Democrats win top spots in Virginia elections
- Democrats win governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general positions in Virginia, but Republicans win local city spots.
- Important changes are made at the local level, and voting in those is just as important as national elections.
It is blue skies for Virginia as the Democratic Party swept the state claiming the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general seats, as well as a large handful of local delegates positions in the 2017 statewide elections held Nov. 7.
Former Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam blew past the competition by winning nearly 54 percent of the vote, beating Republican candidate Ed Gillespie by over 200,000 votes.
The other seats failed to be tight elections as well, with Justin Fairfax defeating Jill Vogel for the lieutenant governor’s seat by over 140,000 votes and Mark Herring retaining the attorney general position against John Adams by over 175,000 votes.
“The turnout (for the Democrats) was much better this year,” Lynchburg Democrats chair Katie Cyphert said. “I think people realized after the 2016 race that every election counts.”
Many Republicans were gravely disappointed with the magnitude of Gillespie’s loss. Many have blamed the outcome on Gillespie shying away from President Donald Trump’s endorsement of him, including Trump himself.
“Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for,” Trump tweeted Nov. 7. “Don’t forget, Republicans won 4 out of 4 House seats, and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!”
President of College Republicans at Liberty John Wood said the Republican candidates were marked for failure from the start because of the reputation the party holds due to the divisiveness of Trump’s politics.
“It was over before it started because Democrats all over the place, even in local offices, were winning,” Wood said. “If you had an ‘R’ next to your name in this election you had a big target on your back.”
President of College Libertarians Jorge Reyes said the results of the election were an act against Trump.
“Ed didn’t fully accept the endorsement of Donald Trump and distanced himself from Donald Trump more to come off looking like a moderate and not so much as a national populist or collectivist,” Reyes said. “He has more integrity in doing so, but it definitely lost him the race.”
Reyes said the Libertarian candidate for governor Cliff Hyra, who won just over one percent of the election with 27,000 votes, did not impress, but the party is stronger as result.
“He definitely underperformed,” Reyes said. “This was our year to get into the media, and we did. We got into almost every major outlet in the city of Richmond and all across the state we were featured.”
Local elections fared much better for Republicans, as the Lynchburg city district retained its Republican delegates with T. Scott Garret defeating Natalie Short and appointed a new Republican commonwealth attorney, Bethany Harrison, and sheriff, Don Sloan.
Voter turnout compared to previous years at Liberty was lackluster. According to the Virginia Department of Elections, Liberty’s district, the third ward second precinct, reported just over 1,300 voters on campus.
“I really did expect us to see a turnout of 2,000 or more,” Wood said. ”I thought 2,000 was going to be our baseline, I would have liked to have seen more — 2,500 would have matched the state average.”
However, President Jerry Falwell said he was pleased with students for turning out and noted the impact students have on determining whether Lynchburg goes red or blue in elections.
“I am proud that LU students turned out in record numbers at the Vines precinct for a gubernatorial race,” Falwell said. “The number of voters was up by about 100 voters over the previous record in 2013. Without LU voters, Northam would’ve won the city of Lynchburg.”
Wood said he does not think students understand how statewide and local elections can immediately affect the living conditions more than elections like the presidential race.
“The more local the election, the more they actually change things on a day-to-day basis,” Wood said. “The president might get anywhere from a half a dozen to a dozen significant accomplishments made, legislative accomplishments made in a term where your governor is signing things just about every day.”
Reyes said that students do not realize the weight that each seat carries in terms of how the state is run.
“A lot of people that I talked to didn’t know that Ralph Northam was the former lieutenant governor,” Reyes said. “I don’t think people show up for the lieutenant governor race or even the attorney general’s race. It’s really just the governor, which is sad.”
Wood, who was disappointed by student voter turnout, thinks Liberty students are in a negative mindset when it comes to politics.
“I definitely think the student body at Liberty needs to engage a little bit more,” Wood said. “I think a lot of people want to divorce politics and their Liberty experience, and there just isn’t a way to do that. If you think this is hard or overly burdensome, good luck in life. Have fun saying, ‘I wish things weren’t as political’ when two years into your first job after college you’re paying 30 percent of your income (to taxes).”
Wood said students need to put their training from school into use, make a stand for their beliefs, register and vote.
“There’s a mindset of not taking advantage of opportunities to use what they’ve learned and to use your training to actually go out,” Wood said. “It’s hard to be at a school like Liberty where you have so many opportunities not to get overwhelmed, but I think people need to sit down and think ‘is it really so inconvenient to vote?’”
Reyes said he believes an election like this, where parties are so divisive, will cultivate new ideas and discussions on campus.
“I’m hoping and praying that Liberty students start thinking for themselves more and not just what they’re told to think,” Reyes said. “I think they should open up their palate for different, diverse ideas.”