From Purple to Blue

by James A. Bacon

Virginia stopped being a red state a decade or two ago. Despite a Democratic sweep of all statewide elections (U.S. senators, governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general), one could maintain the pretense that Virginia is a “purple” state thanks to a Republican-dominated General Assembly. But it has been long apparent that Republican control will end with the 2019 elections. As further evidence for that proposition, as if any were needed, now comes a new Wason Center for Public Policy poll.

Key finding: Democrats lead Republicans by 13% on the generic ballot test among likely voters 40% to 36%. Ds have a strong advantage over Rs in voter enthusiasm: 62% to 49%. More Dems than Republicans say they “definitely” will vote” than either Republicans or Independents. As a general rule, polls are decreasingly trustworthy, but the Democratic advantage is so overwhelming that it cannot all be attributed to implicit bias in the polling methodology.

Come January Democrats will control all statewide offices and the General Assembly. Virginia, we now can say, is the southernmost Northern state — Maryland with a larger rural hinterland.

Meanwhile, Governor Ralph Northam’s popularity has rebounded to a 51% positive rating, up from 40% in April shortly after his blackface scandal which, after comparably opprobrious revelations on the part of Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, Virginia’s media suddenly decided was no longer an issue. Unlike Sen. George Allen’s “macaca” scandal, which the media flogged until muscle was stripped from bone, the media has focused on Northam’s efforts to “make amends” by adopting a “progressive” agenda on race.

A number of random observations.

  • Republicans have failed to change with the times. Their choice of issues is geared mainly to Virginia’s rural/small town base, even as the state has steadily urbanized. The GOP is unlikely to change until it is stripped of power and is forced to confront the new realities.
  • Democrats are moving to the left. Change will be incremental — we won’t become Maryland or New Jersey overnight — but we’ll move in that direction. All sorts of issues that didn’t used to be issues now will be. Expect serious debates over matters such as the right-to-work law and statewide minimum wage.
  • The business lobby, once a powerful influence in state politics, will accommodate itself to the new political realities. Democrats, already the party of Big Money in this electoral cycle, will become the party of Even Bigger Money in the future.
  • Not to be under-estimated is the role of local media in framing issues and setting the agenda. Paralleling national trends, mainstream media in Virginia are aligned ideologically with the Democratic Party. While the media may continue to play governmental watchdog when the stakes are low, it will always side with Democrats when the stakes are high.
  • Virginia will see more spending and higher taxes. Constituencies and interest groups that benefit from bigger government will prosper. Voters who are not beneficiaries of government will become even more alienated.

As a citizen of Virginia, I am distressed by the direction I see the state heading. But temperamentally, I’m probably better suited to becoming part of the opposition. Nathaniel Bacon, leader of the original Bacon’s Rebellion, died of fever in a Chickahominy swamp. In the header images atop this blog, I have adopted a swamp theme. President Trump uses swamp imagery for the federal power structure in Washington, D.C., but I see the swamp as a symbol of resistance, a refuge for guerillas and runaways and those out of power. Time to stock up on hip-waders, flat-bottom boats and other swamp gear!

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36 responses to “From Purple to Blue

  1. The chief attraction of this blog, at least to me, has been its generally nonpartisan approach to issues. This post seems to indicate that aspect of the blog may become overshadowed. I would hate to see this blog seek to become the counterpart to Blue Virginia. That is why I was distressed by the new slogan. When the Republicans were in power, BR was examining Virginia in the 21st century; now that the Democrats are on the cusp of power, BR is now about “draining a very dismal swamp”?

    • Dick, you are right to this extent: I don’t want Bacon’s Rebellion mirror the “anti-swamp” rhetoric of the Trump administration. I am re-purposing the metaphor to reflect swamps as a “refuges for guerillas and runaways and those out of power,” as I wrote in the post. Accordingly, I am trying out a new tag-line: “Guerilla Reporting and Commentary on Virginia Public Policy.”

      • “Guerilla Reporting and Commentary on Virginia Public Policy.” sounds like the Govt is the enemy, no?

      • “I am re-purposing the metaphor to reflect swamps as a “refuges for guerillas and runaways and those out of power,”

        That I like, but we must appreciate that Nathaniel Bacon died of dysentery, not fevers.

        Haner’s “smashing windows out of a passing train” is also apt, a true guerilla tactic fully appropriate to the Swamp Fox.

        But, Lord Jim, “Guerilla Reporting and Commentary on Virginia Public Policy” is absolutely awful. Leaves one “Stone Cold.” Plus it is an oxymoron.

      • You are fighting a losing battle trying to repurpose the political word “swamp” as anything other than where government exists. If you’re looking for a term for people in exile – gulag? A place where guerillas live? Jungle? Bad lands? The hills, bog?

    • I agree with you Dick but urge you to continue writing for BR – so we have some balance on the issues.

      When you write – for example the prison issues in Virginia – I very much appreciate that you do NOT do that through a left or right lens… just the facts… stay on it!

    • Jim should have labeled it commentary. Having said that, I see nothing wrong with a partisan view so long as:

      1. The author describes why the approach of one side is, in his or her opinion, superior to the other side’s alternative. For example, when Virginia loses its Republican majority it will also lose its history of fiscal responsibility.” Then, of course, the author would go on to explain why. Partisan? Yes. Tribal (as in “my party is great and the other party sucks … on everything, in every way”? No.

      2. We continue to have – left / liberal / progressive / Democratic / statist views published.

      The other question is one of national perspective. Presidential elections affect Virginia. A lot. Maybe no other state is as affected by the Federal government. Maryland has it DC suburbs but not Hampton Roads as well. What happens to Virginia if Trump gets impeached and we have President Pence? What happens if Elizabeth Warren is elected – how much bigger does NoVa get and how much smaller does Hampton Roads get?

      It seems to me that a discussion of nationql politics in the context of how it affects Virginia is still a legitimate discussion of Virginia.

  2. I’ve got my boat and swamp gear ready. Just don’t tell the likes of Mr. Hall-Sizemore where we are hiding. He will send someone to come and try to take our guns.

  3. One interesting history thing is that former Gov Bob McDonnell prevailed to be a repub Gov.

  4. Dick,
    What is meant by “non-partisan” in your post? Surely the term no longer has any real meaning in today’s world. Perhaps you might consider substituting the terms “left” and “right”, or “statist” and “non-statist”, since these are the more accurate terms for proposed solutions to just about any issue we face. The Democrat party as commonly understood no longer exists. For that matter, neither does the Republican party, though to a lesser extent.

    Perhaps Jim should change his terminology as well, except that the Democrats have increasingly become pure statists, so the use of the term “Democrat” may not be misleading.

    • Crazy, you’re right that all labels are restrictive and potentially confusing. Maybe “statist” is the best value-free, catch-all phrase to describe liberals, progressives and Democrats.

      • As far as I’m concerned “socialist” works just as well, at least on economic issues.

        However, there is an especially hot place in the eternal hell of political damnation for the RPV. “Their choice of issues is geared mainly to Virginia’s rural/small town base, even as the state has steadily urbanized.” Lol. That’s been going on in the US since the first census could be compared to the second census (1800). Typical plantation elite sub-culture, Living in the real world – the real world of 1975. And the RPV gerrymandering has been declared illegal in some places. And the last governor they had left office under a cloud of scandal. And their most recent gubernatorial campaign didn’t do the opposition research required to look a Northam’s yearbook page. And … so on.

        The RPV is clearly the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

    • re: ” the Democrats have increasingly become pure statists, so the use of the term “Democrat” may not be misleading.”

      Crazy are you describing the majority of voters in Virginia ?

      • Sure, insofar as the Democratic Party represent a majority of voters, and Democrats are moving to the left, it’s fair to say that the Virginia electorate is moving to the Left — in the direction of statism.

        • Democrats moving to the left is a demographic illusion (at least a temporary illusion) in my opinion.

          The millennials strung out their youth. Born between 1981 and 1996 these children of the Baby Boomers were between 13 and 28 in 2009 when the last recession ensued. They were slow to leave home but eventually got to the cities (in search of the perfect barista I believe). Now, they are leaving the cities for the suburbs. However, today they are between 23 and 38 years old. Once the youth go from college to unmarried urban life to married suburban life a certain conversion to conservatism starts. The property taxes are how high??? Why are there so many fights in our school, why are the trouble makers still there???

          The midpoint birth year of the Baby Boomer generation was 1955. in 1980 a Boomer born in 1955 would have been 25. Bye bye Carter, hello Reagan.

          The mid-point birth year for the millennials is 1989. By the 2020 election a millennial born in the mid point year will be 31. However, their political maturation was stunted by the recession of 2009. But they’re getting there. Once they arrive, far left socialist theory (such as the type espoused by Elizabeth Warren will be losing support fast. Better tack to the right after the nomination Princess Lieawatha.

          • “moving left” is an excuse for the GOP’s refusal to honor voters concerns about issues LIKE health care. This is really not new – the GOP opposed Medicare from the get go.. never a secret but even as they did – they passed laws to subsidize and provide pre-existing conditions protections to those who had employer-provided (that’s statism) while at the same time denying the same subsidies and pre-existing protections to those who had to buy their own insurance.

        • BOTH political parties represent voters. If either one of them stray too far from what voters want then they start losing seats.

          That works for BOTH left and right, right?

          So WHO is losing seats and as important over what issues?

          calling the Dems “statist” when the GOP wants a GOP of control also is funny!

          Take Virginia and the GOP and Dominion. If that is not “statism”, what is? 😉

          And on something like health care – when the “state” already provides health insurance to seniors, veterans, the poor and provides substantial subsidies to Employer Provided – as well as RULES to protect those on employer-provided – from market forces like letting the insurance company set premiums based on individual conditions for those who don’t have EP (the state prohibits this for EP but allows in the at-will insurance market) – THAT’s Statism also but folks have a blind eye to it!! The GOP basically supports the use of pre-existing conditions for those who need insurance but don’t have EP.

          Thats not only statism – it’s discriminatory statism that favors some groups over others – inequitable statism.

          Voters see this- they think everyone should be treated equitably and not favor some and deny those same advantages to others.

          This is WHY the GOP is losing on the health care issue and their supporters claim that it’s because the Dems are “moving left” and becoming “socialists” ( and that criteria would apply to every other developed country on the planet – obviously they have ALL “moved left”!).

          So the GOP wants us to do insurance more like we see in the undeveloped countries and people are not buying that so they trot out these canards like “socialism” and “statist” to make excuses WHY they will not represent what voters want – and as a result are losing voters.

  5. The score or so of truly competitive elections will not be effectively predicted by a generic ballot poll. My sense is the House remains in play and a narrow GOP majority there possible. The Senate shows no similar path, but who knows? Divided government might continue and that is always a moderating force. The national Dems are now running their October Surprise script against Trump, clearly orchestrated to appear spontaneous. But local conditions and issues will drive the legislative outcomes, as they always do.

    • re: ” But local conditions and issues will drive the legislative outcomes, as they always do.”

      Not so sure that is totally true. Look at what happened to Brat – and some others…. was that “local” or are you describing that “local” voters have preferences on issues beyond local?

      I agree about the generic ballot – not a good indicator however – if you poll Virginians on the issues – you’re gonna find that it’s not the “media” favoring the Dems…

      Voters in the urban areas tend to be well-educated and not near as gullible and susceptible to demagoguery as their rural brethren… For instance they KNOW where the parties are on Health Care..

    • “The national Dems are now running their October Surprise script against Trump, clearly orchestrated to appear spontaneous.”

      Wouldn’t the “national Dems” be a year early?

      • Hey…. it’s the way the GOP “messages”… it doesn’t have to make sense !!! The problem with the GOP is that they have a conservative philosophy which they adhere to MORE than their desire to represent voters who they say have “moved left away from them” – as if they are not really a political party that is supposed to represent voters rather than their own philosophy!

  6. Blackface worn at a party 30 years ago is much more forgivable than using a racial slur directed at the only person of color at a political rally. Allen used a racial slur in an attempt to humiliate a Virginian (his constituent at the time) at a campaign stop while running for the US Senate.
    He also inferred that the young man wasn’t a “real” Virginian. He blurted it out loud, in public with the intent to humiliate and intimidate.

    If you want to drain the swamp, start by acknowledging that both acts aren’t equally egregious.

  7. I’m amused as to how this “shift” is attributed to the Dems moving “left” with the medias support – as opposed to the voters themselves who are very clearly expressing their positions on the issues – such as health care, race issues, abortion rights and climate change.

    and why is the “media” the monolithic “left”.. what happened to “right” media? Is it yet another grand conspiracy?

    And I agree with Dick. I was attracted initially to BR because it seemed to portray itself as a not left or right – view of government and public policy issues and over time – it was more and more tilted towards partisan views and race issues.

    If we really want to “blame” someone for Virginia moving “left” to what the GOP in Va calls baby-killing socialists… well… I don’t think it’s the voters.

  8. My dream is that it is someday called “Blue Bacon’s Rebellion.”

    • I have particularly appreciated the return of Peter and the added Haner and Sizemore and hoping to hear more from the Shucet! Ya’ll please keep contributing!

  9. OK, OK, I heed my feedback. I’ve changed the tag-line back to “Reinventing Virginia for the 21st Century.”

  10. Reed, there were no trains in the day of the Swamp Fox

  11. “Voters in the urban areas tend to be well-educated and not near as gullible and susceptible to demagoguery as their rural brethren… ” Wow, Larry. Could you really be that biased?

    • no – not at all! Urban areas are job centers. 21st century jobs require good educations. People with good educations tend to not be fooled as easily by charlatans – neither the commercial nor political kind.

  12. Jim, I appreciate your response. Unfortunately, in these times, “partisanship” has morphed to “tribalism”, the unthinking defense of one’s group no matter the situation. While I identify strongly with one of the parties, I like to think that I am skeptical and critical of that party when the occasion warrants it (and I had that reputation in my former position). Neither party has a monopoly on wisdom or stupidity. Nor has either party a monopoly on good leaders. For example, I think many Democrats would agree (at least privately) that, although they would rejoice at winning the House this fall, one of the unfortunate results of that win would be the removal of Chris Jones from the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee.

  13. re: ” one of the unfortunate results of that win would be the removal of Chris Jones from the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee.”

    How exactly did that come about, short version? Did the Dems do it to him or the GOP?

  14. TBill says, “One interesting history thing is that former Gov Bob McDonnell prevailed to be a repub Gov.” Well indeed it bears noting, Larry Hogan (R) is the governor of Maryland, and Charlie Baker (R) is gov of Massachusetts. The Rs must reinvent themselves first but they have more than a mere ‘opposition’ role to play even with ‘blue’ voters.

  15. Luke Torian won’t mind a bit becoming chair of that committee. Dick’s in a fairy tale if he thinks any Democrats will be sad. But it hasn’t happened yet.

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