Chesterfield and Lynchburg hadn’t backed a Democrat for president since 1948. Biden changed that.

By: - November 5, 2020 12:01 am

Voters in suburban Chesterfield County cast their ballots at the Edgewater precinct in 2018, which Trump won in 2016 but Democrats took in the 2017 gubernatorial race and again during the 2020 election. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Virginia came out of Election Day looking a little bluer and a little more polarized.

Joe Biden continued Democrats’ winning streak in the suburbs, carrying seven cities and counties won by President Donald Trump in 2016, according to preliminary results that began to come into focus Wednesday.

Trump, meanwhile, ran up his own margins in deep-red Southwest Virginia, a sparsely populated but reliably Republican corner of the state that embraced him during his first run and doubled down the second time around.

“Last night showed that both Donald Trump and Trumpism, you might say, is extremely powerful in parts of the state,” said longtime Virginia political commentator Bob Holsworth. “But this kind of populism is increasingly unpopular in the more suburban areas of Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads.”

Both Democrats and Republicans saw their supporters vote in higher numbers this year than in 2016. Biden collected at least 337,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton and Trump increased his vote total by at least 160,000.

For Biden, that increased turnout meant victories in cities and counties that haven’t swung Democratic during a presidential year in decades, including:

• Chesterfield County and Lynchburg, neither of which has backed a Democrat for president since 1948, when they went for Harry Truman;

• Virginia Beach, which Democrats last won in 1964 when Lyndon B. Johnson was on the ballot;

• James City County, which favored Hubert Humphrey over Nixon in the 1968 election; and

• Stafford County, which narrowly broke for Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Biden also flipped the city of Chesapeake and Stafford County, both of which Trump carried in 2016 but have waffled between parties in more recent years.

Trump’s gains were more limited — concentrated in rural localities that overwhelmingly supported him but whose small populations make them less helpful when it comes to winning statewide races. Lee County, for instance, delivered Trump 84 percent of the vote, a larger share than any other jurisdiction in the state and a four-point bump over 2016, but one that in the end still only yielded 8,363 votes.

Holsworth said Republicans’ challenge during next year’s gubernatorial race will be to find a candidate with enough appeal in rural and suburban corners of the state to win a nominating contest. But even if Trump is out of the picture and a pitch perfect candidate on the ballot, he said the GOP would still face an uphill climb.

“The thing we don’t know is exactly how toxic the GOP brand has become in these suburban areas,” he said.

For its part, the Republican Party of Virginia says success is just around the corner.

“It’s no secret that Republicans haven’t had the most success here in recent years,” the party’s chairman, Rich Anderson, said in a statement. “That fact is not lost on me or any Virginia Republicans. But guess what? We’re. Coming. Back.”


This story has been updated to include Lynchburg in the count of Virginia localities that Biden flipped this year.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.