All the excitement is on the Democratic side. Right? At least that is the general consensus going into this off-year’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey. Republicans are certain to lose New Jersey (how much lower can Chris Christie’s approval go) and it seemed certain Virginia would stay blue. President Trump had a sub-forty approval rating nationally and in Virginia (until recently). Worse, the GOP candidate, Ed Gillespie, who should have won his primary barely squeaked by with a narrow victory.
But, the polls out of Virginia do not make the race a foregone conclusion. The latest surveys have shown a deadlocked or near deadlocked contest. The last two surveys on the contest, from Suffolk and Mason-Dixon have found the race tied or a one point affair. Of course, the devil is usually in the details. Mason-Dixon found more black voters and Democrats undecided than Republicans meaning if they turn out Gillespie is in trouble. But the recent surveys in Virginia and their data-points also indicate despite all the anger Democrats have turned towards Trump they might still be struggling to motivate their base.
This matters not just for Virginia but also elections next year. White, college educated liberals, have historically always turned out for the party. But, last year, and more recently in GA-6, the party learned the hard way they cannot count on Obamaesque levels of turnout among minorities. Hispanics turned out in force in California but they failed to come close to their total electoral power in Colorado or Florida.
Amid all the hand-wringing among Democrats is a continual worry they simply will be unable to turn out their base in sufficient numbers to swing key Congressional and Senate contests. Hope for increased minority turnout in GA-6 fizzled and many of the legislative districts Democrats have flipped in special elections have been low-turnout sleepy affairs or in GOP controlled Oklahoma (where voters are angry about the GOP taking an axe to the education budget).
If Democrats cannot turn out minorities next year, which have become an increasingly crucial part of the party’s upstairs/downstairs coalition they’ll have problems. Winning districts in CA that voted for Clinton but are held by Republicans would be brutal and in FL, CO and VA, the party’s hopes of winning additional seats becomes a long-shot.
This is to say nothing of the even more crucial statewide and legislative contests across the nation next year. If Democrats hope to have any chance to capitalize on minority growth in the next decade they will need to win positions of power in the states to actually realize these gains.
This poses a problem for Democrats. In Ohio, the party is incredibly reliant on the state’s black population. It failed in November. In Florida and Colorado, while Hispanic turnout increased, the voting block is not lockstep in support of the party and in GA-6 there is even the question whether any more minorities can be convinced to vote. Have Democrats reached the point where they have maximized their turnout among minorities in the short-term?
Of course this is all speculative. But if Virginia falls flat, even if Democrats hold all statewide offices and make gains in the State House, it indicates Democrats have serious problems for a multitude of reasons.
First, it would seem to indicate smart Republicans can outrun and distance themselves from Trump. They might be able to win over voters who disapprove of Trump (aka circa 2016). Secondly, if Virginia, a state demographically made for the party is tepid on the Democratic nominee it signals the base really is more bark than bite. Virginia has a 20% black population, a burgeoning Asian and Hispanic voting bloc and is one of the most affluent and educated states in the country. If Democrats can barely win here can they expect to compete in districts tailor-made for them against a sitting GOP incumbent?
Come November we’ll see.