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Big Names In Virginia, Warner and Gade Meet in Debate, Early Voting Begins, and the Ongoing Special Session: Political Analysis for Friday, September 25, 2020

A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone between the two.

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis. Topics include big names arriving in Virginia to drum up political support ahead of the election, the first debate between Virginia Senator Mark Warner and his challenger Dan Gade, the start of early voting in Virginia, and the ongoing special session of the General Assembly.


Craig Carper: From VPM news in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper. Joining me now from the Richmond Times-Dispatch is political columnist and VPM’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro. Jeff, good morning.

Jeff Schapiro: Hi there, Craig.

Carper: Though the polls don't suggest Virginia is competitive, that's not keeping the presidential candidates and their big-name surrogates from coming into the state.

Schapiro: And today, the biggest name, Donald Trump will be on the peninsula in Newport News, an airport rally this evening. Of course, this is the eve of the president's announcement of his Supreme Court pick. We know how theatrical he can be. And one will have to assume that this is an opportunity for the president to build up the chatter ahead of the announcement, even in a state where his unpopularity has contributed to three consecutive years of Democratic gains. And one would be remiss not pointing out that in 2016 Virginia went comfortably for Hillary Clinton, and the latest poll out of the Wasson Center suggests that Virginia will go comfortably for Joe Biden. He was up by about five percentage points in that Wasson Center poll, but that lead jumps to eight percentage points when measured by voter enthusiasm. As for high-level surrogates, Jill Biden was in Virginia on Thursday. Yesterday she made four stops - two in Hampton Roads, two in the Richmond area - both areas where there are large numbers of Democratic votes, particularly voters of color. One also wonders though with the Trump appearance in that region, if that will only further agitate a lot of these Democratic voters. Biden's purpose was to spotlight early voting and early absentee voting. This is a big deal, as I hope we will discuss.

Carper: And Jeff, Mark Warner and Dan Gabe, the Republican who wants to deny Warner a third term in the Senate, met in their first debate this week, and they were saying a lot of things that Senate candidates elsewhere in the country are saying.

Schapiro: This is a chance for a not terribly well-known and not particularly well-financed Republican challenger to get a lot of exposure, certainly a lot more than he's received so far. There will be, or there's anticipated to be, a second debate. The first one was sponsored by the Northern Virginia Chamber, again, conducted virtually. Pretty much we are hearing the respective party lines from Warner and Gade. There was a good deal of conversation about that Supreme Court vacancy. Warner, like so many Democrats, very unhappy about this Republican grab. The president and the Senate Republicans want to fill this seat before the presidential election. Gade says it's important to do so, again parroting a lot of the Republican lines, including those of the president. That there's got to be a full complement of justices, that is all nine, should this presidential election, as was the case in 2000, be decided by the high court. There is clearly this sense. I don't think the president is at all reluctant to emphasize this, that he would like a friendly court if it comes to that. And of course, this would be his third appointment to the court, one that would push it for the foreseeable future in a fairly conservative direction.

Carper: Jeff, early voting is underway in Virginia, a consequence of the pandemic. The traffic has been steady at the registrar's office and perhaps your post office.

Schapiro: At least as of midweek when we got the official count from the Virginia Department of Elections, more than 100,000 Virginians had cast early ballots, you know, gone to their registrar’s office or satellite stations to actually vote in person. Now in the 2016 election, 350,000 or so Virginians voted early. But of course, we didn't have the pandemic to worry about then as we do now, and that's the big difference. According to the state board, nearly 900,000 Virginians have requested mail absentee ballots, so combine that with the hundred thousand or so who have already cast ballots in person, and we're talking about, you know, a million voters. That's 20% of the electorate so far who maybe have already voted in fairly short order. Turn out, of course, in presidential elections tends to spike better than 75%, better than 70%. That's the high watermark. And one wonders if we can match that given early voting, given absentee by mail voting, and of course, these continuing concerns about the plague.

Carper: And finally, the special session on the legislature drags on and on. Could it be a distraction in some hard-fought congressional elections, Jeff?

Schapiro: You know, the legislature was in on August 18th. As of today, if my arithmetic is correct, the worthies have been at it for 38 days. Now that's nearly as long as one of those so-called short sessions of the legislature, short regular sessions; they run 46 days. Now, they have not been working nonstop. They've been in and out of session, mostly meeting virtually because of COVID. And we had a COVID casualty, Tommy Wright, a delegate from southside Virginia, a conservative Republican. He apparently showed up for that opening session in August when the House and Senate were both meeting in person, apparently infected, and never told anyone. The speaker, Eileen Filler-Corn, is pretty ticked off about that. She has all but said that Wright could have caused a super-spike. And clearly the Republicans were trying to keep this under wraps. There was a good deal of evident secrecy surrounding Wright's illness. Apparently his wife was stricken as well. Could this be a distraction since it appears that the legislature is going to be meeting now into October? A lot of the huffing and puffing, particularly among Democrats, especially over police reform, could become a talking point for Republicans - here in the Richmond area, Nick Freitas running against incumbent Abigail Spanberger, up in the Charlottesville area, Republican Bob Good running against Cameron Webb. That's an open seat. This might be a way, an opportunity for Republicans to talk about the perceived cop-bashing in Richmond and warning voters that more of this could take root in Washington if Spanberger and Webb, both representing, or both, in Webb's case, hoping to represent districts that still have substantial Republican preferences.

Carper: Alright, thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.

Schapiro: Take care.


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