by Shaun Kenney
Back in November 2019, the Commonwealth of Kentucky was well on its way to being a blue state. That is, until the state’s Republican leadership saw the trend and decided to do something about it. Aided by terrible Biden numbers, Kentucky’s GOP reversed the decline in short order:
If you’re like myself, the palpable groan about seducing moderates and independents into the Virginia GOP becomes audible. Yet that is the old way of doing voter outreach. Today’s Virginia is more transient than ever, with military families and highly educated suburban families — particularly immigrant communities who share our traditional values — migrating into places such as Northern Virginia and Richmond.
To make matters even more digestible, it may shock many a reader to find out that evangelical Protestants and pew-sitting Catholics simply do not vote in similar numbers to our more secular “nones” and liberal friends — politics being a sordid and nasty thing.
So there are three constituencies where Virginia Republicans stand to gain:
1. Rural and suburban Christians.
2. African-American voters.
3. NOVA and Richmond immigrant communities.
I mean — it would be just perfect if Virginia Republicans elected three statewide candidates who just happen to have inroads to all three, right?
To make matters slightly more complicated for our Democratic friends, the turn toward the politics of the failed and truly weird — transgenderism, Critical Race Theory, correct pronouns, erasing history, mediocre public schooling — is creating a crisis of masculinity on the left where making your bed is somehow a form of so-called white supremacy (sic):
As they approach elections with razor-thin margins, what are Democrats to do? Recruit candidates who fit traditional stereotypes of manhood? Confront Republican arguments head-on with alternative takes on crime, guns, transgender rights and a vision of masculinity that intersects with all of these issues? Or just do nothing and hope voters are turned off by GOP rhetoric that they see as toxic or discriminatory?
Of course, for every Jordan Peterson — and I still don’t quite understand the leftist hatred for the man whose advice begins with little more than “make your bed in the morning” and “take a shower” — there is an Andrew Tate out there making a damn fool of themselves (ask your sons and grandsons).
Yet if 2017 was the revolution of the liberal suburban mom, then 2023 is shaping up to be the restoration of the conservative suburban dad who is more than a little tired of being told that his daughters should be put at risk and whose sons are told that every expression of manhood is either racism or requires medication.
Neat Trick? We Don’t Need 500,000 (Yet)
So, can Virginia Republicans find half a million latent conservatives in Virginia willing to say no to crazy? In a few months?
Perhaps not that many, but we may not need all that right now.
Virginia House Republicans are targeting as many as 12 House of Delegates seats on their march to victory, with six as eminently winnable and another six as — if the election were held today — winnable if we fight for them. Meanwhile on the Virginia Senate side, there are six contestable and winnable seats on target.
Should the present environment continue and should Biden’s approval ratings continue to hover around 40%?
Republicans should expect a 59-41 majority in the House of Delegates and a 22-18 majority in the Virginia Senate.
Now on the Virginia Senate side, we could pick up one additional seat. On the House of Delegates side, we might pick up an additional two.
But the Democrats are in deep trouble despite the brave faces and half-packed rooms.
By hanging their hat on abortion — where Virginia Democrats cheered whoever celebrated the tallest stack of dead babies — is having a boomerang effect in the general where partial (or post?) birth abortion is decidedly frowned upon by the vast majority of Virginians. Public trust in the US Supreme Court as an institution is back to where it was in January 2021, which means hopes for a 2022 climate in Virginia simply aren’t panning out.
Yet the Virginia Democrats simply cannot decouple themselves from their pro-abortion and transgender advocates — and it is costing them votes in households where education, job creation, and transportation remain key issues. Caring about whether your six-year-old daughter is forced to watch Drag Queen Story Hour as somehow being a tool of “white supremacy” rings awfully hollow among immigrant and African-American communities.
The paternalistic screeching that has replaced argument on the left doesn’t make that dynamic any better. When men dressed as prostitutes feel entitled to read to my kids — and what’s more, force the question? People are going to have something to say about that.
Ever since 2006, Virginia Democrats have enjoyed three advantages over Virginia Republicans:
1. A media ecosystem — legacy and digital — willing to repeat their narrative without question or introspection.
2. Voter harvesting fueled by labor unions willing to charge into established institutions and gather votes.
3. Long tail fundraising and data-driven campaigning.
The dirty secret?
Democrats tend to be far more results-oriented and free market than Republicans when it comes to campaigning. Republicans to this day continue to look for major donors, while Democrats look to their ecosystem to drive out small dollar donations in order to attract major donors (see: Youngkin, Trump, Wynn, Theil, Musk).
To make matters worse? Virginia Republicans in the past have been deathly afraid of building an infrastructure only to see it surrender into the hands of their internal enemies. Unlike most state parties, the Virginia GOP is one of the few actually led by the grassroots rather than the elected officials themselves. A good thing — but it makes things complicated internally and historically going all the way back to the Readjuster-turned-Republican William Mahone and the foundation of the Virginia Republican Party.
The result is that Republicans constantly end up reinventing the wheel.
Sure, we have tools, but we never developed the interior discipline to build good systems in the same way the Democrats do. Ergo, we rely on “silver bullet” campaign tactics — a good debate exchange, a mean tweet, an event overseas — rather than the hard work of feeding and maintaining infrastructure.
With this new effort from the House and Senate Republicans, maybe the lesson is finally being learned. With the new rules passed by the Northam-controlled General Assembly, every church now becomes a ballot harvester. Secured voting means that Republicans can get those vote totals in early.
How far back are Republicans? From the helpful people at VPAP:
That’s not quite four touchdowns in the 4th quarter back, but it is pretty far back to rely entirely on how the media environment looks like on the first Tuesday in November.
Something else to consider in this as well. Early voting means that the impact of “gotcha” politics that can swing an electorate erodes. Does it mean the end of negative and nasty campaigning? Not hardly — it simply takes an October surprise and turns it into an August narrative. Yet it does take the sting out of the bee, so to speak, in favor of the slow-working corrosion of the public square.
Caveat lector, my friends.
In the meantime, Virginia Republicans should look on this effort with something close to extreme confidence bordering on elation. Finally, we are taking this seriously enough to win elections. Kentucky has proven it can be done. Virginia most certainly has the resources. If the stakes are between normal and crazy, and if political technology that will survive an election cycle is finally starting to coalesce, then 2023 is looking awfully good for Republicans, folks.
To the benefit of someone looking to run statewide in 2024 — right?
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia. Republished with permission.