When it came to air travel, political power broker and Democratic National Committee chairman Robert Strauss reportedly once pronounced: “I will stop flying first class [only] when they invent something better.”
If the results of last week’s legislative elections in Virginia proved anything, it’s that Democrats will continue to run almost exclusively on the abortion issue – until they find something better. Or until it stops working for them.
With the fumbled messaging of, and mixed signals emanating from, Republicans, the issue remained potent enough this year to provide just enough tailwind for Democrats to win back control of the House of Delegates and retain their majority in the state Senate.
Our two-bullet take on the outcome:
• A win is a win, and Democrats deserve credit, but the party decidedly underachieved – based on redistricting alone, it should have picked up a seat or two more in each house than it did. The results were nothing to write home about, and Democrats in Virginia races largely ran away from Joe Biden and his record. Absent abortion, what, exactly, would Democrats have campaigned on?
• Despite the slim nature of the victory and the underachievement as noted above, Democrats will now be in back in the driver’s seat in Richmond for the next two years, forcing Gov. Youngkin (his national aspirations dashed) onto the defensive and leaving state Republicans and those who vote for them with the possibility that, if they don’t get their collective act together – on abortion and on governance in general – they once again may be completely shut out of power if Democrats win back the governorship in 2025.
Expect Democrats to be aggressive during the 2024 session, both in specific legislation and the budget, in an effort to keep the GOP on the ropes. And with the departure (by retirement or defeat in primaries) of some key moderate Democrats, the party now can tack left at will.
We’d have preferred continuation of the status quo, with one party holding each house of the legislature. Divided government, when it works (and that isn’t always), can bring degree of pragmatism to the political sausage-making factory. Voters, however, made a different choice. Fair enough.
Perhaps the adults in the room, on both sides of the political divide, will be able to re-assert themselves during the 2024 General Assembly session and do the job they were sent to do, rather than simply playing political games.