On Nov. 7, 2017 there was a truly seismic political shift in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Women moved a giant step towards genuine sharing of political power with men in this last place you might expect it.
Ralph Northam was elected Governor, Justin Fairfax Lt. Governor, and Mark Herring re-elected Attorney General, capturing all three statewide races more easily than expected. But, the big news took place in House of Delegates races. With all 100 seats in play and Republicans holding a gaping 66 to 34 majority, the most optimistic Dems expected a gain of perhaps five or six seats due to the repugnant, toxic leader at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Instead, a tide of new-blood Democrats rolled up a 15-seat gain and came within one of creating a 50-50 tie in the House of Delegates. A dead tie in the 94th district ultimately was resolved by drawing the winner out of a bowl, a Republican. So, the House stands at 51-49, Republicans. The House Democratic Caucus stands at 25 men-24 women. Furthermore, the women whipped some of the longest term, hard-core conservatives and misogynists in the House, e.g., Bob Marshall, James LeMunyon and Scott Lingamfelter. And they beat them soundly.
What circumstances came together to lead to these astounding results in the staid old Commonwealth? 1) Democrats decided to get serious about winning the House as new candidates surfaced determined to reverse the tide by running in 89 of 100 districts, unlike 2015 when they ran for just 55 seats; 2) New candidates knew their districts and local issues; 3) They generated huge additional voter turnout — up anywhere from 12.9 percent to 51.5 percent, according to BallotPedia, over the previous election in those districts; 4) Most won in districts which went for Hillary Clinton, and switched delegate votes to avoid Trump association; and, 5) They were ably assisted by EMERGE, a nonprofit set up to assist and train Democratic women candidates.
EMERGE (see EMERGE.org) is led by capable, experienced politicians like Reston’s own Kate Hanley. EMERGE offered training and mentoring but not funding. Kate Hanley is the only person I am aware of who saw the wave coming and thought the women might actually lead to a new majority!
Implications. Few things motivate and empower like success. Given the amazing success of women driving up turnout and winning seats thought unwinnable, I do not think this genie, the sudden political successes of women in Virginia, can be put back in the bottle. Indeed, it seems more likely that their success could spread and lead to broader victories for women and progressives in the Congressional races coming in 2018, certainly in the areas of districts flipped in 2017 and perhaps beyond. Think of a Virginia Congressional delegation flipping from its current 7 to 4 Republican to 7 to 4 the other way. Hopefully pro-Trumper Barbara Comstock just down the gerrymandered road will lead a parade of those defeated in 2018!