RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – With just over a week left until Virginia voters cast their ballots, a new poll reflects a highly energized, anti-Trump electorate ready to flip both of the state’s legislative chambers blue for the first time in nearly two decades.
The question is whether next week’s statewide race – where all 100 House and 40 Senate seats are up for grabs – will be a predictor for the 2020 congressional and presidential elections.
“We see significant advantages for Democrats, [a] double-digit advantage on generic ballots and for control of the General Assembly,” Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy, said in an interview.
A new Wason Center poll released Monday morning shows Democrats with a 14-point “enthusiasm advantage” over Republicans, 63% to 49%, and the disdain for President Donald Trump is chief among the reasons voters feel so strongly.
“What's killing Republicans this year, and since 2017, is Trump,” Bitecofer said, noting the president is doing the most damage in the suburbs. “Any place where the electorate is becoming more educated and more diverse, those are warning signs under the direction the Republican Party has chosen to take under Trump.”
Stephen Farnsworth, director for the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies, agrees. His polling center’s numbers from the past few months back the theory up as well.
“The combative approach the president employs is not the kind of message for people who, in the past, supported Romney or McCain,” he said in an interview, noting Virginia Republicans have done better when the conversation is about economic development and low taxes.
“They do much worse when its impeachment, sexual harassment allegations and a coziness with Russia,” Farnsworth added.
But not every politico in Virginia is as sure of the state election’s ability to forecast the mood of the country as a whole.
Ben Tribbett, a political consultant with many years and even more campaigns under his belt, thinks it would be foolish for congressional Republicans running in 2020 to put too much weight on next week’s results.
Despite Virginia helping to spur the a blue wave that saw Democrats flip 15 state House seats in 2017 and three congressional districts last year, Tribbett thinks the off-year race will see significantly less turn out. This means an energized base might help Democrats win state legislative seats this year, but when Trump returns to the ballot next year it’ll be independent voters in every corner of Virginia, not just suburbanites, who decide the president's fate.
Tribbett is also more optimistic for Virginia Republicans this year. While the Wason Center poll honed in on four competitive state Senate seats and found a Democratic advantage, House seats currently held by members of the GOP will have the benefit of already established local connections and a message that even slightly diverges from Trump, which might help them get over the finish line despite an energized opposition.
“If you run as a Republican people assume you’re in the Trumpy-mold, and if you’re not, it jumps out and is advantageous,” he said.
Virginians go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Republicans have held control of both legislative chambers for nearly 20 years.Follow @@BradKutner
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