Later this year, two governorships will be up for grabs—one in New Jersey and one in Virginia.
New Jersey, a deep blue state, is currently served by unpopular Republican governor, Chris Christie. Hillary Clinton won handily in New Jersey in the recent election and there is no reason to think that Democrats won’t clean up in the governor’s race. Chris Christie, once considered a rising star in the GOP, after being re-elected, has crashed back down to earth in dramatic fashion. Democrats will win this seat and it won’t be a surprise.
The bigger, more-newsworthy race, will be in Virginia. While the state has typically been considered a battleground state, it is trending to the left. The current Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, has left a trail of scandals in his wake, but the state GOP is riven by division between the establishment and populist wings of the party. The two (current) leading contenders for the GOP nomination—Ed Gillespie and Corey Stewart—each emblemize those respective wings. The former would have appeal in the vote-rich DC suburbs while the latter would likely galvanize the grassroots. Whoever get nominated, Democrats will likely retain the governorship.
Why? The burgeoning, progressive D.C. suburbs are able to outmuscle strong GOP turnout in the rest of the state. Republicans used to rely on moderate voters in Northern Virginia to counteract the progressive ones, but these voters are also trending to the left. That is one of the trends we noticed in the 2016 election—blue collar moderates fueled Donald Trump while white collar moderates fled him. More rural battlegrounds (Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin) went for Trump while the more urban ones (Virginia and Colorado) went for Clinton.
Expect these trends to continue. While some prognosticators are already predicting Trump’s demise in 2020 due to his erratic behavior and mediocre approval ratings, they are not often surveying the states individually. Trump is who he said he is. This means those predisposed to like him will continue to do so and those who aren’t will continue not to like him. In northern Virginia, voters generally don’t like him.
Some might point to the fact that Republicans generally do better in off-year elections than presidential ones. Yet these dicta are only true until they’re not. The Democrats’ “blue wall” fell in the last presidential election. Even if we still concede that GOP voters will have strong turnout this year, when do we concede that a state may be increasingly uncompetitive, even in off-year elections? We are not talking demographics here, but basic geography. Northern Virginia increasingly controls the state—much like the D.C. to Baltimore corridor does in Maryland—and they are trending left and decidedly anti-Trump.
This off-year election, therefore, will be a good one for Democrats. Yet the Democrats should not count their eggs before they’re hatched. This year’s elections will prove that a realignment is taking place in the upper South. Virginia is becoming a solid blue state and North Carolina is cementing its place as a toss-up, likely to follow Virginia with its own population growth in the Research Triangle.
We already knew this was occurring; it is not a surprise, nor does it affect the presidential election map. We can expect Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada to continue their leftward drift and should expect North Carolina and Arizona to follow in their wake. Yet the GOP will likely consolidate its power in the Rust Belt—with way more votes—and another state, Minnesota, potentially within its reach, as well.
So, here is my prediction: Democrats will win both gubernatorial races in 2017 and it will mean little for the 2018 mid-term elections and virtually nothing for the 2020 presidential election.
Stephen Roberts is an Army Reserve chaplain, writer and evangelist living near Milwaukee. He is a regular contributor to Political Storm.