In a perfect world, Virginia’s election for governor tomorrow, between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie, would not even be close. Gillespie has stoked the flames of racist Virginians with dog-whistle ads chastising NFL protestors, utilizing Latino gang members as modern-day Willie Horton, and promising to protect Confederate statues. His campaign has been endorsed by President Trump, which should also be a kiss of death. Yet the polls have tightened in the last few days, leading some to opine that Donna Brazile’s much-debunked, much-maligned excerpts from her new book might serve as 2017’s Comey Letter, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, as is often said about Democrats.
“This is just the latest case of no message, no organization, no leadership,” Republican Rory McShane said on Fox News yesterday. Right-wing rags were not the only ones to run with this angle: Charles Pierce of Esquire offered grave words for the Left this Friday, writing, “The Democratic Party does not yet appreciate the fact that it is the only viable political vehicle capable of resisting the existential threat that is Trumpism, nor does it realize that time is growing very short. At the moment, it can’t get out of its own way.”
I’ve spent the last few days worried that, if the media spin is true, Gillespie might pull a victory, which would not only worsen Democratic infighting, but pretty much end Virginia’s status as a blue state through the next two elections. He is an unrepentant gerrymanderer who designed the map for the 2010 census that handed the House back to Republicans. If he won, he would do the same thing to Virginia, cutting off another valuable path to electoral victory that Democrats picked up under Obama, and held on to in 2016.
That said, there’s reason to be hopeful despite the tightening polls. A source, who tweets under the name @Resisterhood, has been canvassing through the state, and has reported to me that she is not only encouraged by what she sees on the ground, but that in the time she’s been doing this, the Brazile/Clinton affair hasn’t been brought up once. “It has no impact whatsoever on [the voters’] daily lives,” she says. “Your everyday voter cares about education, the environment, healthcare, taxes, Trump and many other things…Line items in DNC fundraising agreements aren’t on that list.”
Virginia is notorious for dropping in voter turnout during off-year elections: the last gubernatorial race, in 2013, saw a 3.5% drop-off following Obama’s re-election the previous year. That doesn’t seem to be the case this year, as Resisterhood tells me that everywhere she’s gone, voters have known when the election is, where their polling place is, and other vital facts that will hopefully buck this trend.
The spike in voter enthusiasm, she says, is the result of the diverse slate of Democratic candidates running for the Virginia House of Delegates – 43 of them women, a record for the state. Some of them would make history, like Kathy Tran, who would be the first Asian-American elected to the House, or Danica Roem, a 33-year-old transgender woman who has been endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden. Other speak honestly about issues that affect everyday Virginians, like Chris Hurst, who lost his girlfriend in a shooting two years ago and is now a passionate gun control advocate. Resisterhood describes these candidates as “terrific.” The House campaign “has people engaging more about issues that hit close to home…[they] are definitely not focused on what the DNC did or didn’t do in 2015.”
Resisterhood’s reports have encouraged me to go into tomorrow’s elections with more optimism than before, buoyed by the fact that excitement over the House elections will carry over to Ralph Northam. “There is an enthusiasm to vote that I’ve truly never seen here before,” she said. “Virginians are looking to send a message.” With any luck, it will be felt right where it will hurt most – the White House.
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Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.