Virginia Election Preview

Tuesday is a big election day for New Jersey and Virginia. In New Jersey, thanks to the low popularity of Governor Chris Christie, the Democrats look like they are going to do pretty well. In Virginia, things are closer.

Virginia has elections every year. The year after the presidential has elections not only for State Senate and the House of Delegates, but also the 3 big state elections: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General. In the House of Delegates, Democrats are outnumbered 66 to 34. In a change from years past, Democrats are running in 88 seats, contesting elections they usually saw as long shots.(Included in these 88 is journalist Danica Roem) In the Senate, the split is much closer, a Republican majority of 21 to 19.

The Governor position is term-limited, with no immediate re-election allowed. This year, the Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam is facing off against Republican Ed Gillespie. So far, while most polling has favored Northam, the candidates seem to be running extremely close.

Northam is a pediatric neurologist and Army veteran who lives in Norfolk. While he was originally recruited and ran as a conservative Democrat, he has followed the party’s somewhat leftward drift, promising to defend Planned Parenthood and to act as a backstop against the Republican-controlled General Assembly. (Current Governor McAuliffe set a record for number for vetoes issued.) Northam has also promised to continue McAuliffe’s practice of restoring voting rights to felons who have served their time, and wants to make the process automatic.

Ed Gillespie has served as chair of the RNC and as an advisor to President George W. Bush. Gillespie lost a Senate race to Democrat Mark W. Warner in 2014. He has also worked with several high-profile lobbying firms. Gillespie has made a career out of being at the forefront of the funding of establishment Republican candidates. While during his Senate run, Gillespie was a strong advocate for immigration reform, he, too, has followed his party away from moderation. In the wake of the increasingly powerful right-wing Republican base primarying Eric Cantor and electing Donald Trump, Gillespie has shifted strategies in order to garner favor with GOP diehards, resulting in an campaign where cultural and racial issues have taken prominence over economic and other policy disagreements. In fact, Gillespie has done his best to court Trump’s fervent nationalist base, while trying to keep an arm’s length distance from the president himself, campaigning with Vice President Pence, rather than President Trump himself.

Gillespie has tried a number of shady and distracting tactics throughout the Virginia race. He has inflamed the immigration debate by harping on murders committed by the MS-13 gang in Northern Virginia, although areas predominantly lived in by immigrant communities see less crime as a whole. Gillespie and Northam are also fighting over whether Northam supports sanctuary cities or not (Northam says he would support a ban only if a local administration declared itself “sanctuary”, as opposed to Gillespie declaring against them preemptively), but there are no sanctuary cities in Virginia at present, so the fight is more… philosophical than practical. Gillespie supports increasing funding for the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, while Northam wants to find ways to prevent the cuts federal anti-gang initiatives are facing in the face of President Trump.

One of the major events in Virginia recently was the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, where a peaceful anti-nazi protester was run over and murdered. The issue the rally was trying to coalesce around was what to do with the Confederate statues that pepper many towns around the United States; Virginia has more than any other state. Often, they were put in place to commemorate and honor Jim Crow and segregation, contemporary causes of white supremacy, rather than the Confederacy, a cause of white supremacy that was defeated in the Civil War. While Gillespie gave a statement decrying white supremacy, he has also gone wholesale for Trump’s “good people on both sides” idea, and has put out ads saying that Northam “wants to take down our statues” (emphasis added). Northam originally wanted them taken down, and then somewhat backed off, saying that localities should make the decision.

Other issues include expanding Medicaid; Northam wishes to, although without the General Assembly flipping Democrat, that seems unlikely. Although transportation as a whole is usually a huge issue for Virginians (Northern Virginia has some of the worst traffic in the country), there hasn’t been a whole lot of concentration on the issue. Both agree that Metro needs to be restructured, both support widening Rt 66 and converting some lanes to tolled express lanes but disagree on how to fund it. Northam supports a “tax floor” for gas prices in the face of fluctuating energy costs, while Gillespie supports separating out a dedicated transportation fund. Northam has also run on working with Maryland and the District in creating a dedicated funding stream for Metro.

On gun issues, Northam wants to reinstate Virginia’s ‘one gun a month’ law (a law enacted in 1993 that limited people to purchasing one handgun in a 30 day period; it was repealed by Governor Bob McDonnell in 2012), and ban high capacity magazines. Gillespie wants no further restrictions on firearms (although he would be “open” to restricting bump stocks, the device used in the recent Las Vegas mass shooting to simulate automatic fire in semi-automatic weapons), and wants to make it legal to carry firearms in state government buildings. The latest mass shooting this Sunday in Texas may bring this highly partisan disagreement over gun control into the forefront as the election campaign comes to a close.,

The stakes of this election are high, not least because of the upcoming redistricting. Although the next major determination of district boundaries isn’t until 2020, Virginia’s map has been fought over for the last decade. Earlier this year, SCOTUS returned a ruling ordering a review of the work the Republican legislature did, saying they had not applied the right standards in ensuring African American representation when drawing the map (which was already redrawn from the one resulting in the 2010 census). They did not rule on the constitutionality of the map, just that the 3-judge panel needed to reexamine the map with different standards. The next Governor of Virginia, as well as the other state electors who will be decided Tuesday, will have far-reaching influence over the state’s political representation going forward.

HOW TO VOTE

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and voters must present photo identification. The registration deadline has passed.

Registration status and the location of polling places can be confirmed by contacting the Virginia Department of Elections at elections.virginia.gov.

Torchlight encourages all Virginians to make an informed choice this Tuesday.

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