The race for Virginia governor on Tuesday night wasn’t very close. And Republicans have Donald Trump to blame for it.
In key areas of Virginia Republicanism – the suburbs of Richmond and the exurbs of Washington, DC – Republican Ed Gillespie ran far behind recent past GOP gubernatorial nominees and even behind Trump himself.
That poor performance seemed to come in spite of the fact that Gillespie’s profile – a former Republican National Committee Chairman and card-carrying member of the Republican establishment – seemed to be more ready-made for voters in those critical regions of the commonwealth than past Republican nominees. And in spite of the fact that Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee, hailed from the sparsely populated eastern shore of Virginia and had a southern accent that some Democrats worried wouldn’t play well in northern Virginia.
So, why? Why did a race that most polling suggested was tightening – in Gillespie’s favor – wind up not being all that close? The obvious – and right – answer is Trump.
The exit polls bear that out. Trump’s approval rating among Virginia voters was just 42% as compared to a disapproval rating of 58%. Even more importantly, of the 50% of Virginians who said that Trump was a major factor in their vote in the 2017, twice as many said they wanted to send a signal of opposition to the President as said they wanted to send a signal of support.
The story of the race – and Trump’s drag on Gillespie – can be told in the vote count in two counties: Loudoun and Chesterfield.
Loudoun, an exurban county west of Washington, has grown rapidly over the past decade – and as it has, it’s moved away from its strong conservative roots. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe won Loudoun county by 5 points in his 2013 victory – about 4,000 votes. In 2009, Republican Bob McDonnell carried Loudoun by 15,000 votes. ‘