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Elections, Out-of State Influence, and Potential Democratic Leadership: Political Analysis for Friday, November 1, 2019

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Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM's Phil Liles for this week's political analysis. Topics include the upcoming General Assembly elections, out-of-state financing, and potential Democratic leadership.

Phil Liles:  This is VPM News, 88.9, and as we do every Friday, it’s Jeff Schapiro, the Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist, and he's here this week with commentary.  Now Jeff, it's the final countdown to Election Day, one that could alter the direction of Virginia government for a decade or longer.  Democrats are looking to take total control of the state government for the first time in 26 years. 

Jeff Schapiro:  And they need only two seats in the Senate, three in the House, actually two there.  There's a vacancy that is likely to fall to the Democrats.  The decision on control will likely be made in the Henrico and Chesterfield suburbs of Richmond, as well as Virginia Beach.  These are areas of Virginia that are beginning to shift, much as Northern Virginia already has, and has clearly been baked deep blue.  The races to watch:  In the Senate - Sturdevant / Hashmi, that’s for that Richmond/Chesterfield seat, a must-win for the Democrats, Dunnavant / Rodman on the other side of the river in Henrico.  There are two seats in Virginia Beach, two Senate seats in Virginia Beach.  One is open, previously held by the Republicans.  The other is held by a Republican, Bill DeSteph, a forceful firearms-rights Republican.  And that district includes City Hall, of course, the site of that mass slaying Memorial Day weekend.  And not surprisingly, even in a strong pro-gun rights district such as DeSteph’s, there seems to be some shift, at least on the matter of firearms control.  The House races, again in the Richmond area, the big enchilada, Kirk Cox, the Speaker of the House, planted in a hostile court-redrawn district facing Sheila Bynum-Coleman.   That's a Chesterfield/Colonial Heights anchored district.  There's an open House seat in Henrico, previously held by a Democrat who is now running for the Senate, Debra Rodman.  There are a couple of Republican seats on the peninsula that Democrats say are doable.   The Appropriations Committee chairman, another Republican, might be in trouble down in Suffolk, Chris Jones.  There are three seats in Virginia Beach that are being watched closely and two up in greater Northern Virginia, one of which is held by Tim Hugo, the last Republican to hold a seat in Fairfax County, again, a deep, deep blue jurisdiction.  

Liles:  Well, money, organization, voter registration, absentee voting - important harbingers?

Schapiro:  Oh, absolutely.  We have been seeing tons of money, a lot of out-of-state money pouring in, and most of it seems to be going to the Democrats.  Groups like the anti-gun group, Everytown, Priorities USA, a super PAC associated with Barack Obama.  The big donor on the Republican side is the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC).  It's thrown at least a couple of million bucks at folks right now.  And the RSLC, as well as the aforementioned Democratic groups are making big, and in some instances six figure investments, in basically the same races.  There are more votes possibly to be cast in this mid-term than in ’15.  The voting rolls are up about 400,000 from four years ago, the last time the House and the Senate were decided.  There's been a spike as well, and this has been reported on your air and in my newspaper, in absentee voting.  As we approach the weekend, a record 90,000, almost 90,000 absentee votes have been cast.  That is, of course, a record for a Virginia mid-term.  And the flood of mail and nonstop television advertising we're seeing, that's less about changing people's minds and more about driving them to the polls.

Liles:  And I have been seeing those ads, and I'm wondering how they're affecting the voters and how many physically will show up at the polling places that haven't taken the absentee ballots.

Schapiro:  It is all about GOT V, Get Out The Vote. 

Liles:  Right, Democrats seem to be getting ahead of themselves prematurely measuring for the drapes, maybe?

Schapiro:  Perhaps, a week from Saturday, the Saturday after the election, the House Democratic Caucus is going to be meeting in Richmond.  And if it is the majority caucus, it is likely that House Democrats will be selecting their leaders, and that would include a new Speaker of the House.  They are two prospects within the House Democratic Caucus, Eileen Filler-Corn, the minority leader, and Lashrecse Aird from Petersburg.  It is very difficult to believe that Eileen Filler-Corn will not be installed as speaker, again assuming the Democrats take back the House.  You know, she stepped in as minority leader.  This started a cycle under difficult terms, a surprise departure by her predecessor, David Toscano.  She has raised a lot of money, has traveled around the state, and of course a Democratic take-back would be historic.  And what argument is there for denying the prize to the person in large part currently perceived to be largely responsible for achieving it?  On the Senate side, by the way, there's no doubt that Dick Saslaw from Fairfax would be the new majority leader.  He's currently the minority leader.  Just a footnote there, both are from Northern Virginia, the area that has been driving this Democratic ascendancy.  And Eileen Filler-Corn would be the first female House speaker in Virginia.

Liles:  Well, with about a minute left, Jeff, an October surprise, the Northam administration hitting budget problems?

Schapiro:  Michael Martz, my colleague at the Times-Dispatch, reported earlier this week that the governor's finance secretary Aubrey Layne is asking all state agencies how they could make do with less. Now this comes ahead of the election, but it also comes ahead of the rollout of the Northam budget in mid-December.  The third floor, that's the governor's office over in the Patrick Henry building says this is much ado about nothing, even of course, as it warns of a possible economic downturn and the accompanying cash crunch.  Now, Aubrey Layne is using a term that we have heard before.  He says there's a structural imbalance in Virginia's budget.  That even as revenues grow, they cannot keep up with demand for services.  Now, the last time a Virginia Democratic governor used the term structural imbalance, Mark Warner in 2004, taxes went up, and we're not hearing anything from Republicans.

Liles:   Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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