Both chambers of the U.S. House of Representatives are up for grabs in November’s election, but behind the scenes the Republican Party of Virginia has essentially locked up the current chambers.
Since 1980, no party has won a statehouse majority in Virginia without the help of Republicans in both chambers, and no party has lost a legislative majority without the help of Republicans in one chamber.
That is one of the reasons why Democrats are already predicting a losing battle this year. Of the eight House districts in Virginia deemed to be competitive by the state party, six are in districts held by Republicans. The contest for control of the state Senate is considered much closer, with four of the eight competitive districts occupied by Republicans and two by Democrats.
Stu Spencer, a top Democratic strategist in Virginia, said the Republican Party’s monopoly on Virginia legislators has been bad for the state and also bad for President Donald Trump.
“We should be focusing on priorities of making sure that Democrats retain control in the governor’s mansion so we can build a campaign that focus on Trump’s policies and record of cost-cutting and Trump’s record of increasing inequality,” Spencer said. “I think that Trump’s policies are particularly bad for the state of Virginia and particularly bad for a state like Virginia, which has benefited from Trump voters not going to work.”
To some extent, the Republican dominance in Virginia is due to geographical reality. Though Democrats are far more popular statewide than they are in the state House of Delegates, political experts say it is difficult for a Democratic Party with the massive voter registration advantage that Democrats enjoy to find candidates and material to draw voters to the polls in some parts of the state.
“Generally speaking, southeastern Virginia is just ground zero for anti-Trump sentiment,” said Tad Devine, a veteran Democratic strategist and the co-chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party. “Both coal and the military operations are in and around the region, and that voter base is where you are going to find Democrats.”
Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a former state Democratic Party chairman and a contributor to WBAL radio, said voters had been fed up for a long time with Republican influence over the legislative process.
“This is something that has been so well-known, that the Republicans have been in charge, the Senate, the House, and then every legislator, they make sure they don’t get no vote, and they don’t have to answer for their decisions,” Chavez-DeRemer said. “That has made the passage of the budget a given for the Republicans. Now if it comes back to them and they say, well, ‘I didn’t get the budget’ and you say, ‘Well, what about taking a vote?’ ”
In more than a decade of leading the state party, Chavez-DeRemer said Democratic candidates knew there was no way they could count on their party to turn out voters. Republicans can afford to lose turnout in the state and still win, or at least win more than half of those districts.
“When we have a national party that’s so toxic to elect a lot of people, it’s hard to get any outside elected officials to run for office,” Chavez-DeRemer said. “You need a focus on state or local offices. You need your campaigns to be small. It’s hard to run for Congress unless you can raise money there, unless you have a national donor base to put it on television.”
Lee Mitchell, a Republican strategist and pollster, said that Republicans have long had an advantage in Virginia, but that the party now holds an edge despite a serious challenge from President Trump.
“Democrats have really never competed for control of the state,” Mitchell said. “This is not a new phenomenon for the Republican Party here.”
Mitchell said Republicans are now favored to win both the state House and the state Senate in the midterm election.
“I think we’re going to be fine,” Mitchell said. “I think we’re going to take a few down in certain districts, but I think we’re going to have a very good night.”