The Virginia 2017 Gubernatorial Race: The Political Thermometer of the United States?
BY WILLIAM LINK
Could the new governor of Virginia be an omen of what’s to come? In the wake of the 2016 elections, the Republican Party controls both houses of Congress, as well as the Presidency and the majority of state legislatures throughout the country. The Republican Party has embraced their control by championing many of the reforms they had been pushing for eight years prior. However, while the Republican Party has assumed almost total control of the Federal government, the Democratic Party has still able to effectively exercise influence and control over a large portion of the American population through state governors.
While the Trump administration has been pursuing many longstanding conservative goals, such as cutting federal funding for abortions and dismantling the Affordable Care Act, Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo of New York have implemented reforms such as a fifteen dollar minimum wage and free college tuition for those whose families make under a certain amount. Although only fifteen of the fifty states have Democratic governors, because they control some of the largest states like California, New York, and North Carolina, almost 40 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state with a Democratic governor.
Although national elections tend to get the most attention from the media and the American population, it is often the state-wide elections that have the largest day-to-day impact on the American people. The state has control over some of the most important aspects of daily political life, including marriage laws, education, and voting laws.
Virginia is in an interesting state politically. It contains a mix of both conservatives and liberals. The state was seen as a reliably Republican state for the later half of the 1900’s but with a migration to the urban counties of northern Virginia, it has tended to vote more Democratic, such as in the 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections.
During the 2016 Presidential election, Hillary Clinton won the state by five points and 200,000 votes. Trump won a landslide of counties, however, in a situation that was replicated in most of the other states throughout the country. But, due to the popularity of having one of the state’s senators, Tim Kaine, on the ballot for Vice President, the state has a whole swung 1.37 percent more Democratic since the 2012 Presidential election.
The two nominees for governor are current Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie. Northam is an army veteran and has been involved in state politics since 2007 where he served in the state Senate. He has claimed in the past that he was fiscally conservative but socially liberal, which led to many Republicans trying to convince him to switch parties, however he has stayed staunchly Democratic. Ed Gillespie has had a more diverse career in politics. He served as counselor to former President George Bush, as well as a senior member of Mitt Romney’s 2012 Presidential campaign. He attempted to run for the United States Senate in 2014 but lost to Mark Warner by a narrow margin of 0.8 percent.
The race for governor is very important for both parties. Democrats are desperate for a win. Since their massive loss in last year’s 2016 elections, the Democratic Party has not won a major electoral victory.
The Democratic Party is internally torn between the traditional, establishment Democrats and the more populist “Berniecrats.” However the Republican Party has reason to be nervous as well, with Donald Trump’s consistently low approval rating. The most recent polls are reporting an approval rating of 38 percent, and Congress that has been unable to act on issues such as health care and the Federal budget, resulting in an even lesser view of the party. The Democrats seem to be going into this election with some advantages however. The Republican Party has not won a victory in Virginia since 2009, and they are expecting many voters who are dissatisfied with Donald Trump to turn up on Election Day.
However, Gillespie surprised many with how close he came to victory in his last election in the state of Virginia. Combined with his experience serving on Romney’s campaign, he could be a formidable opponent for Northam.
Looking at the polls for this race has been tricky. Real Clear Politics has given Northam a 3.3 percent lead, which for Gillespie is only slight and surmountable. However, the Quinnipiac Poll has given Northam a much larger lead of fourteen percent. With the 2016 Presidential election still in the memories of many Democrats, many are wary of the polls. Meanwhile, a few other polls, including Monmouth, do give Gillispie a slight lead, whereas only few polls grant the Republican hope.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties are watching this race closely, and both parties are afraid that a loss could serve as a bad omen for times to come.For the Democrats, this would be another in a string of losses that they have suffered since Election Day 2016 and a testament to further divide their party.
For the Republicans, a loss could be seen as evidence of a great dissatisfaction by many in the country to President Trump and the Republican Congress, and it could be a warning that they may lose control of the House or the Senate in the 2018 midterm elections.With Election Day unfolding today, November 7, the results could provide important insight into the political developments that the United States could see as a whole for the next three years.