Hard to believe, but yet another election is upon us, bringing with it the annual deluge of attack ads, yard signs, candidate forums and billowing clouds of special interest money. Per usual, a vast majority of the General Assembly races that will be decided next Tuesday are a foregone conclusion. Thanks to gerrymandering and a bipartisan compulsion to protect incumbents at any cost, we will almost certainly exit this election with the overall composition of the General Assembly barely changed.
The Democrats do have hopes, however, of gaining at least one seat in the state Senate, and thereby retaking control of the chamber (although the breakdown would be 20/20, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam would cast his tie-breaking vote for team blue). To find that seat, the Dems are focused on flipping the 10th District seat of retiring Senator John Watkins. They are also working hard to oust Republican senators Frank Wagner and Dick Black in the 7th and 13th districts, respectively, but neither one of those is an easy lift. The elephants, on the other hand, think they have a good shot at replacing retiring Democrat Chuck Colgan with Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish in the 29th District, or perhaps eking out a win over Senator John Edwards in the three-way race for the 21st District.
The question for all of these races is what, exactly, will motivate the electorate this time around? It’s always hard to pinpoint which issues will drive turnout and which ones will either fail to compel or, worse yet, backfire and motivate the other side to come out and vote in droves. With that in mind, here are the issues that seem to be getting the most play leading up to election day.
This has long been considered a losing issue for Democrats, but in the wake of the horrific on-air shooting of news reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward, some are betting that the issue of stricter gun laws will end up being a net positive. Candidates like Charlottesville’s Delegate David Toscano and Richmond Democrat Dan Gecker are speaking out forcefully in favor of tougher gun laws, and the issue is being given a high-profile push by ex-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety is spending millions running an ad featuring Parker’s father, Andy, urging reform. We’ll soon see if Virginia voters are finally ready to back modest gun control measures, or if they are still largely in thrall to the NRA.
Tolls, tolls, tolls
It was a foregone conclusion that Republicans would oppose a Virginia Department of Transportation plan to create “dynamically priced toll lanes” on the soul-crushing wasteland that is I-66 during rush hour. But they have really gone above and beyond, blanketing the airwaves with ads that accuse Governor Terry McAuliffe of proposing an outrageous $17 toll (obviously, and falsely, implying that this amount would be demanded of all drivers at all times). It’s a cheap, if clever, trick, and our gut tells us that it will work as intended, since most voters love to drive, and rarely pay attention to fact checkers or fine print.
Finally, there’s the pro-weed group NORML, which is out pushing its THC-friendly agenda across the commonwealth and actively raising money for Democrat Ned Gallaway in his race against total buzzkill Senator Bryce Reeves in the 17th District. If they manage to pull that one off, it will be high times indeed.
Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, twice-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.