August 19, 2019 News

New York Times: Searching for Hints About 2020, All Eyes Turn to a Reshaped Virginia


by Democratic Party of Virginia

New York Times: Searching for Hints About 2020, All Eyes Turn to a Reshaped VirginiaKEY POINTS:

"Democratic Party leaders in Virginia, who have announced plans for what they describe as the state’s most expansive grass-roots campaign say they will focus on setting new restrictions on guns, creating rules to outlaw housing and employment discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. people and expanding environmental rules to combat climate change...'Candidates who are aligned with Donald Trump are going to pay for being aligned with Donald Trump,' Jake Rubenstein, a spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party, said.

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With the election nearing, Republicans acknowledged that Mr. Cox, first elected in 1989, might be in trouble — and, more critically, that the party’s slim majorities might not survive. 

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The political differences between Mr. Cox and his Democratic opponent, Sheila Bynum-Coleman, could hardly be more stark. Ms. Bynum-Coleman, an African-American, supports abortion rights, gun control and raising the state’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage; Mr. Cox, who is white, opposes all three. Mr. Cox, 61, oversaw a special legislative session in July in which Republicans refused to consider gun legislation introduced by Democrats. The session lasted only about 90 minutes."  

See below from the New York Times 

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New York Times: Searching for Hints About 2020, All Eyes Turn to a Reshaped Virginia 

By Timothy WilliamsAugust 19, 2019  

On a sweltering afternoon, Kirk Cox, the powerful Republican speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, was chatting to voters and handing out free hot dogs at a campaign event when he was approached by a woman. 

The two made small talk before the woman, Vanessa Wilkerson, 62, cautioned the conservative lawmaker that she hardly fit the profile of his typical supporter. “I’m a Democrat,” she said. 

Mr. Cox might once have moved on, but, after decades of representing one of the safest Republican seats in the nation, he must vie for every vote this fall — even the unlikeliest ones. 

Facing a Democratic opponent in a district with new boundaries, Mr. Cox has been campaigning with the ardor of a man who has everything to lose: He has spent the summer in khaki shorts and sneakers knocking on doors in unfamiliar neighborhoods. He has posted photos of himself on Twitter with a broad range of voters, rolled out a television ad featuring multicultural endorsers and distributed 1,500 American flags, his name attached. 

“This almost goes back to my first race 30 years ago,” Mr. Cox said. “What I’m trying to do is to introduce myself.” 

Virginia is the only state in the nation where partisan control of the legislature is seen as up for grabs this fall, and that has brought an intense focus to what happens here, attracting interest and donations from the Koch brothers, the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, the National Rifle Association and Amazon, among others, and appearances by national figures including Vice President Mike Pence. 

With political leaders searching for signs of what to expect from voters across the country in 2020, Virginia’s legislative elections are viewed as an early test case, both as a measure of Democratic momentum against Republican control and for what they may reveal about voters’ attitudes on policy issues and campaign messages. 

Changes brought by shifting demographics and court-ordered redistricting have transformed Virginia’s legislative races, and the party that captures control of the state capital will get the added prize of having the power to redraw political maps in its favor during redistricting in 2021, potentially tilting state and congressional elections its way for the next decade. 

Republicans now hold a slim majority in the Virginia House of Delegates and the State Senate, and all 140 seats are on the ballot in November. Control of the legislature in Virginia has shifted fairly frequently between the two parties during the past 30 years, and Republicans held onto leadership of the House of Delegates two years ago only after a race had to be decided by drawing a candidate’s name from a bowl. Democrats say they can win back both chambers this fall. In recent years, Virginia has become more Democratic as suburbs around Washington, Richmond and Hampton Roads, Virginia’s so-called urban crescent, have grown and population declines have persisted in the state’s western, rural areas, which have traditionally been Republican. Republicans say they can hold onto power by focusing on restricting abortion access and protecting gun rights in some areas of the state, while focusing on improving schools and cutting taxes in more moderate areas. 

They have also reminded voters of a scandal that swirled around Democratic leaders this year. 

Gov. Ralph Northam has struggled to recover politically after acknowledging that he appeared in a photograph either wearing blackface or dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan when he was a medical student in 1984. (Mr. Northam first admitted being in the photograph and then flatly denied it.) Two other Democrats, Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor, and Mark Herring, the attorney general, were also embroiled in scandal. Mr. Fairfax has denied allegations of sexual assault. Mr. Herring admitted to wearing blackface while in college. 

Democratic Party leaders in Virginia, who have announced plans for what they describe as the state’s most expansive grass-roots campaign, say they will focus on setting new restrictions on guns, creating rules to outlaw housing and employment discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. people and expanding environmental rules to combat climate change. 

The candidates also plan to invoke the name of President Trump, who is unpopular in the state and lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

“Candidates who are aligned with Donald Trump are going to pay for being aligned with Donald Trump,” Jake Rubenstein, a spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party, said. 

Both parties also want desperately to control the redrawing of political maps, which will begin in 2021. The state’s legislative maps have been the focus of a legal fight, and federal courts ultimately threw out the last set of maps, ruling that it had been made with an illegal emphasis on the racial makeup of the electorate. 

The courts imposed new maps drawn by a California political scientist, changing the makeup of a number of districts, perhaps none as dramatically as that of Mr. Cox, the Republican speaker. 

So Mr. Cox finds himself running in a largely unfamiliar district in portions of Richmond and its suburbs. His district was once overwhelmingly white and Republican; now, it is more than one-third African-American, and Democrats outnumber Republicans.

With the election nearing, Republicans acknowledged that Mr. Cox, first elected in 1989, might be in trouble — and, more critically, that the party’s slim majorities might not survive. 

“The House is still very much in play, but it is going to be tougher,” said John Findlay, the executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, about the court-imposed maps. 

The political differences between Mr. Cox and his Democratic opponent, Sheila Bynum-Coleman, could hardly be more stark.

Ms. Bynum-Coleman, an African-American, supports abortion rights, gun control and raising the state’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage; Mr. Cox, who is white, opposes all three.

Mr. Cox, 61, oversaw a special legislative session in July in which Republicans refused to consider gun legislation introduced by Democrats. The session lasted only about 90 minutes. 

Ms. Bynum-Coleman, 47, has made gun restrictions a central tenet of her campaign, speaking often about how her daughter was wounded by gunfire at a party. 

In recent months, there have been indications that Virginia’s liberal gun laws have become less popular after 12 people were killed in a mass shooting in Virginia Beach in May. 

Annette Skinner, a Democratic voter who was at Mr. Cox’s hot dog event in July, said she viewed gun control as a central issue in the coming election. “People who can get a gun should be getting a background check,” she said. 

Mr. Cox has stuck to what he describes as a “common-sense conservative agenda,” which he acknowledges has changed little over the years. He has a 93 percent rating from the N.R.A.

If he has a slightly awkward campaigning style, and sometimes struggles to make small talk, it may be because he is out of practice. 

In recent years, election results show, Mr. Cox had little need to campaign: In a 1995 election, he beat his Democratic opponent by 64 percentage points, and from 1997 to 2015 he ran unopposed. In 2017, he won by 27 points. 

But now, his district — 63 percent Republican in 2011 — is 53 percent Democratic, and only about half of the 21 precincts that make up the new district are in neighborhoods he represented previously. 

Dana Layne, a voter in the new district, said she tended to support Republicans and had been impressed by Mr. Cox’s efforts to win pay raises for teachers, though she wanted more job opportunities for local residents — including job training — in a district that includes areas that are urban, suburban and rural. 

But Ms. Bynum-Coleman, Mr. Cox’s opponent, said the speaker was out of step in a district that includes far more African-Americans and Democrats than he represented in the past.

“Virginia,” she said, “has changed.”  

Read the full article here

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