Voters line up in voting booths to cast their ballots at Robious Elementary School in Chesterfield, Va. on Nov. 8, 2016.
Photo by Shelby Lum/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP

As Dems take the reins in Virginia, the practical effects matter

Bill Clinton was a very successful presidential candidate in the 1990s, winning more than 370 electoral votes in each of his national campaigns, but there were some red states where the Democrat struggled to compete. He came up short in the commonwealth of Virginia, for example, twice.

Al Gore also lost Virginia. So did John Kerry.

Slowly but surely, however, the Old Dominion State started changing. Barack Obama carried Virginia twice, and Hillary Clinton won it in 2016. In recent cycles, Virginians have elected Democrats for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. senators, state attorney general, and most of the commonwealth’s congressional delegation. Last night, for the first time in a generation, the party took the reins in the state legislature, too.

Virginia Democrats continued their winning streak under President Trump on Tuesday and took full control of the statehouse for the first time in more than two decades.

Suburban voters turned out in big numbers to back Democratic candidates, continuing a trend of once GOP-friendly suburbs turning blue. This is the third election in a row in which Democrats made significant gains since Trump was elected.

“I’m here to officially declare today, November 5, 2019, that Virginia is officially blue,” Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam told a crowd of supporters in Richmond.

Of course, partisan bragging rights can generate cheers on Election Day, but what’s especially significant about Democrats controlling the levers of power in Virginia is what they intend to do with control.

For example, state lawmakers will almost certainly move forward with new measures intended to address gun violence – a priority for many Virginians following the mass shooting in Virginia Beach in May. With both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly under Republican control, gun reforms were a non-starter – GOP lawmakers effectively ignored Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) call for a special session – and it’s likely that will soon change.

We’ll also probably see Virginia take action on the minimum wage, labor unions, and the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

And then, of course, there’s health care. As Ed Kilgore noted earlier this week, Virginia Republican state lawmakers have used their grip on power to, among other things, “force some eligibility requirements onto the state’s Medicaid expansion. If Democrats can flip two seats in each chamber tomorrow, they’ll have the power to scrap those requirements – and, just maybe, to pursue farther-reaching expansions of public health insurance.”

It’s what tends to happen in blue states.