It Wasn’t About Youngkin

by Joe Fitzgerald

Deep in the hills of Southwest Virginia is a state Senate district where nobody works because the coal industry is increasingly mechanized. The district has all or part of eight counties. In Northern Virginia is a county where nobody works because they’re all employed by the federal government. The county includes all or part of eight state Senate districts.

Every four years, national political  writers combine this into a cohesive entity called Virginia and use it as a bellwether for the presidential election that follows the state Senate election by one year, every single time. The state’s economics and politics are shaped by, among other things, the coal industry and the federal government (see above). The state’s boundaries are shaped by rivers, a bay, a mountain range, and a southern line that’s straight except for a zig-zag south of Abingdon caused by a drunken surveyor.

Most of the national political writers don’t know that our districts were drawn by the courts, our counties and cities are separate entities, and our precincts are drawn by processes that vary by district, county, and city. And every four years, regular as clockwork, they write about how the General Assembly races will impact the ambitions of George Allen, Jim Gilmore, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Bob McDonnell, Terry McAuliffe, or Glenn Youngkin for president, vice president, or U.S. senator.

Meanwhile, 30 percent of Virginia’s voters go to the polls, 40 if Trump’s president, and cast ballots based on guns, abortion, schools, highways, health care, education, sample ballots, or whether they saw the candidate at the grocery store. By the time you boil it down to the number of competitive districts and the margin of victory, less than half of one percent of Virginia’s five and a half million voters will constitute the bellwether that political writers ring every four years.

In 1984, with no local races on the ballot in Petersburg, and Reagan’s re-election a near-certainty, a managing editor had me write at least three stories about the race for mayor of Jarratt. If you can’t find it on a map, neither could most of our readers. Two hundred people might have voted. But it was the only race with a real contest. Similarly, Virginia is one of few states with elections in the off-off-off-year before the presidential year. There’s not a lot for national political writers to do, but I wish they’d do it somewhere else, or at least learn the difference between Washington County and the Washington suburbs.

The national political writers this week will write Youngkin-centric stories that ignore the efforts of everyone from Susan Swecker to Esther Nizer. And in four years, they will be back to write about the political ambitions of whoever is governor. Virginia’s voters, 30 percent of them, will go to the polls with no clue or concern about what the governor might be running for. After all, they didn’t see him in the grocery store.

Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg. Republished with permission from Still Not Sleeping.

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27 responses to “It Wasn’t About Youngkin”

  1. how_it_works Avatar

    “Virginia’s voters, 30 percent of them, will go to the polls with no clue or concern about what the governor might be running for. After all, they didn’t see him in the grocery store.”

    Why do I think “low information voters” when I read this?

    1. killerhertz Avatar

      Isn’t that 99% of voters?

      1. how_it_works Avatar

        Varies by locality, probably.

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Read which? That part? Or the whole article? I think “low information journalists”.

      Loved Nikki Haley’s comment on Trump, “He was the right man at the right time, but he added $8T to the National Debt.”

      Wait?! What made him the right man then?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I love how some now say that it’s Biden who has created that debt!

        The Tax Foundation had an interesting ‘take’ on making TCJA permanent:

        “Taken together, full TCJA permanence would boost GDP by 1.2 percent and employment by 829,000 full-time equivalent jobs and reduce revenue by $3.7 trillion on a conventional basis. On a dynamic basis, the cost falls by 16 percent to $3.1 trillion as higher economic output raises some additional tax revenue. Incorporating added interest costs, the deficit impact would be $4.1 trillion on a conventional basis and $3.7 trillion on a dynamic basis. Without other offsets, the long-run debt-to-GDP ratio would increase by 26.6 percentage points (conventional) or 18.4 percentage points (dynamic) above its baseline of 231.8 percent.”

        so continuing the TCJA will continue deficits and debt.

        and yet… still support for but put blame on Biden!

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Good comments.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      A healthy cynicism about experts and pundits, which I share.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    “The state’s boundaries are shaped by rivers, a bay, a mountain range, and a southern line that’s straight except for a zig-zag south of Abingdon caused by a drunken surveyor.”

    Never heard the drunken surveyor story before.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Great history! Who knew that Peter Jefferson and Joshua Fry had it all wrong. Their map hangs in many old historical homes such as where I work, Kenmore. The compass could not keep a true reading on magnetic north.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          talk about “colonization”!

          ” The first key decision shaping the modern Virginia-Tennessee border was made in 1629. King Charles I initially gave all the land between the 31° and the 36° parallel of latitude to his Attorney General, Sir Robert Heath, and named it Carolana. In 1645 during the English Civil War, Parliament revoked the grant and Heath died in exile.

          Sir Robert Heath’s claim to Carolana disappeared, but the boundaries defined in the 1629 patent were still remembered. In 1663, Charles II re-started the distribution of land by royal fiat by granting the Charter of Carolina to reward eight supporters who helped him during the English Civil War.”

          All that land and no means to use it productively without labor…

          1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            One of the 8 was John Locke.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            wow, doesn’t sound like a liberal!

            ” Slavery and child labour
            Locke’s views on slavery were multifaceted and complex. Although he wrote against slavery in general, Locke was an investor and beneficiary of the slave-trading Royal Africa Company. In addition, while secretary to the Earl of Shaftesbury, Locke participated in drafting the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, which established a quasi-feudal aristocracy and gave Carolinian planters absolute power over their enslaved chattel property; the constitutions pledged that “every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves”. ”

            I guess “enlightenment” back in those days… was not what we think today?

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I had not heard it before and had made note to look it up later. Happily, Dave Schutz did that for us. It is indeed complicated. Fitzgerald’s comment was obviously a joke.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        I don’t know. I worked for Louisa County surveyor one summer who loved corn whiskey in his coffee.

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    It is criminal to steal a purse, daring to steal a fortune, a mark of greatness to steal a crown. The blame diminishes as the guilt increases. -Johan Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, poet and dramatist (10 Nov 1759-1805)

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    Maybe too much is made of Virginia being a “bellweather” and it’s certainly true that Virginia and most other states are more “complicated” than sound-bite pronouncements.

    But also true that Mr. Youngkin himself DID associate himself with national politics including the culture wars and his multiple appearances on conservative media including FOX news did very
    much encourage a wider focus on Virginia along with the attendant thoughts that it IS a bellweather state! I’ve heard similar said about Ohio and Pennsylvania.

    Youngkins election originally and this election were both very close and could have gone in either direction IMO.

    McAuliffe basically gave it away by stepping into a very potent issue that he apparently was unaware of as many other Dems….

    Part of what we found out this election is whether the parental rights thing had longer term, longer lasting “legs”.

    They did and do but the other side that got caught flat-footed, rebounded and school board elections across the state did not “wave” and demonstrate a “conversion” of a lot parents to that view. A good number of parents and voters voted the other way and many Dem/progressives got elected to school boards.

    So, it might be argued that between the schools culture wars and abortion, the Dems got off their fannies and got to the polls – just enough to win a close election.


    Well.. how much does abortion and culture war politics play in other states elections compared to Virginia?

    Watch Mr. DeSantis much?

    Are “progressives” going to stand up for abortion and public schools , transgender, books, etc against folks like DeSantis and sorta wannabes like Youngkin?

    Did Youngkin basically awaken a segment of the electorate that perhaps was not paying as much attention as they should have?

    So will the NEXT Statewide/Natoinal GOP candidates in Virginia continue to run on abortion and culture war politics or will they back off?

    Will other states be watching?

    1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      “So, it might be argued that between the schools culture wars and abortion, the Dems got off their fannies and got to the polls – just enough to win a close election.”

      Turnout ratios (especially in the key races) would tell you if Dems came to the polls in greater numbers relative to Republicans (suggesting your theory has support) or if this was all the result of a fairly drawn map.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        very close election no matter what though. I KNOW in Spotsy the Dems turned out to boot the
        conservative school board… and one was a blowout (the ring leader) and the other actually had
        a vacant seat with a newcomer Dem but the other was a GOP BOS who resigned the BOS to run
        for SB – and lost but close.

        I think abortion played to down-ballot and maybe the culture wars went local then up-ballot
        to the HD and Senate races. Tara Durant won but it was pretty close.

    2. dave schutz Avatar
      dave schutz

      Um, a wether is a castrated sheep or goat used to lead a flock where the shepherd wants it to go, and if it’s been belled it helps the shepherd to find the flock. No meteorology needed here!
      And IF that castrated former billy is leading the flock into the slaughterhouse – it’s a Judas Goat!

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        well I guess if one considers voters to be sheep then finds out not all of them are… after all….

        1. dave schutz Avatar
          dave schutz

          Maybe our national divide is between citizens who think Biden is the Judas Goat and people who think it’s The Donald…

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Perhaps. Do you think they are “following” political leaders because of their views on abortion or the culture war?

            “Tuesday’s election results drove home to some Republicans in Congress what they already know and fear — that their party has alienated critical blocs of voters with its policies and message, particularly on abortion. And the results stiffened their resolve to resist such measures, even if it means breaking with the party at a critical time in a high-stakes fight over federal spending.

            “The American people are speaking very clearly: There is no appetite for national abortion law,” Representative John Duarte of California, a Republican who represents a district that President Biden won in 2020, said on Thursday. “And there’s enough of us in the Republican Party that are going to stand against it.”

    3. energyNOW_Fan Avatar

      Re: the bellwether moniker for Virginia, all past behavior is potentially null and void, in the new era of Roe v. Wade destruction by the Repubs..they need to fix this or else, we need a new party

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    The Democrats doing well may not have been about Mr. Youngkin, but the Republicans doing poorly is.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      yep. The GOP candidates did not exactly distance themselves from Youngkin. More the opposite.

      Youngkins strategy WAS premised somewhat on capturing
      local middle/independent votes in blue/suburban. It very much goosed the partisan divide at the local level.

      Having candidates tell the voters that the abortion rule should be 15 weeks is pretty arrogant IMO. WHO decided the 15 weeks?

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        It polled better than 6 weeks. He went with it. He never bothered to poll 15 against the status quo.

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