much bigger share of suburban voters than they’ve been getting. 2. Democrats field a candidate so far left those new suburban voters recoil.

3. Voters were united against gerrymandering.

Virginians were very polarized in their choice for president, which ranged from nearly 88% in Petersburg voting for Biden to 84% in Lee County voting for Trump, but they found rare bipartisan agreement when it came to redistricting.

The constitutional amendment to take the power from the majority party in the General Assembly — right now Democrats — and give it to a bipartisan commission passed by a wide margin.

How wide? The margin of 66% to 34% doesn’t do justice to describing the amendment’s support. It passed in all but one locality — Arlington County. Many Democrats, who had backed the concept when they were the minority, actively opposed the amendment now that they’re in the majority. Arlington is one of the state’s most Democratic localities, so that explains why 55% voted no.

Support elsewhere in Northern Virginia also was soft — the amendment was just under 54% yes in Fairfax County. Elsewhere, though, it was popular, regardless of whether the locality voted Democratic or Republican. Its high water mark was James City County, which went narrowly for Biden but voted 87% in favor of the amendment.

The oddity: Mecklenburg County, which went strongly for Trump but only weakly for the amendment at just under 53%. The amendment doesn’t actually end gerrymandering — it just forces the two parties to work together, so in theory they still could draw weird-looking lines, just different ones than if one party alone had the power.

4. Confederate statues aren’t a lost cause in rural Virginia.

Six localities voted on whether to move their statues and all six voted to keep them standing. Five counties — Franklin, Halifax, Lunenburg, Tazewell and Warren — were no surprise because those were all strong pro-Trump counties. The sixth — Charles City County — was something of a surprise. It’s a Democratic county where Blacks outnumber whites 46% to 42% with the remainder predominantly Native American. Charles City voted 59% for Biden, yet voted 55% to 45% to keep its two Confederate memorials in place.

Even if you assume every Trump supporter voted against the move, that means nearly a quarter of Biden supporters did, as well. Does this suggest even many Democratic voters aren’t inclined to engage in a wholesale reappraisal of Confederate symbols? Or is that likely a view limited to Democratic voters in a rural county? The strongest pro-statue vote came in Tazewell, where 87.4% voted to keep the monument in place. That’s historically curious because during the Civil War, support for the Confederacy was weakest in Appalachia — now it seems the strongest.

5. The polls actually were pretty on target.

All those commentators who say the polls missed the election are wrong. Sure, some polls were wrong. But others called it almost on the nose — just as they did in 2016.

Polls only capture a moment in time. Just as in 2016, there was a late surge toward Trump — it appears undecided voters broke his way. The later a poll was taken, the more accurate it tended to be. The last two polls taken in Florida showed Trump ahead there — accurate. The last three polls taken in Arizona ranged from a tie to a 3% Biden lead — it appears to come have in at that range.

Of the last six polls in Pennsylvania, three called the state for Trump, three for Biden, but all were close. In Michigan, four of the last five polls said Biden would win — which he apparently has. The last eight polls in Wisconsin all said Biden would win there, but put his margin at anywhere between 1% and 11%. That’s a laughable range. Obviously somebody was wrong there — but somebody also was right.

The lesson from 2020 is the same as from 2016: Not all polls are created equally, and some voters don’t make up their minds until the very end. Those are almost impossible to capture. The final poll in Virginia which showed Biden winning the state 53% to 42%. He finally did so 53.7% to 44.4%. That’s pretty darned close.

The Roanoke Times

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