Well, as we predicted right before the voting commenced, Virginia’s latest round of elections ended up almost exactly where it began, with the Republicans holding a one-seat majority in the state Senate and a two-thirds majority in the House of Delegates. Despite a flood of advertising (much of it funded by outside interest groups), Democrats failed to pick up the single seat they needed to regain control of the Senate, and Republicans failed to increase their numbers in either chamber. In a telling statistic highlighted by the Virginian-Pilot’s Patrick Wilson, every single legislative incumbent on the ballot won reelection, a hat trick that hasn’t happened since they started tracking this statistic over 20 years ago. Thanks to gerrymandering and a generally apathetic off-year electorate, it was the very definition of a status quo election.
But pontificators gotta pontificate, and so a consensus media narrative soon formed that Democrats had lost by not winning, and that the person most responsible for their loss was probably Michael Bloomberg, whose pro-gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety ran $700,000 worth of ads supporting Democrat Dan Gecker in the 10th Senate District. Gecker’s narrow loss, the conventional wisdom goes, was a direct result of a pro-gun backlash amongst the conservative voters of Powhatan County, who came out in droves to support Republican Glen Sturtevant.
Of course, Everytown for Gun Safety also ran a ton of ads supporting Democrat Jeremy McPike in the 29th Senate District, and he won a resounding victory over Republican Hal Parrish. And it’s not as if the elephants didn’t have any financial help: Sturtevant benefited greatly from outside spending by the NRA, among other groups. In fact, the pro-gun behemoth was so proud of its electioneering that it immediately released a tweet boasting “#NRA-backed candidates retain control of the #Virginia Senate.”
In reality, this election was at best a wash for the Republicans, and at worst an ominous omen for the 2016 presidential election cycle. Yes, they got to enjoy the spectacle of Governor Terry McAuliffe taking his lumps from the press, and then trying to downplay the election results by unconvincingly insisting to a group of reporters that “at the end of the day, you know, it wasn’t going to make a difference really one way or the other.” But while McAuliffe failed to gain the momentum he was hoping for going into 2016, when his close friend Hillary Clinton will be on the ballot, there’s a good case to be made that the GOP’s stalled momentum is far more worrying.
This was, after all, an off-year election, when Republicans traditionally fare very well indeed. But this year not only did they fail to gain any net new seats in the General Assembly, they actually lost one (and their veto-proof majority) in the House, and continued to lose ground in local races across Northern Virginia. As conservative commentator Brian Schoeneman opined at the right-leaning blog Bearing Drift, “Last night must be viewed by every Republican in Virginia as a wake-up call. The idea that we can win ‘base,’ low-turnout off-year elections just by turning out Republicans should have died with a long gasping breath last night… Bottom line—we had a bad night and we have a lot of work to do. The 2016 campaign season starts today.”
We don’t often agree with Bearing Drift, but in this case we could not agree more.
Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, twice-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.