The sun rises over the Virginia Capitol. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Virginia Democrats’ continued post-Trump electoral gains suggest Republicans face an uphill battle in next year’s General Assembly races as they campaign to maintain their razor-thin majorities in the state House and Senate.
For two years running, Democrats’ top-of-the-ticket statewide candidates — Gov. Ralph Northam in 2017 and Sen. Tim Kaine on Tuesday – won a majority of votes in 14 legislative districts currently held by Republicans, according to estimates by the Virginia Public Access Project.
Five of the seats are in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a 21-19 majority. Nine are in the House of Delegates, where, after sweeping losses last year, Republicans hold a 50-49 advantage and only avoided an evenly split chamber when a tied race was resolved with a random drawing that went in their favor.
In both chambers, the seats are largely suburban, reflecting the GOP’s growing struggles in areas that were once reliable strongholds.
In the Senate, Kaine won the:
- 10th Senate District (Richmond, Chesterfield and Powhatan), held by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, by 23 points.
- 13th Senate District (Loudoun and Prince William), held by Sen. Dick Black, by 18 points.
- 12th Senate District (Henrico and Hanover), held by Siobhan Dunnavant, by 15 points.
- 7th District (Virginia Beach and Norfolk), held by Sen. Frank Wagner, by 13 points.
- 8th District (Virginia Beach), held by Sen. William DeSteph, by 5 points.
And in the House of Delegates, Kaine won the:
- 94th District (Newport News), held by Del. David Yancey, by 19 points.
- 40th District (Fairfax and Prince William), held by Del. Tim Hugo, by 18 points.
- 28th District (Stafford and Fredericksburg), held by Del. Robert Thomas, by 12 points.
- 100th District (Accomack, Norfolk and Northampton), held by Del. Robert Bloxom, by 10 points.
- 27th District (Chesterfield), held by Del. Roxann Robinson, by 10 points.
- 84th District (Virginia Beach), held by Del. Glenn Davis, by 9 points.
- 62nd District (Chesterfield, Hopewell and Henrico), held by Del. Riley Ingram, by 7 points.
- 83rd District (Virginia Beach and Norfolk), held by Del. Chris Stolle, by 6 points.
- 76th District (Suffolk and Chesapeake), held by Del. Chris Jones, by 3 points.
Kaine won in another five General Assembly districts that Northam lost last year: the 17th and 11th districts in the Senate (held by senators Bryce Reeves and Amanda Chase) and the 26th, 54th, and 91st in the House (held by delegates Tony Wilt, Robert Orrock and Gordon Helsel). The margins there were narrower, however, and more likely reflect Republican Senate nominee Corey Stewart’s weaknesses as a candidate than anything else.
VPAP’s estimates come with a few caveats:
First, they don’t including absentee ballots because of the way the state counts results. Second, the results of precincts split between legislative districts are estimated, again, because of the way the state counts results.
Third, the exact makeup of some of those districts could change before next year’s election depending on the outcome of a court-ordered remedial redistricting plan aimed at correcting racial gerrymandering that federal judges have ruled diluted black voting power, which Democrats expect will improve their margins further.
And finally, the General Assembly races, which take place in off years and, in 2019, won’t include any top-of-the-ticket statewide candidates that typically increase voter interest.
Republican leaders noted that in past years they’ve also won General Assembly races in districts their statewide candidates failed. Of the 14 seats, Republicans had lost three in statewide races prior to Trump’s election: Sturtevant, Yancey and Bloxoms’.
“For many years we held seats that would be considered blue seats,” said House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock. “Some of those we lost last year, some of those we continue to occupy.
“There’s still a retail aspect to whether they continue to be a good fit for their district and whether they continue to deliver for the people of their district. All politics is local as they say and so, we shall see. Certainly every pundit has their opinion about what those numbers continue to mean, but I think each district is different and we’ll take each one as it comes.”
Still, Democrats are optimistic and political observers say the results should concern Republicans.
The day after the election, House Minority Leader David Toscano, a Charlottesville Democrat, sent an email to supporters noting the implications of Tuesday’s election on the General Assembly and declaring the “fight for 51 starts now.”
Bob Holsworth, a veteran political commentator and former VCU political science professor, said that while Republicans have generally performed better in General Assembly races than their statewide counterparts, Trump is upsetting that dynamic.
“Voting patterns in Virginia have become increasingly nationalized,” he said, noting Republican U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock’s loss to Jennifer Wexton in Northern Virginia’s 10th Congressional District. “As long as Donald Trump is president I think it’s going to be increasingly difficult for Republicans in Democratic-leaning districts.”
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