All the excitement was supposed to be on the Democratic side. But, as seems to be becoming increasingly common, the conventional wisdom is wrong. For all the talk of a competitive Democratic primary, Ralph Northam coalesced the party around his more moderate progressive leadership as opposed to Tom Perrellio’s more ardent Sanders like rhetoric.
The excitement was all on the GOP side. Former Congressman and RNC Chair Ed Gillespie, should have cruised to victory. Instead, he barely managed to win by 4,000 votes against a little known Prince William County Supervisor, Corey Stewart.
Such a result is an ominous sign for the GOP. The national political mood clearly favors Democrats and while I have been skeptical of Democrats taking the House in 2018 (I still am) this seems to indicate statewide Republicans might have a tougher task in even red and definitely purple states. I say this because if a moderate candidate like Gillespie cannot draw in rural, Trump supporting voters in a purple state it means the GOP base is deeply divided.
Gillespie’s strength in the NoVA suburbs should make moderate, suburban Republican members of Congress happy. It means they have a shot to run decently if they can thread the needle between distancing themselves from Trump, focusing on local issues and hitting on standard, GOP issues.
But, it should also tell rural and downscale suburb representing Republicans running away from Trump is not a great idea. Gillespie’s little known challenger, Corey Stewart, was a former Trump surrogate in Virginia, and he staked his campaign on backing Trump. Apparently, it almost paid off.
It is entirely possible we are reading to much into this. Rural voters could simply have been put off by Gillespie’s insider history and will rally around him in November after registering their displeasure in the primary. But, then again, the fact a giant favorite like Gillespie struggled so much against an underwhelming opponent might indicate primary challengers are waiting right around the corner for many in Congress if they cannot make both sides of the party happy.
Also, Democratic turnout easily surpassed the GOP’s. Most analysts will probably say this indicates a problem for the GOP. But, the GOP race always looked noncompetitive and the Democratic primary appeared far more exciting so it is hard to tell how much this played in the turnout game. Keep in mind Virginia is a blue trending state so it is not like special elections in red states. Democrats now actually have a deeper base to draw from in the state further exacerbating the turnout gap.
The real news was the closer than expected GOP primary and what it hints at for the GOP going forward into GA-6 next week and the elections next November!