(CN) – Virginia voters will be among the first in the nation to show their support or disdain for President Donald Trump when they head to the ballot box on Tuesday, a year after Trump’s victory stunned the world.
The top three state positions are up for grabs - governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general - as are the state’s 100 House of Delegates seats.
While the executive positions have grabbed the most headlines, the House seats have proven unique fodder for political study after the majority switched to Republican control in 2000.
Meanwhile, the highest seats of power have shifted blue.
Most polls lean towards a win for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, current lieutenant governor and pediatric neurologist Ralph Northam.
But if 2016 taught Americans anything, it’s that polling is a dice roll, and there are a few good tea leaves floating around for the Republican in the race, Washington lobbyist and former chair of the Republican National Committee, Ed Gillespie. Some polls show him with a lead.
Looking at primary turnout from this summer and 2016, however, could offer more concrete insight into what motivates voters across the commonwealth.
2016 was a banner year for primaries in Virginia. Over 1 million people voted in the 2016 GOP primary, more than the past two GOP primaries combined. Trump beat Florida Sen. Marco Rubio by a mere 30,000 votes.
Trump went on to lose the state by about 200,000 votes, less of a surprise considering Virginia went for former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
These numbers alone could be bad news to those looking for controversy: Virginia, at least state wide, is probably more blue than some pundits would hope, but there are a few other factors to keep in mind.
Virginians vote every year, which leads to consistently predictable voter fatigue. While the state averages around 70 percent for presidential election turnout, that number drops rapidly to the 40s the year after.
This, combined with the theory that voters choose the opposition party the year after a presidential win, could be why the state’s House seats have shifted so radically red.
But current Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s 2013 win, along with Northam and Mark Herring’s wins for lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively, bucks that trend.
There were a number of other factors which helped propel McAuliffe, an out-of-state Democratic National Committee fundraiser with little governing experience, to the seat he is about to walk away from: As the nation embraced Obama’s progressive politics, at least in the cities, Virginia’s former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell was pushing a socially conservative agenda.
McDonnell – whose corruption convictions were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court last year – signed one of the nation’s first modern religious freedom bills, known then as a “conscience clause,” which allowed state-funded religious adoption agencies to deny services based on their faith.
He also signed Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP, laws which added burdens for abortion access. One of those laws inspired a protest that saw 30 demonstrators get arrested on the steps of the state Capitol building, spurring the state’s progressive base.
And then there was Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican attorney general under McDonnell, who also pushed a conservative agenda, including the TRAP laws, which often put Virginia in a light that the state’s powerful and progressive cities and Washington, D.C. suburbs did not like.