The Daily Northwestern

Letter to the Editor: Virginia’s elections hold significance for national politics

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Two strong signals were sent to the nation as the results of Virginia’s Nov. 7 election trickled in: Americans are rejecting President Donald Trump and his conservative agenda, and progressives are energized and ready to help elect Democrats up and down the ballot.

Leo Sainati is correct to say in his column that Virginia is trending blue. But the results of the election go far beyond an existing trend.

First, voters rejected both Trump and more establishment conservative ideals. Ed Gillespie started his campaign on classic right-leaning tenants like tax cuts across the board. When he didn’t see much support for that across the Commonwealth, he pivoted to what you call xenophobic rhetoric, attacking immigrants and Latinos. And he got trounced, as neither his Trump-like, racially coded appeals or classic GOP talking points got any traction.

Beyond that, voters rejected perhaps the most contentious policy pushed by Trump and mainstream Republicans alike. According to exit polls, nearly four in 10 voters said health care was the issue that mattered most to them, far more than any other issue, and over 75 percent of those voters backed Democrat Ralph Northam. If all that isn’t a clear sign that voters rejected Trump, conservatism and their most prolific policy argument of the past decade, I don’t know what is.

Democrats also sent a strong message about their grassroots enthusiasm, and how that’s able to translate into electoral gains. According to a memo from Northam’s campaign, Democrats knocked on over 3.9 million doors across the Commonwealth, over one million more than the Clinton campaign knocked during the presidential election of 2016, when enthusiasm is seemingly the highest. Such numbers are unprecedented and clearly a sign of record-high Democratic energy.

And the energy made the difference. Before the election, in an article entitled “Why Virginia’s Delegate Races Could Be the Most Telling 2017 Elections,” political analyst Dave Wasserman of The Cook Political Report — a nonpartisan organization — wrote that if Democrats won 10-15 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates, it would be “a strong sign they’re on track to pick up the House majority next year.” Winning over 15 seats, he argued, would hint at a “potential tidal wave” in 2018. Democrats defied expectations and picked up at least 15 seats in the House of Delegates — and that number could rise as several races are still too close to call and may head to recounts. Not to mention that those 15 winners will include the nation’s first transgender state legislator, Virginia’s first two Latina legislators and the Commonwealth’s first Asian-American female legislator.

Virginia is certainly blue, and may even be getting “bluer.” But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the first major elections of this new political era and their implications for the rest of the nation. Voters are rejecting Trump, conservatism and Republicans’ policy agenda, and Democrats are energized and ready to fight back — not just with marches, but in electing progressives up and down the ballot.

Ben Zimmermann
Weinberg senior
Worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign in VA and currently advises MobilizeAmerica