- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2019

High-profile Democrats have been streaming into Virginia for weeks ahead of Tuesday’s elections, rallying anti-Trump voters for what they hope will be the coup de grace in their three-decade push to reclaim total control of the state’s government.

Most of the top presidential candidates have checked in, and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden has even sent his wife, Jill, to campaign. Hollywood sent Alec Baldwin.

Republicans are sending Vice President Mike Pence.

The lack of Republican star power in the state right now is heatedly debated in party circles, with some political pros saying Virginia, once one of the most reliably Republican states in federal elections, is now completely blue. Others say it’s still purple, but President Trump has so absorbed the spotlight that there just aren’t many big-name Republicans, either in the state or nationally, who could be of help.

“It’s not clear who we’d send,” said one Republican strategist from Virginia.

At stake are all 100 seats in the House of Delegates and all 40 seats in the Senate. The Republican Party currently holds an edge of one seat in each chamber. But Democrats hold all three top state offices, both U.S. Senate seats and seven of the state’s 11 congressional slots, and taking control of the assembly would complete their domination.

It’s a stunning turnaround from the beginning of this century, when Republicans were winning the state’s votes in the Electoral College, held the governorship and both U.S. Senate seats, had a massive congressional seat advantage and controlled the legislature.

J. Tucker Martin, a Republican operative who spent years working for former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, said the Republican national brand was strong in the state back then and Republican candidates sought to tie their races to the national party. Democrats, meanwhile, would run as “Virginia Democrats.”

“Now the roles have reversed,” he said. “The president is deeply unpopular here. So it’s generally a good idea for Virginia Republicans to put the emphasis on ‘Virginia‘ and not so much the national GOP.”

Lowell Feld, founder of Blue Virginia, a liberal website, said some Republicans are so eager to disassociate themselves from the party brand in Virginia that they aren’t using the word in ads.

“Look at someone like former VA GOP Chair John Whitbeck, for instance, who’s been running as a sort of nonpartisan ‘moderate’ who apparently never heard of Trump and has barely mentioned Republican ‘red meat’ issues,” Mr. Feld said. “Very telling.”

Among the national Democrats who have stumped in the state are Sens. Cory A. Booker, Kamala D. Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Mr. Biden is expected in town this weekend.

From Hollywood, Mr. Baldwin has been trumpeting the state’s significance as an anti-Trump messenger. He campaigned with Democrats last week in the suburbs of Richmond and even penned an op-ed in USA Today this week calling the local elections “an impeachment referendum.”

“It’s hard to overstate just how much is riding on Virginia’s elections and how they could influence the ultimate fortunes of Trump and Republicans,” he wrote. “Virginia was always going to be the warmup act for the 2020 elections: an early gauge of Americans’ appetite to repudiate Trump and Trumpism.”

Mr. Trump is not slated to campaign in Virginia, a state he lost in 2016. He has made stops in other states such as Louisiana, where a governor’s election is scheduled and where he did win in 2016.

Instead, Republicans are calling on Mr. Pence, who will visit the Charlottesville area this weekend, to bring the Trump message with him.

It’s another sign of just how dominant the Trump brand has become within the Republican Party and how little oxygen there is for others.

The Republican Party strategist who spoke to The Times pondered what other national voices could be deployed. He came up with a few options, but they were either regional or good for fundraising but not rallying the troops.

Besides, the strategist said, the local party hasn’t asked for help.

“The Virginia Republicans have been giving off a very strong vibe that everything’s fine,” he said.

Former Virginia Gov. George Allen, a Republican who got his political start in that region of the state, will be campaigning with Mr. Pence in Charlottesville. He has been out stumping with a number of Republican candidates and said they are running on state issues rather than nationalizing the race.

“Most Virginia Republican candidates for whom I’ve headlined events talk about relevant, constructive and important issues that actually affect Virginians,” he said.

He compared that with Democratic candidates advocating elimination of the state’s right-to-work status, which he called part of that party’s leftward drift to “extreme socialistic policies.”

Mr. Allen was optimistic about Republican chances to hold the General Assembly and ticked off a list of good nominees.

“The point is that candidates who are meeting voters and advocating common sense, constructive ideas and principles that can make Virginia a better place to live, learn, work and raise our families can succeed regardless of the extremists and highly negative partisanship emanating from Washington,” he said.

Both sides say the outcome Tuesday will depend on the turnout.

If Mr. Baldwin is right and voters see a chance to send a message to Mr. Trump, Democrats could be poised for a big night. But several Republican strategists told The Washington Times that they don’t see a surge in interest from either party.

“Everybody’s so focused on 2020, nobody is looking at 2019,” one said.

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