FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 3, CRAIG CARPER – Richmond Times Dispatch columnist and WCVE’s political analyst Jeff Schapiro and WCVE New Director Craig Carper discuss the Democratic statewide sweep in Virginia’s off-year election, a shocking number of Democratic House of Delegate wins, and the national implications of the results for President Trump and the GOP.
CC: Good morning, Jeff. A shocking night last night, I think the polls were indicating a statewide sweep. Not by quite this margin for Democrat Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax, and Mark Herring.
JS: If you are a Democrat in Virginia and you were suffering from Trump PTSD, I think it’s safe to say you’re over it this morning. The Northam victory for governor was the strongest performance for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Virginia since 1985. Jerry Baliles carrying all ten congressional districts at the time; there were only ten. Clearly a stronger than anticipated performance for Northam, who, as you know, was catching all sorts of grief for seemingly running a needlessly low-key campaign. But I think the argument can be made that in the, in the age of Trump low-key is not without its advantages. And keep in mind, as well, that was the way Ed Gillespie, the big Republican loser this morning, began his campaign. He ended it running largely as a large-D Deplorable, though he kept his distance from President Trump who had endorsed Gillespie. He, nonetheless, nonetheless embraced many of Trump’s tougher themes, particularly a very hostile line against immigrants.
CC: And Jeff, the real shock of the evening is that the House’s near supermajority, I believe just two, a seat or two short of a supermajority, has now shrunken to nothing. We’re, we’re at the moment I believe at 50-50, 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with a few more races to call.
JS: There are at least two races for the House, one on the Peninsula, the Newport News area, one in northern Virginia, in Fairfax, that are likely headed to recount and could decide the control of the House of Delegates. At least at this point, we appear to be at a 50-50 House, and that would auger power-sharing. Again, not the first time Virginians have produced an equally divided House. That was the case back in the late 90’s, and there was a very awkward arrangement put in place by the Democrats and the Republicans. It was a short-lived extension of the Democrats run on power. They had sort of the administrative upper hand for a couple of years, and then of course, the Republicans completed their takeover of the legislature in 1999, and the House fell to the Republicans and has been in Republican hands since. And the majorities have been artificially large, I would argue, largely because of hyper-partisan gerrymandering, which gets us back to the gubernatorial victory. With a Democrat in the governor’s chair, had the Republicans preserved their majority, there was likely to be a big faceoff on redistricting in 2021 when the new lines are drawn for the House and Senate. Clearly Governor-Elect Northam was prepared, and I suspect is still prepared, to use his veto to prevent overreach by Republicans in perpetuating their majority in the legislature for another decade.
CC: And of course the eyes of the nation and the world were on Virginia and New Jersey last night to read into greater themes and signals for 2018 and beyond. What, what will national pundits be taking away from this?
JS: Well, there is clearly a good deal of talk this morning within the national pundit class about what this means for the nation. I think there is, perhaps, a telling takeaway, in that this was an off-year, lower turnout election. And given the increasingly national makeup of Virginia’s electorate, perhaps in Virginia we see in microcosm what the 2018 midterm congressional electorate might look like. So this is being parsed very closely for its implications for those House and Senate elections a year from now. Of course there’s going to be a good deal of speculation about what this means for our departing governor, Terry McAuliffe, certainly a huge political win for him. He makes no secret of his interest in remaining active in politics, nationally perhaps, and does not tamp down speculation that he might be seeking the presidency in 2020.
CC: And we’re just right around the corner from the upcoming General Assembly session. What kind of issues do you think, and agenda do you think we’ll be seeing?
JS: Well, clearly with these huge gains by the Democrats in the House, there could be some very significant shifts in policy. One that immediately comes to mind is this four year long standoff over a Medicaid financed expansion of Obamacare. Ralph Northam has indicated he supports that, and with a much more closely divided legislature, there may be opportunities for the new governor to carry off what Terry McAuliffe couldn’t.
CC: A local ballot initiative in Richmond passed by, I believe, 85% calling on the mayor to present a plan within six months to shore up Richmond’s public school infrastructure with no new taxes. That will have to go before the General Assembly. With a strong vote like that, do you anticipate its passage by this new body?
JS: Well, remember these are advisory, this is an advisory referendum. And while there’s going to be a good deal of public pressure on the mayor and the General Assembly perhaps to do something, remember the Republican legislator who helped push this through, Manoli Loupassi, is no longer standing, among the big casualties in the House Republican caucus this year. Mayor Stoney is trying to steal the beat on the School Board on this issue and before the election began very publically pressing the School Board to come up with some suggestions for how schools should be financed and managed going forward.
CC: Well thank you Jeff Schapiro for catching up with us. We will talk again in a couple days on Friday.
JS: See you then.