Sunday, October 07, 2018

Virginia U.S. Senate- Race of the Day

30 Days Until Election Day

Virginia U.S. Senate

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Blue State (South)

Outlook: Safe Democrat

While the GOP would have been underdogs in an effort to deny a second term to Democrat Senator Tim Kaine, this race still has to be looked at as a lost opportunity. The controversial Republican nominee is not even an option for many voters who might otherwise be open to voting for the party, and his presence on the ballot may hurt other members of his party in the Commonwealth.

From City Council to Mayor to Lt. Governor to Governor to his 2012 Senate victory, Kaine has never lost an election in Virginia. However, he likely was surprised when he found himself on the losing ticket in the 2016 Presidential race. While the Hillary Clinton/Tim Kaine ticket did win Virginia, they lost most swing states and Kaine's performance on the ticket did not exactly receive stellar reviews. The running-mates were not all that visible in the election between such polarizing figures at the top of the ticket, but even many Democrats admitted that Mike Pence likely got the better of Kaine in their one Vice Presidential debate. Previously, Kaine had been considered for Barack Obama's running-mate in 2008. Instead, after the election, the new President named him Chair of the DNC.

Had Tim Kaine been elected Vice President, a Democrat would have been appointed to replace him (perhaps even Kaine's wife, a recent Virginia Education Secretary and daughter of a Republican Governor), and a special election would have likely been held in November of last year, with the statewide Gubernatorial contest also occurring. Then, the seat would have been up again now for a full-term. Needless to say, Republicans would have had a better chance in a special election. The name of Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, from Northern Virginia, was mentioned as a possible candidate who would not have had to give up her House seat in an odd numbered year. She chose to run for reelection instead of the Senate this year against Kaine and is considered an underdog to hold her seat, in what might be a very tough cycle for Old Dominion Republicans.

At one point, traditionally Democrat Virginia was among the first places in the South to show movement towards the GOP. Now, after some time of Virginia being thought of as a state where Republicans held the edge, the state is becoming more blue than purple. There have been some competitive statewide elections, but so many government workers in the northern portion of the state, and non-southerners moving in are moving it to the left. This has created somewhat of a backlash among the generations old residents of the state who are far more "southern" politically and culturally.

Kaine grew up in Missouri, but he and his Republican opponent were both born in Minnesota. That is the state where Corey Stewart, now an unapologetic defender of Confederate symbols and heritage grew up. Both candidates have also seemingly moved to the political edges as their careers have progressed. Kaine used to be seen, around the time he was elected Governor in 2005 as a more moderate Democrat. Stewart, currently holds the post of Chairman of the Prince William County Council, to which he was first elected in 2006,  which is somewhat surprising to me, considering it would be thought of as a political swing area in Northern Virginia. Stewart has taken some very controversial positions in that post though on matters such as guns and immigration. Clearly though, he has been successful in winning over voters.

Stewart's attempts to win higher office has not been as successful though. He lost out at the 2013 Republican state convention for the chance to run for Lt. Governor and he also lost a 2017 primary for Governor, albeit by a surprisingly close margin to the establishment choice. After that, there was much drama as to whether or not he would eventually endorse nominee Ed Gillespie and whether Gillespie should feel comfortable accepting his endorsement. Ultimately, a bit of a half-endorsement was given and Gillespie lost by nine points.

At this point though, Stewart had become more politically toxic in some circles .He was an early supporter of Donald Trump's Presidential campaign and was selected to chair the effort statewide. He clashed with RNC officials though as it was clear that Virginia was not a state Trump had a chance in, and in a move to "placate" the national party, Stewart was essentially fired.

After the 2017 Gubernatorial primary, where he only lost by about one point,  Stewart announced his intention to run for the U.S. Senate. Others in the party were reluctant at this point to face Kaine in what would have been an uphill battle. When violence broke out in Charlottesville, during a weekend when white nationalists (who openly marched in the name of Donald Trump) clashed with left-wing counter protestors, leaving a woman dead, Stewart generated even more controversy by seeming to downplay the event and blaming the media for enticement. While Stewart has explicitly denounced racism, he has vocally backed efforts to keep Confederate monuments and symbols in Virginia as examples of historic southern heritage and he has criticized African-Americans and others for wanting to remove them. His ties to some figures on the alt-right has also brought some scrutiny, although he insists that he might have taken pictures for them or offered kind words before they made openly racist or anti-Semitic statements later on.

Two other candidates qualified to also run in the June Republican primary. One was E.W. Jackson, a staunchly conservative African-American pastor who had support in the Evangelical community. Jackson who had run for the Senate in 2012, then won the Lt. Governor nomination in 2013 that Stewart had wanted. He proved to be controversial and divisive enough on the campaign trail himself that year though and he was also seen as someone with virtually no chance against Kaine. To the extent there was a "mainstream" Republican candidate in the field, it was Nick Freitas, a young State Delegate and Iraq War veteran. He had ties to the Tea Party Movement and to libertarian Republicans such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. All things considered, he was the party's best option to avoid embarrassment, and a lot of Virginia Republicans voted for him for precisely that reason. Still though, he lost to Stewart 45-43, with Jackson taking 12 percent. Clearly, a Donald Trump Tweet on behalf of Freitas would have made all the difference. Perhaps Mitch McConnell even asked him to do so, but that never happened. The morning after the primary, Trump Tweeted his support of Stewart, and seemingly indicated he was happy with the result. He also, somewhat crazily, suggested that Stewart had a good chance of beating Kaine.

With Stewart officially leading the GOP ticket, candidates down ballot for Congress and other offices have had to decide if they are willing to appear with him on the trail, keep him at arm's length, and reject him. The Senate nominee definitely has his cadre of supporters and many Republicans in the state dislike Kaine enough, especially as he moved further to the left as a national figure, to vote for any Republican against him, even someone they might find as loathsome as Kaine. I do not think this race will be close though, although Stewart might even surpass 40 percent.As expected, it is a bitterly personal race, with the candidates going after each other in debates, but there are just too many Democrats in Virginia and enough Republicans who will never be able to fully embrace all of Stewart's platform.

Not long ago, a former state delegate and Marine veteran, Winsome Sears, an African-American woman announced she would run as as write-in candidate to give Republicans an option. I think it is the best one available.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 
21 D (11 Safe, 5 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup)
10 R (3 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans, 5 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:
44 D (23 holdovers, 11 Safe, 5 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup)
52 R (42 holdovers, 3 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans, 5 Tossup)


At 9:00 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Kaine wins reelection by double digits (57% to 40%).


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