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Virginia "Solidly Blue," Stoney Wins Second Term as Mayor, and a Potential Shift in How Virginia Votes: Political Analysis for Friday, November 6, 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 Virginia tipping blue once again, both in the presidential race as well as congressional seats, Levar Stoney wins reelection in Richmond's mayoral race, and a potential shift in how Virginians will vote in the future.

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, how are you?

Schapiro:   Good to see you, Craig.

Carper:  Jeff this week, Virginia tipped blue again for president.  This is the fourth time straight since 2008.  This time in Biden versus Trump, the margin for Democrats is much bigger, suggesting that Virginia is a solidly blue state.

Schapiro:  Biden beats Trump in Virginia by almost 10 percentage points.  Four years ago, Clinton beats Trump in Virginia, her running mate is Tim Kaine for vice-president, by about five percentage points.  What was really interesting here is that Trump's performance is unchanged to the decimal point from 2016.  He's basically stuck at 44%.  What came out of this election is an expanded map for Democrats with wins for the presidency in areas of the state where historically Democrats have not won.  First off, here in the Richmond area, Chesterfield County goes comfortably for Biden, about six percentage points.  It's the first time Chesterfield has supported a Democrat for the presidency since 1948 when Harry Truman carried the state by plurality.  And like Virginia Beach, once reliably and almost lopsidedly Republican, it supported Biden.  It's the first time that's happened in the resort city since 1964.  You know, there are 10 cities and counties in Virginia with populations of 200,000 to about 1,200,000.  This is the foundation of the Democratic ascendancy in this state.  And if you are a candidate for office and you carry those magical 10, your Republican opponent can carry every other jurisdiction in the state, and there still aren't enough votes combined to win.  A long story short, this is bad news for the Republicans.  The suburbs, the metropolitan areas where that vote strength is concentrated are clearly off limits to Republicans.  And heading into the 2021 statewide elections, you know, the main event, the election for governor, Republicans have to figure out a way to get back into those suburbs that had provided them with their foundation in the late ‘60s, and into the ‘70s, and again in the ‘90s, and briefly in the 2000s.  So, there's a big lesson in the results for the Republican Party, and the question is, you know, not only will they absorb it, but are they going to be able to come up with candidates who can implement the changes in tone, in message, in theme, that's going to be necessary to get back in the fight in Virginia.

Carper:  And Democrats held two prized House seats that Republicans thought were theirs, because they're in districts Donald Trump carried in 2016.  The Democrats also tried and failed for a third seat.  Those races could have implications for the new way Virginians want to redistrict.  And finally, Mark Warner walked into a third term in the Senate.

Schapiro:  In those congressional races, Abigail Spanberger here in the Richmond area in the 7th, Elaine Luria in the 2nd down in south Hampton Roads, big wins, big holds for the Democrats, for sure.  Both sort of nail biters, largely because of the manner in which we've voted this year, all of that early voting in person and by mail.  And so, the in-person vote did not look favorable to those Democratic incumbents, and it was the next day on Wednesday that we saw this big wave of support for both.  The Spanberger race against Nick Freitas, particularly interesting, she was trailing in that in-person Election Day vote, but when that early in-person vote and those early absentee ballots were calculated starting up in Spotsylvania County, an outer suburb of Washington D.C. that has changed quickly, Spanberger moved within 700+ votes of Freitas.   And then the Richmond area, which allowed her to knock off Dave Brat two years ago, came through big time for Spanberger.  By the way, Spanberger and Luria, and this is the case with Mark Warner in the Senate race as well, ran ahead of Joe Biden.  The Warner victory, which we'll get to in sec.  There was that 5th district race out in the Charlottesville area.  This was a strongly Republican district.  Cameron Webb tried and fell short against Bob Good, this very red, bible-invoking Republican conservative.  Those districts are going to see their boundaries changed with redistricting in 2021.  Virginians overwhelmingly, better than two to one, approved removing, pretty much removing redistricting power from the legislature and turning it over to this bipartisan commission.  The first steps towards putting that commission in place are going to be taken by the 15th or so of November when the chief justice of Virginia names a committee of retired trial judges, circuit court judges, to vet possible citizen candidates for this commission.  Remember this was a commission that many, many Democrats resisted, largely black Democrats, white liberals from Northern Virginia.  They clearly wanted to redistrict the old-fashion way, and hinted that they might be amenable to some form of reform, if you will, in 2031.  To Mark Warner easily dispatching Daniel Gade and winning that third term, had the Senate tipped Democratic, and I guess that's a possibility if there are these special runoffs down in Georgia in January, but not looking likely, Warner would have moved into a committee chairmanship, initially Senate Intel.  There was a lot of speculation, I think much of it really misguided, that in a Biden presidency, there might be a place for Mark Warner as Director of Central Intelligence or Director of National Intelligence.  I don't think that Joe Biden is going to do anything that looks too partisan, given the rap on Trump for politicizing even national intelligence.

Carper:  And Levar Stoney, after an uncomfortable first term that in recent months included Black Lives Matter protests, police violence, and taking down those Confederate statues, is comfortably reelected Richmond's mayor.  And there's a surprise finish for second place.

Schapiro:  Stoney won big; he carried six of nine districts.  Remember Richmond has this mini-Electoral College.  The mayor has to carry a minimum of five of nine councilmanic wards.  This'll be his second and final term.  He will be term-limited, if you will.  His victory, largely rooted in solid black support.  And by the way, this second term will end in 2024, just in time for Levar Stoney to do what most of us are fairly certain he's likely to do, and that's run statewide, perhaps for governor in 2025.  The surprise to which you referred, the second-place finisher, albeit a distant second place finisher, Alexsis Rodgers, young, progressive, a late entry announcing in June in response to all that unrest.  Maybe we'll see her running again for mayor.  She overtook Kim Gray who was, you know, supposed to be the supposed giant killer in this race and has been Stoney's principal tormentor on city council for the past couple of years.  She placed third, and she lost her own district, which includes a big chunk of the Fan and all that real estate on which many of those Confederate monuments stood.  She lost her district to Alexsis Rodgers.

Carper:  And finally, Jeff, how Virginians voted this year because of the pandemic could very well become the rule for voting in the out years, but that will require changes by registrars and the way candidates run their campaigns.

Schapiro:  In-person early voting and mail absentee voting, no excuse mail absentee voting, I've got to think, and I am certainly not alone, that they are likely here to stay.  What I think we learned, using the Spanberger - Freitas race as an example, that perhaps they're going to have to be changes in the timetable in which these early ballots are counted.  A number of states actually count them earlier.  Florida begins two weeks before Election Day.  The Friday before the election, roughly five days, Texas begins those countings, if only for, you know, ease of tabulation.  The General Assembly would clearly have a say on that.  And the registrars would probably insist on a few more shekels to help pay for a lot of that early processing.  If we're going to see that, particularly early in-person voting, particularly in the city of Richmond, presumably we're going to have to start seeing more satellite offices.  There are only two in this city, and that contributed to something that VPM has reported on, these underwhelming early in-person turnouts.  In fact, Richmond was the lowest in the state.  A city like Chesapeake, you know, not wildly larger than Richmond, I think had a half a dozen satellite stations.  So, to simply implement all of this is going to require some additional fine-tuning as well.

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

Schapiro:  Good weekend to you.

Carper:  To you as well.

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