Uh Oh: National Democrats Are Getting Jittery About Virginia’s Governor Race

Posted: Oct 24, 2017 2:30 PM
Uh Oh: National Democrats Are Getting Jittery About Virginia’s Governor Race

UPDATE: Cortney has more on this, but it seems Virginia Democrats are back at it again with their campaign literature. First, they nixed their black lieutenant governor candidate supposedly because a union didn’t endorse him. Now, they're degrading a Hispanic Republican candidate, Lolita Mancheno-Smoak, in the House Delegate 42 race. 


Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is popular, but Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam is having trouble getting ahead of Republican Ed Gillespie. The state hasn’t elected a Republican statewide in eight years, and while Clinton won the state in 2016—the national Democratic Party is getting “jittery” about the race, according to The Washington Post. It also has exposed how Democrats really didn’t care about their down ticket races. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, some Democrats felt that their original strategy of giving the finger to white working class voters and maximizing turnout in the cities was fine; they just had a bad candidate in Hillary Clinton. Other Democrats were not so sure, knowing that the party’s collapse in the rural America contributed to Donald Trump’s win. It’s a rather stark difference between the two parties. As the GOP tread water in opposition, they work diligently to win state and local races, contributing to Democrats losing 1,000 elected officials in state, federal, and local races. The GOP controls 69/99 state legislatures and two-thirds of the governorships. For Democrats, they didn’t even know some of their state-elected officeholders:

The Democratic National Committee gathered here over the past week with one worry on every activist’s mind: We’d better not lose the Virginia governor’s race.

It’s a surprising case of the jitters over a place that hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office in eight years — and that voted resoundingly against Donald Trump last year. But nationally, Democrats haven’t won a marquee race since losing the presidency. They lag Republicans in fundraising. A loss for Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam against Republican Ed Gillespie on Nov. 7 could stir doubts about message and strategy just as the party is gearing up nationally for next year’s all-important midterm elections.

“We’re Ground Zero,” Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said inside the Bally’s casino here, where party leaders and activists from all 57 states and territories gathered over the past few days. “All eyes are on us. I can understand that, because last year broke my heart.”

Less clear is whether the jitters will help — or whether a Northam victory gives Democrats any kind of road map for 2018.


Democrats believe Trump would have lost the White House last year had he not stolen the mantle of populism, a traditionally Democratic message. But there was not much soul-searching about messaging among those who convened in Las Vegas. There was no debate about the “identity politics” that the party’s critics accused them of embracing in 2016, and little discussion of how to communicate differently in the states that supported Trump last year.

Instead, party leaders focused heavily on organizing and engaging the base.


In interviews, state party leaders said they have spent the year rebuilding. Jane Kleeb, the chairwoman of Nebraska’s Democrats, assembled a list of the state’s Democratic officeholders because none existed. Stephen Webber, the chairman of Missouri’s Democrats, told a Midwestern caucus meeting that his party had developed a message for rural counties “where we used to win 60 percent of the vote and now barely win 15 percent” — a populist campaign against corporate farming conglomerates.

An additional challenge as 2018 approaches is keeping the battles inside the party at bay.

In Las Vegas, some Democrats remained committed to those battles. For the first two days of a four-day meeting, much of the news coverage focused on a conflict over the list of the party’s at-large membership, which included several lobbyists; at a Friday meeting, the resolutions committee put the party on record against any donations from people who represent corporate interests that the party opposes.

But for most Democrats, the best way to stave off another round of infighting is to win.  

Another round of infighting—Democrats have yet to finish their first round, which began when Hillary Clinton lost the election; Bernie Sanders supporters feel if he had won the nomination, Trump would’ve lost. That’s not an insane assessment, but alas—that didn’t happen. The post-2016 unity tour that featured DNC chairman Tom Perez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was fraught with heckling of Perez from progressives. Moreover, the fact that Sanders—who isn’t even a Democrat—was headlining the tour, and the progressive heartburn seen during it, was quite the window into the Democratic Party’s woes.

The infighting in the California Democratic Party, the state party chairmanship race and the tabling of a single-payer initiative in the legislature, has pushed the party towards all-out civil war. The progressive wings of the Democratic Party are not going away. In fact, they’re getting stronger. In three years, the Democratic base has lurched far to the Left. The die-hard cohorts of the party are more liberal and younger, compared to the current Democratic leadership on the Hill. Highlighting the Left wing/establishment divide was the progressive reaction to Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA), a hard-core liberal, decision to run for re-election; she’s earned a primary challenge. Some Democrats are even throwing criticism at Perez’s direction, noting his slow-paced reconstruction of the party that has yet to craft a message and an agenda that resonates with voters. The party is also struggling with fundraising. And on top of all of that, there’s the candidate search. You may have the winds to your back, but without a solid candidate—clinching a win could be difficult. For Democrats, there is no one under the age of 55 that fits the mold. If Northam pulls a win in two weeks, Democrats will surely tout it as the beginning of the resurrection. No doubt a Democratic win would be significant in Virginia; they’ve been on a losing streak. But bluish Virginia being translated as a possible blueprint to win in more Republican states, like Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota, might not be a guarantee. Democrats still have to rebuild their state party bases, which have been decimated under Obama.