Takeaways from Democratic Victories in Virginia

Democrats won by appealing to middle-income suburbanites who are appalled by the bigotry on the right.

Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for the governorship of Virginia, speaks with voters
Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for the governorship of Virginia, speaks with voters (Northam for Governor)

Democrats who are wary of toning down their identity politics can take heart from Tuesday’s election results in Virginia.

Ed Gillespie, formerly a center-right Republican who adopted the race-baiting tactics of Donald Trump, lost to middle-of-the-road — not Bernie Sanders-style populist — Democrat Ralph Northam with 45 to 54 percent support.

Bob Marshall, the author of the state’s failed “bathroom bill”, was defeated by Danica Roem, the first openly transgender state senator elected in American history.

Preliminary analysis suggests Gillespie failed to boost Republican turnout in the sort of left-behind places that threw their support behind Trump in 2016 and lost votes in affluent suburbs that have increasingly leaned Democratic.

Takeaways

  1. American politics is a balancing act. Lean too far one way, like Gillespie did (toward lower-educated, country-first conservatives) and you lose voters on the other end (in his case: center-right college graduates).
  2. Middle-income suburbanites are swing voters. The 2016 election led to a lot of attention for the white working class, but this is a shrinking demographic. Traditionally Republican-voting, middle-income Americans — predominantly white, but increasingly diverse — are leaving the party, appalled by the bigotry of the likes of Marshall and the incompetence of Trump.
  3. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Gillespie is a Republican apparatchik and former lobbyist who pretended to be a populist. Democrats are the party of liberals, minorities and the young. Voters know that. Don’t insult their intelligence by denying it.