Democrats Post Record-Breaking Volunteer Numbers, Republicans Volunteer Numbers SO BAD They Won't Disclose
In 2017 and 2018, Democrats won by historic margins by mobilizing thousands of people across the Commonwealth. This year is looking no different. A new look at voter enthusiasm from the Washington Post makes the difference between Democratic and Republican enthusiasm strikingly clear.
In the Richmond area alone, 258 people volunteered for Democratic candidates in August, compared to 142 people during the same period in 2015. But when asked about their volunteer numbers, the Post reported that Republicans "said [they do] not collect those figures, and individual campaigns declined to disclose numbers."
The Post also noted some other impressive numbers highlighting the enthusiasm advantage Democrats have over Republicans:
- Democrats are running in 36 of the 40 state Senate districts — a modern record — while Republicans have candidates in just 25
- On the House side, Democrats are running in 92 of 100 districts — another record — while just 72 Republicans are competing.
- In the first half of 2019, Democrats running for the state House and Senate raised $1.7 million in contributions of $100 or less, compared with $444,000 for Republicans.
See below from the Washington Post:
By Laura Vozzella
September 14, 2019
Sarabeth Spasojevich voted faithfully for president every four years but, like many Virginia Democrats, skipped the elections in between. Then Donald Trump won the White House, and her voting habits were transformed.
She went to the polls in 2017, part of an anti-Trump tsunami that put a Democrat in the governor’s mansion and flipped 15 seats in the House of Delegates. In 2018, she not only voted but campaigned, helping Democrat Abigail Spanberger unseat Rep. Dave Brat (R). She’s at it again this year for state House and Senate hopefuls.
“The genie’s out of the bottle,” Spasojevich, 41, said at a campaign event in suburban Richmond that drew 200 activists despite the fact it was a torrid Sunday afternoon in August. “We will never skip an election or ignore candidates for the rest of our lives.”
Consider it one more norm smashed by an iconoclastic presidency: This “off-off” election year in Virginia is surprisingly on.
Virginia holds elections every year, and the “off-off” year — with just state legislative races and no presidential or statewide contest — is the most easily ignored by voters. The campaign cycle is much shorter than for federal or statewide contests, television ads are scarce, and turnout historically hovers around 30 percent.
Republicans tend to vote in those quieter elections, while Democrats “get a little sleepy” in nonpresidential years, as former president Barack Obama put it at a 2017 rally for now-Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
But after Trump’s election, Democratic turnout surged in the two statewide elections that followed. The biggest test could come in November, with all 140 state House and Senate seats on the ballot but no statewide contests to otherwise drive turnout.
“To have the turnout advantage favor the Democrats in off years was very significant and was really an example of what I call the negative Trump effect,” said Bob Holsworth, a longtime Richmond political analyst. “The question is, does that still linger in 2019? Can the Democrats gin that up again?”
The stakes could not be higher for the state — and beyond.
Republicans are clinging to control of the General Assembly by the thinnest of margins. If Democrats win the House and Senate, the party will control every lever of state power for the first time in 25 years. Many long-stymied Democratic goals — to restrict guns, expand gay rights, loosen restrictions on abortion and raise the minimum wage, to name a few — would probably become law. And a Democratic legislature would redraw state legislative and congressional districts following the 2020 Census, affecting elections into the future.
The results in Virginia — the only Southern state Trump lost in 2016 — will be viewed nationally as a bellwether for the 2020 presidential contest. Virginia is one of just four states with legislative races in 2019 but the only one considered competitive. The GOP has a 51-48 edge in the House and a 20-19 advantage in the Senate, with one vacancy in each chamber.
Measuring enthusiasm is an inexact science, but Democrats say their fundraising, volunteer activity and roster of candidates suggest the blue wave has not subsided.
Democrats are running in 36 of the 40 state Senate districts — a modern record — while Republicans have candidates in just 25, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. On the House side, Democrats are running in 92 of 100 districts — another record — while just 72 Republicans are competing.
All those Democratic contenders have snapped a trend in off-year races, when the number of uncontested House races usually rises. In the past four cycles with a governor’s race, an average of 50 House seats went uncontested. That average jumped to 70 in recent cycles without a governor’s race.
In 2017, when Northam ran, the number of uncontested House seats was sharply lower — just 39. Today, in a non-gubernatorial year, when the number would typically rise, it instead fell to 36.
“This is an important trend, and it speaks to the opportunities Democrats see for the party in 2019,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a University of Mary Washington political scientist. “Since 2017 and 2018 led to some unexpected victories in Virginia, Democrats are running in more districts than the norm.”
Democrats raised more money in the fundraising period that ended in June, with national groups pouring millions into the state. They also led in small donations, an indicator of grass-roots support. In the first half of 2019, Democrats running for the state House and Senate raised $1.7 million in contributions of $100 or less, compared with $444,000 for Republicans.
But not every small donor represents someone who can cast a ballot in November. Thirty-seven cents of every $1 in small donations made this year to Virginia Democrats through ActBlue came from outside the state, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
The Democratic Party of Virginia said it has more volunteers than four years ago, the last off-off-year election. In nine key races in the Richmond suburbs, 258 people volunteered in August alone — up from 142 in those districts for all of 2015, the party said. How that compares with Republican volunteers is unclear. The state GOP said it does not collect those figures, and individual campaigns declined to disclose numbers.
Anecdotally, there are signs that the Democratic energy uncorked in Virginia by Trump three years ago continues to build, most notably in once-reliably red suburbs that have gone blue in subsequent elections. Democrats like Spasojevich who got active immediately after Trump’s win remain engaged. And they are getting help from newcomers, some prodded by the prospect of Trump’s reelection next year.
In suburban swing territory south of the James River, Janet Shelly found herself one recent weeknight doing campaign work for the first time in her life. She’d gotten the nudge she needed a few days earlier, when a neighbor invited her to a meet-and-greet for Democrat Larry Barnett.
Barnett is in a rematch with Del. Roxann Robinson (R-Chesterfield), who’s held the seat since 2010. He first challenged her in 2017, losing by just 128 votes in a district that Trump won by four points.
“I met Larry for the first time and became interested in doing something other than being frustrated by the current state of affairs,” said Shelly, 63, a Midlothian retiree.
Scribbling out postcards alongside veteran activists, Shelly said she has no particular beef with Robinson. The Republican had broken with her party this year to sponsor bills supporting the federal Equal Rights Amendment and banning anti-LGBT discrimination in housing. But Shelly wants to flip the House because Republican leaders kept those bills — and measures to restrict guns — from reaching the House floor, where they might have passed.
“I think I don’t have any really negative feelings about her, but I do have negative feelings about what hasn’t been done because of the [Republican] control,” Shelly said.
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