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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Keys to VA Governorship Election

Jeff Schapiro, columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, offers some insights on “What to Look for on Election Day –  and Where,” including:

Virginia’s geopolitics — for purposes of picking a winner on election night — begin with 10 cities and counties with populations of about 200,000 to nearly 1.2 million. They are in the eastern half of the state, from the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., to Virginia Beach, on the Atlantic coast.

This sweeping crescent — it tracks Interstates 95 and 64 — is the key to the Democrats’ current lock on the five offices decided by statewide vote. It is where Northam will receive most of his votes. It is where Gillespie, who can count on near-uniform support across the western and southern countryside, must break through to win.

The four counties of Northern Virginia — Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William — are emerging as hostile territory for Gillespie, largely because it is where hostility to President Donald Trump is greatest. That could drive up turnout, potentially providing a cushion for Democrats against losses in more competitive localities downstate.

However, writes Schapiro, “Do not underestimate the tail-wagging-the-dog effect of Northern Virginia on state politics. If Democrats carry the region — of the 2 million-plus votes expected to be cast Tuesday, more than 500,000 will come out of the four counties — it’s likely game-over for Republicans.”

Schapiro points out that rain is expected in much of Virginia today. Usually that is good news for Repubicans who generally thrive on low turnouts in more populated areas. But there have been exceptions, and if northern Virginia voters are fed up with Trump, that could help drive turnout. The latest round of Trump Administration scandals could conceivably do the trick, especially considering Gillespie’s record as a fat-cat lobbyist, nick-named “Enron Ed” by his adversaries.  Schapiro continues,

Loudoun may be the most promising D.C. suburb for Gillespie, who lives next door in Fairfax. Though Loudoun was carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2013, the county’s profile is quasi-Establishment Republican. It is the fastest-growing county in the state and the No. 1 county nationally in median household income. Nearly 60 percent of its residents are college graduates. And Loudoun may remember Gillespie, having tipped to him — barely — in his near victory for U.S. Senate in 2014 against Democratic incumbent Mark Warner.

But Gillespie’s majority this year in Loudoun would have to far exceed his nearly 500-vote edge over Warner. That’s because there aren’t enough votes in reliably Republican rural Virginia to overtake the metropolitan areas, where two-thirds of the state’s residents live.

With respect to the Richmond burbs, keep an eye on Chesterfield County. As Schapiro notes,

In years past, GOP statewide candidates would routinely win Chesterfield 2-to-1. But Gillespie, against Warner three years ago, managed only a 9,000-vote majority. And Trump won Chesterfield by a mere 4,000 votes.

Gillespie can’t afford a repeat of his 2014 performance in Chesterfield. Continuing antagonism in the county for Trump — and Gillespie’s refusal to criticize the president for fear of alienating his voters — might muffle Republican enthusiasm.

At The Virginian-Pilot, the state’s largest circulation newspaper, columnist Brock Vergakis notes,

Historically, voter turnout in statewide races plummets following a presidential election year. Turnout among registered voters dropped from 71 percent in 2012 to 43 percent the following year when Gov. Terry McAuliffe was elected, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. With significant support among black voters, McAuliffe won that year by 2.5 percentage points.

That sounds like a good omen for Northam, particularly if there is a strong turnout in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Vergakis also cites “research that shows if campaigns can make what’s called “four touches” with a voter – such as a phone call, direct mail, conversations on doorsteps and leaving a door hanger – they can get that person to show up on Election Day.” He quotes Quentin Kidd, director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, who explains,

That’s why so much time is spent courting likely voters, which includes those who have voted in a primary or donated to a campaign, indicating they may favor one party over the other.

“It’s more necessary in a race like this,” Kidd said. “This governor’s race is essentially a base election. It’s going to be which side gets its base out to vote. That’s when the four touches become important.”

“Let’s be clear,” he added. “It isn’t easy to get four touches on a voter. Four touches is difficult to do, which is why campaigns spend so much money trying to do it.”

The “four touches” turnout strategy sounds plausible enough. Today’s Virginia election will be a telling test for Democrats — to determine whether they have awakened to the priority of GOTV in non-presidential election years.

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