RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – Continuing his East Coast campaign blitz, 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke told Virginians in a packed hotel ballroom Tuesday that they could help keep the blue wave rolling by both supporting his candidacy and fighting to take over the statehouse.
The former Texas congressman covered major national issues, including universal healthcare, equal rights for women and the LGBTQ community and gun control, but he also honed in on local elections.
With all of Virginia’s 140 state legislative seats up for grabs this November, and the state’s top Democratic elected officials mired in scandal, O’Rourke, and Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., who introduced him, told the audience how they might take the statehouse for the first time since 1996.
O’Rourke said it is imperative that Virginians elect Democrats to represent them at the state level.
“We gotta make sure that they’re in control of the Senate so we can continue those advances you made in 2017,” O’Rourke said. “There’s so much work left to do.”
Spanberger, a freshman Democrat who unseated Tea Party Republican Dave Brat in 2018, retaking Virginia’s 7th Congressional District for the party for the first time since 1971, also stressed the importance of statewide elections.
“In 2019 we have the power and ability to win the state Senate and House of Delegates to maintain those seats we thought were unobtainable in 2017,” she said. ”[We must] make sure we’re working toward that continued progress here in Henrico County.”
With the state’s top officials embroiled in blackface and sexual assault scandals that have affected both their polling numbers and their coffers, national candidates like O’Rourke and local breakthroughs like Spanberger could help refocus Democratic efforts in Virginia.
“With a scandal-plagued governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, Virginia Democrats can use some help these days,” said Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington.
In an email to Courthouse News, Farnsworth said Virginia could end up being a boon for both hopeful presidential and local candidates as they both seek to increase visibility ahead of their next election.
“Expect presidential candidates and Virginia’s two U.S. senators to try to fill the gap, helping Democratic candidates for the legislature build enthusiasm and raise money for this year’s legislative races,” Farnsworth said.
“Beto’s campaign swing through Virginia has as much to do with 2019 as 2020,” he added.
O’Rourke continues his tour of Virginia tomorrow hitting the northern parts of the state outside Washington.