Virginia Republicans are a feisty bunch. They have passion and energy, but alas, during the past 10 years or so, they seem to have shown very little common sense when it comes to picking candidates. That’s evident in their rather abysmal record. They haven’t won any, that’s zero, statewide elections since 2009 and they also lost the General Assembly in 2019, which was hard to do since it was so gerrymandered in their favor.
Thing is, in the case of this year's Congressional races, they seem to be on the road to doing it again. A poignant example is the 5th Congressional District. This weird looking district runs from the North Carolina border to Fauquier County. In a bizarre firehouse primary that catered to the party’s most conservative activists, they displaced a sitting congressman and devout conservative, Denver Riggleman. Now this red district is in play. As for their Senate nominee, Daniel Gade, a hard core devotee of President DOnald Trump, his chances of becoming a senator are on a par with my winning the Mega Millions Lottery. However, God bless him for trying. Besides, I regularly play the lottery.
The prospects of the president winning Virginia’s 13 electoral votes are next to nil. Though unlikely, he may win reelection nationally, but here in Virginia his numbers remain stuck at around 40%. He could also prove a serious drag on Virginia Congressional candidates.
As for taking back any of the Democratic Congressional gains from 2018 that isn’t too likely. Rep. Annabelle Spanberger, D-7th, and Rep. Elaine Luria, D-2nd, each of whom represents a normally red district, will probably be Democratic holds. Their GOP opponents just aren’t strong enough. As for Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, another 2018 pickup, she is a shoe-in. If these assumptions hold, and the Democrats pick up that now open 5th District seat, while a bit of a reach, that would leave the GOP with the smallest representation in Virginia’s Congressional delegation in over 45 years.
That gets us to the day after election day, but what happens next? Will Virginia’s GOP finally have, as my grandmother used to say, “a come to Jesus moment.”
I don’t know, but they need one, particularly if 2020 pans out as badly as it looks it will. Surely, they don’t like losing year in and year out. In 2021 we’ll be electing a new governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. This is where the power is in Virginia. If the Republicans don’t break out of their mold of selecting unelectable right-wing fringe candidates, then it’s “Game Over.”
What does that mean? The answer is simple. They need candidates that can break the Democratic Party’s hold on the Northern Virginia crescent. That’s the great mass of suburban voters that have given Democrats victories year after year. However, the thing is they aren’t as liberal as some people think. It’s just that their choices have been between perceived extreme right-wing Republicans, and Democrats, who by focusing on suburban issues like schools and roads, have managed to portray a moderate image.
It’s time for traditional conservative and conservative-leaning moderates in the GOP to reassert themselves.
One thing that might make these folks more active is the prospect of a solidly blue Virginia. With every element of the state governing apparatus held by Democrats, and acting more and more liberal, moderate Republicans might actually get motivated to nominate their own candidates. Hopefully, this could be done in a primary, since as history so aptly shows, GOP conventions have historically selected weak candidates.
There are some sound conservative, even moderate to conservative candidates, who could present a friendlier, more acceptable version of the GOP to Virginia’s suburban voters. There are a host of prospective candidates. I call these the “good governance” candidates. They’re conservative, but run on schools and roads, too.
Unfortunately, the only declared nominee at the moment is State Sen. Amanda Chase. Looking towards more responsible candidates, those of the moderate/conservative bent, there is House Minority Leader Kirk Cox. He’s considering it. There is also a blast from the recent past. The only prospective candidate who has legislative experience and who has run and won statewide. Not once, but twice, and that’s former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. Whether or not he wants to launch a statewide campaign is another question, but he would be a strong candidate.
Virginia needs a two-party system. However, with the Republicans being hammered so badly, the Virginia GOP could be on the verge of becoming electorally irrelevant. If that's going to change, the party needs to find that conservative to moderate conservative tact that worked so well in years past.
David Kerr is an adjunct professor of political science at VCU and has worked on Capitol Hill and for various federal agencies for many years.