RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – President Donald Trump spent Sunday afternoon tweeting about the importance of Virginia voting Republican when all 140 state legislative seats are up for grabs Tuesday.
But even as Vice President Mike Pence simultaneously stumped for candidates in the state’s traditionally conservative pockets, polls and pundits think the “home of the blue wave” will continue to disappoint conservatives.
“Virginia has the best Unemployment and Economic numbers in the history of the State,” Trump tweeted. “If the Democrats get in, those numbers will go rapidly in the other direction. On Tuesday, Vote Republican!”
Trump’s tweets hit the internet just ahead of Pence’s stops in rural Louisa County as well as Virginia Beach, where he touted the importance of Republicans keeping their slim majority in the state Senate and House of Delegates.
“We want at every level of government the same kind of principled, common-sense conservative leadership that President Donald Trump has brought to the White House,” Pence said. “Republican majorities in statehouses have been with us every step of the way.”
But Pence’s warnings and the president's tweets might not be enough for the waning Virginia GOP, which hasn’t won a statewide election since 2010. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court forced redraws of several reliably red districts after finding them to be an illegal racial gerrymander, making things harder for some of the state’s longest sitting and most powerful Republicans.
Among the redraw’s victims is House Speaker Kirk Cox, a 30-year veteran of the House whose once solidly Republican district south of Richmond now leans Democrat.
Add to that Trump’s high disapproval ratings in Virginia and Democrats’ history of flipping 15 House seats in 2017 and three congressional districts in 2018 and it's hard to ignore the impending hurdles for those on the right.
“The last-minute intervention by top Republicans will be welcomed by both Republicans and Democrats,” Stephen Farnsworth, political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, said in an interview.
The animosity towards the president, he said, has spurred a surge of energy among Democrats, similar to the movement that saw massive changes in the Legislature in 2017.
That anti-Trump enthusiasm will be important if Democrats wish to overtake the slim margins they currently face in what is considered an off-year election usually dominated by older, conservative voters.
But Farnsworth isn’t the only one who has seen this trend and is forecasting its impact Tuesday. The Wason Center for Public Policy based at Christopher Newport University recently put Democratic “voter enthusiasm” at 62% compared to Republicans’ 49%.
The right is losing on traditional campaign issues, according to the Wason Center poll from last month. Over 80% of likely voters support expanding background checks, a nonstarter with Virginia Republicans who have long affiliated themselves with the National Rifle Association, which is based in the state’s Washington, D.C., suburbs. Meanwhile, GOP mainstays like stricter abortion laws have only 25% support.
“Given the significant interest and enthusiasm gaps measured in this survey, we expect some version of the [2017 and 18] Trump Bump to manifest in the 2019 Virginia state legislative elections,” Rachel Bitecofer, the study’s author and the Wason Center’s elections analyst, said in a statement released with the poll.
Democrats have also brought in celebrities from both the political and entertainment worlds to boost their chances of taking the Legislature.
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd just a few miles away from the NRA headquarters on Saturday that “all you got to do is pick up a couple seats in two houses and everything changes.”
Actors Alec Baldwin and Kerry Washington and other Hollywood stars came to knock on doors for Democrats in Central Virginia, while actors Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patton Oswalt used their social media accounts to promote voting and fundraising for Virginia Democrats.
Democratic fundraising across the state has been one for the history books this cycle. Long underfunded compared to their conservative rivals, Democrats held leads in cash on hand for much of the election cycle as money poured in from both in and out of the state.
Those numbers evened out somewhat in the last few weeks, as one suburban Richmond race for a state House seat hit record highs of about $5 million between the two candidates.
Both parties are calling the race a referendum on Trump, but control of the Virginia General Assembly will determine a lot more than just the president’s popularity.
Farnsworth said if Democrats take both chambers it would be the first time issues like gun rights, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and other top concerns among progressive candidates could get unobstructed hearings.
"Tuesday could mark the most pivotal election in Virginia in more than two decades,” he said.
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