WASHINGTON — After the GOP’s trouncing in Virginia last November, Democrats and Republicans alike are declaring the long-purple state at least a light shade of blue.
Virginia’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives, sworn in last week, is the bluest it’s been since 1995, when the Republican Revolution swept out Democratic incumbents across the country. Three of the newly elected Virginia Democrats are women — the most the state has ever sent to Congress.
“It’s a new day,” said Rick Boucher, a Democrat who represented southwest Virginia’s 9th District for 28 years before he was ousted by Republican U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith in 2011.
The House delegation that included seven Republicans and four Democrats in the last Congress flipped in the November elections, part of a national trend that put Democrats in control of the chamber this year. Now, the Virginia delegation’s Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to four. Add in the two senators — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine — and Virginia’s congressional Democrats now outnumber Republicans nine to four.
Virginia has become “solidly Democratic, as is revealed by statewide elections over the last decade,” added Boucher, who’s now a partner at the Washington law firm, Sidley Austin LLP.
The shift is sudden, but some politicians and experts say it reflects a broader trend of the state steering to the left.
“Republicans in Virginia need to face the fact that we’re at least a light blue state,” said John Whitbeck, the former chairman of the Virginia Republican Party.
The results of the midterm elections are the latest evidence of the state tilting Democratic. After decades of backing Republican presidential candidates, Virginia hasn’t voted for a GOP presidential candidate since George W. Bush in 2004.
Both of Virginia’s senators have been Democrats since 2009, when Republican John Warner retired. Prior to that, the state hadn’t had two Democratic senators since the 1960s. Four of the state’s last five governors have been Democrats.
“Virginia is no longer a purple state, it’s a blue state,” said David Wasserman, House editor for The Cook Political Report. “The gains Democrats made this year reflect that.”
Overall, Wasserman added, “the long-term trend line points towards Virginia as a safe state rather than a battleground state in presidential elections.”
Politicians and analysts point to a host of factors that have nudged Virginia to the left.
The liberal-leaning Virginia suburbs outside Washington have seen their populations boom. Between 2010 and 2017, more than 60 percent of the state’s growth was concentrated in Northern Virginia, according to an analysis of census data by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.
“The growth in the state is taking place in the parts of the state that are more Democratic,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
That includes three main urban areas: Hampton Roads, greater Richmond and Northern Virginia. Meanwhile, western Virginia is becoming more Republican, Kondik said.
He said Virginia doesn’t belong in the category of Democratic stronghold states like New Jersey or Connecticut. “I think it’s still a competitive state,” he said. “But it’s a state where the trend is Democratic.”
Some also attribute the shift to industries like technology companies and venture capital firms that have drawn younger voters to the state. There’s more to come on that front — the tech giant Amazon plans to bring one of two new East Coast headquarters to Arlington County.
Former Virginia Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Moran attributed the shift to demographics more than politics.
“The people who are elected are moderates. Virginia is moderate,” said Moran, now a senior legislative adviser at the law firm McDermott Will & Emery LLP.
Virginia’s three newly elected House Democrats are all women who defeated GOP incumbents. U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria beat Scott Taylor in the 2nd District; U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger ousted David Brat in the 7th District; and U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton won the 10th District from Barbara Comstock.
Spanberger said the state’s voters have shifted in terms of what they expect out of their lawmakers.
“I think in our district it’s a pretty good example of a place where people historically voted in a particular way — in our case Republican — and as more and more people got engaged in the political process, particularly after the 2016 election, I think there were a lot of people who were willing to question whether or not voting with their party of kind of historical adherence was what was in their best interest, in the community’s best interest and in the country’s best interest,” she told the Virginia Mercury last week.
Whitbeck, the former chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, noted that the political pendulum has long swung back and forth in Virginia.
It’s never been a deep red state, he said, but added that he’s worried about the GOP’s future there.
“I don’t think it’s anything we’ve ever seen before and the question is whether it lasts beyond the 2018 midterms,” he said.
Democrats are hoping to take control of the state’s closely divided House and Senate next year.
Corey Stewart, a polarizing Virginia Republican who ran in the mold of President Donald Trump but lost his Senate bid to Kaine in November, announced this week that he’s leaving his post on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. He told The Washington Post he’s stepping down from politics “until and unless the commonwealth is ready for my views on things, and that’s not right now, clearly.”
Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, who has represented Virginia’s 1st District since 2007, said he welcomed his new colleagues to Congress and said he’s excited to work across the aisle on local issues.
“In the Virginia delegation we have a wonderful tradition of not only sitting down together every month, both Republicans and Democrats – senators and members, but coming together to solve the problems that affect our constituents,” Wittman told the Virginia Mercury in a statement.
It remains to be seen whether Virginia Democrats can hold their delegation’s majority in 2020 and beyond. Virginia political experts say ire toward Trump likely fueled Virginia Democrats’ victories, as it did in congressional races around the country.
“It’s going to be tough in a non-Trump year” for a newcomer like Spanberger to oust an incumbent like Brat, or for a candidate like Luria to beat a sitting congressman like Taylor, said Rep. Don Beyer, D-8th.
But now that they’re in, Beyer said, “people will become loyal to them and that incrementally changes their perspective in a positive way.”
Moran said the Democratic newcomers won’t make “unforced errors” that make them easy targets for the right.
“I think they’re all keepers,” he said.