It's been two years since an unarmed man, 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar, was shot and killed by police in Fairfax County. Kojo sits down with Bijan's family to discuss their quest for answers.
In this run of off-year elections, Virginia is the only state where control of the legislature is entirely up for grabs. All 140 seats in the General Assembly are on the ballot as Republicans defend their edges in the Senate and the House, and Democrats hope a groundswell of anti-Trump sentiment works in their favor.
Nationally, what happens in Virginia is seen as a litmus test for 2020.
We dive into the results live with Tom Sherwood, Sarah McCammon and Rachel Bitecofer — plus, the winners.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIThe polls closed at 7:00 p.m. and results have been trickling in, but it's still too close to tell who has gained control of the Virginia General Assembly. One thing is for certain today's vote will have far reaching effects for politics in Virginia and for the General Elections in 2020. Good evening and Welcome to Virginia Votes a Special WAMU presentation on Today's elections in Virginia. I'm Kojo Nnamdi, and joining me in studio to wade through the Virginia election results as we know them so far is Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst and a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood evening, everyone.
NNAMDIAlso joining me in studio is Rachel Bitecofer. She's the assistant director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. Rachel, good to see you again.
RACHEL BITECOFERGood evening, and thank you for having me.
NNAMDIJoining us from the Democratic watch party at the Hilton Hotel in Downtown Richmond is Sarah McCammon, national correspondent for NPR. Sarah, thank you for joining us.
SARAH MCCAMMONYeah, thank you so much for having me.
NNAMDISarah, allow me to start with you. Please remind us -- Virginia's legislative elections have gained national attention this year. What's at stake?
MCCAMMONGreat. Well, obviously what's at stake is control of the Virginia legislature, and that has a lot of implications for policy right here in the state. Democrats have pointed to -- you know, they picked up 15 seats two years ago, which was a big coup for Democrats, but did not quite take control of the legislature.
MCCAMMONRepublicans are still narrowly in control. And they pointed to things like passing the Medicaid expansion, which they were able to do just by, you know, substantially increasing their numbers in the house, as a sign of something that they could do if they were to take control.
MCCAMMONSo they're very much hoping to take control tonight. Republicans have been trying to hang on to that narrow control, but there's a bigger picture here too, of course. This is one of the few states that has sort of nationally important elections.
MCCAMMONReally the only state where the legislature is flippable this year. And so of course a lot of people are watching it. And we can talk about whether or not they should, or how much Virginia really says about the nation, but a lot of people are watching what happens tonight in Virginia as a sign of maybe where voters are at, and what might be coming up in a year, in 2020.
NNAMDIRachel Bitecofer, our latest update says that in the house of delegates, 36 Democrats, 28 GOP in the Senate, 17 Democrats and nine GOP -- you've done a lot of forecasting work leading up to this election. On the factors that would lead to Democrats being able to flip enough seats to win control of the general assembly, what are those factors?
BITECOFERYeah, so ultimate --
NNAMDI(overlapping) Now you're seeing them at play tonight.
BITECOFERYeah, so ultimately what comes down to in my forecasting work, and what drove 2017 and 2018 was these massive Democratic enthusiasm advantages. We saw that measured in our Wason center polling, and we see it in the data for registration and fundraising, and the number of candidates Democrats were able to field. And we saw it manifest tonight, with massive turnout. So Democrats look like they're poised to flip both chambers.
SHERWOODLet me say --
NNAMDI(overlapping) Also, if you spend a lot of time riding around Virginia today, facing gridlock wherever you went, what did that indicate to you?
SHERWOODWell, I found some fans for you, Fairfax Station and house district 40. I went down to see how that was turning out and met some very nice people. I spent most of the time in traffic coming back. I don't know how anyone got to the polls to vote in northern Virginia, but I'm glad they did. You know, there was some excitement.
SHERWOODThere were Republicans there, there were some Democrats at the various polling places that I stopped in, and they were all excited about what was gonna happen tonight. You know, I'd like to ask Rachel -- I'm gonna say two words to you, and what was the impact of Donald Trump.
BITECOFER(laugh) That's exactly right. I mean, this is the most nationalized state legislative cycle Virginia has seen, replacing the previous winner, which was 2017, in which Democrats picked up the 15 seats. And you know, Donald Trump was all over this election cycle.
BITECOFERYou don't go from a 30 percent languished turnout in 2015 to something that's probably gonna come in between 40 and 45 percent statewide. I mean, that's a 15-point increase in turnout over state and local politics. It's definitely because --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) That's a huge number, isn't it?
BITECOFERYeah, that's exactly right. I think it's that we really cannot impress upon people how important the aggravation of the electorate is in playing a role in turning Virginia from a purple state into a solid blue state. And it's gonna have a governing trifecta now for Democrats.
SHERWOODI was seeing on Twitter the Virginia house -- Republicans in the Virginia house senate Twitter feeds, "Vote, vote, get out and vote, vote, vote." I see that the speaker, Kirk Cox, down in suburban Richmond for the Republicans, he appears to be winning. That was some doubt, because of the court redistricting. Are you seeing an effect of the court redistricting?
BITECOFERYeah, so -- and --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Which 11 seats changed hands and I think -- changed significantly, and 25 were affected.
BITECOFERYeah, that's exactly right. I mean, what we see are two things in the story of the data. I mean, Democrats had to defend these 15 seats that they gained with a really hot ticket with a gubernatorial cycle. Could they do that? Yes, they did.
BITECOFERI mean, we see really strong performances out of those 15 incumbents tonight. And then they had to gain new territory and they got an extra bump when that court-ordered redistricting -- which, by the way, was mandated, because the maps were racial gerrymanders, so they were invalidated by unconstitutionally gerrymandered maps.
BITECOFERSo that helped Democrats mightily, but when we're looking at the results down in Hampton Roads, we're seeing a mixed bag for Democrats, certainly. I mean, it's a little bit early to say what the ultimate outcome's gonna be. And they're definitely picking up a surplus, more than the two seats that they needed in each chamber, especially in the house. But it's possible that they will leave a few of those redistricted or state senate seats down there.
SHERWOODBut the trend line looks like now that the Democrats could take control of the house and senate.
BITECOFEROh, yeah, no, I'm 100 percent comfortable saying, even though these races have not been called, that they have enough to guarantee those two seats net in each chamber, yeah.
NNAMDISarah McCammon, the latest numbers we have are that the Democrats 37, the GOP 30, in the house of delegates and the senate; the Democrats 17, the GOP nine. You were with the Democratic Party in Richmond. What's the energy like there, and what are party leaders talking about?
MCCAMMONYeah, I mean, going back to this idea of the Trump effect, I think this is something that we've heard really from both sides, both from Vice President Mike Pence talking about -- in Virginia Beach this weekend, telling voters to come out and support the president.
MCCAMMONAnd former Vice President Joe Biden in northern Virginia on Sunday saying quite the opposite -- this is about Trump and we need to come out and show, through these election results, that -- you know, send a message to the rest of the country that this is unacceptable.
MCCAMMONAnd tonight I'm hearing much the same thing from Democratic leaders here -- a sense that this is about something bigger. I talked to Jessica Post of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee a little while ago, and she said they think they're looking really, really good in both chambers, especially the senate. And they're very hopeful about these numbers, and also they know that this is really about something more than just Virginia.
NNAMDIHave you been hearing anything about what Republican leaders have been saying?
MCCAMMONMy colleague Mallory Noe-Payne, who's member station WVTF in Roanoke -- she's their state house reporter here in Richmond -- she is over at House Speaker Kirk Cox's watch party. She spoke to his wife Julie Cox a little while ago and told me that they were anxiously watching the results. You know, we just heard that they're looking pretty good for the speaker --
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, the anxiety can be reduced, because the AP has just called that Republican Speaker Kirk Cox has been reelected to district 66, so presumably they're a little less anxious now, but go ahead.
SHERWOODThey're anxious about holding the whole house.
NNAMDIThat's true -- whether or not he can continue to be speaker. Rachel Bitecofer, in a recent poll, from the Wason Center, which looked at four competitive state senate districts, you found that voter enthusiasm is slightly higher among Democrats. Why is that, and how do you think that's shaping up tonight in terms of voter turnout?
BITECOFERSo again, you know, it's this kerosene that's been -- you know, there was a demographic muscle laying in Virginia, from the demographic change in northern Virginia, but also in Richmond and Hampton Roads, from demographic influx into the state over the last couple of decades.
BITECOFERIt had been not flexing its muscle during the Obama era. And I think any Republican president would have motivated Democratic voters a little bit, but Donald Trump is especially motivating. It's the equivalent of throwing kerosene onto a bonfire, so that's what the election's about.
SHERWOODHe tweeted about the election, the president did, but only Vice President Pence came to the state, and only in the Virginia Beach area, I believe.
SHERWOODIs that where he went, I think? And that's the only place he went?
BITECOFERYeah, no, that's probably true. And you know what we're gonna see -- I mean, right now we're waiting for these results, and there's so few in, and those two critical senate races down there in Virginia Beach. But so far, the Republicans have been holding advantage down there, and if Democrats come up short in those two districts it will be, because they didn't answer Pence's visit with their own base-motivating efforts.
NNAMDISally tweets, "2017 showed that every single vote counts. We literally determined control of our legislature by drawing names out of a bowl. Never again." Rachel, you mentioned in a September report that if Virginia sees more than 31 percent of registered voters -- registered voters head to the polls, Democrats will probably win. Has that happened?
BITECOFERYes, well, it certainly has happened. I mean, that's exactly what happened. I mean, we're -- like I said, we don't have official turnout numbers, so I'm basing my estimates off of what I had reported to me, various precincts and counties and districts throughout the state today that saw sometimes 50 -- above 50 percent turnout.
BITECOFERSo we -- you know, like I said, I think it's gonna definitely hit 40 percent statewide, it might hit 45. And anything above 35 was gonna be promising for Democrats. So you know, that's why we're seeing a pretty good night for Democrats.
BITECOFERI mean, keep in mind, though, with the failure to flip Speaker Cox's district, potentially leaving a couple senate districts on the map, it will have been a great night for Democrats, but not a universal, you know, reckoning.
NNAMDIWell, let's see how happy or not Susan Swecker is. Susan Swecker is chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. She joins us by phone. Susan Swecker, thank you for joining us.
SUSAN SWECKERHey, I'm happy to be here, Kojo. How are you this evening?
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Hi, Susan.
SWECKERI'm a happy chairwoman, let me just say, start out by saying that.
NNAMDIBased on the results you've heard so far, how confident are you that Democrats will win control of the house of delegates and the state senate?
SWECKERBased on what I've heard, we are gonna control both the house and senate, and now have a trifecta and be able to really get good stuff done for Virginia.
SHERWOODSusan, Tom Sherwood, hello.
SWECKERHi, Tom, how are you?
SHERWOODI'm all good. Tell me this -- can you give us a number that you're looking at for the house? Their house has 100 seats. Where do you think you'll be? And the senate has 40 seats. If all your hopes come true tonight, where do you think you'll be in terms of controlling the house and senate, which you have not been able to control. The Republicans have been up by about two seats. What do you think --
SWECKERRight, so --
SHERWOOD-- you'll have if things go the way you see them now?
SWECKERSo I think what we know we have is 23 in the senate right now, with John Bell up in Loudoun County picking up a Republican seat (unintelligible) . And then down here in Richmond, Ghazala Hashmi picking up the Sturtevant seat, which is big for us. And it looks (unintelligible) Debra Rodman.
SWECKERI think there's still some precincts out, but it looks like that she's gonna make it across the finish line. And then in the house, Martha Mugler down in Newport News was the kickoff. Shelly Simonds -- you know, everybody remembers Shelly Simonds. That was the one we lost in the pick the number out of the bowl from two years ago, has been declared the winner. I think there's -- I'm trying to remember. There's a couple others. So I think we're, you know, 23, maybe 24 (unintelligible) in the senate, 50 --
SWECKERFifty-53 in the house. And (unintelligible)
SHERWOODCan I specifically -- and specifically in the house district 40, Tim Hugo, one of the last Republicans in the northern --
SHERWOODImmediate northern Virginia area, do you have -- he --
SWECKER(overlapping) Yeah, the last -- the -- the last (unintelligible)
SHERWOOD(overlapping) -- last -- looking at -- he's barely ahead 52 --
SWECKER-- we were confident we were gonna pull that one across the finish line too, but I don't know if there were any updates over that in the last 15 minutes.
SWECKERSo we don't -- we don't (unintelligible) there.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Oh, Tim Hugo is -- the last numbers I saw, he's leading 52-47, but that's with only half the precincts.
BITECOFERRight, right, and you did pick up the 76 as well.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Here's -- here's -- here's Rachel Bitecofer.
BITECOFERRight. You did pick up the 76 as well, for sure. That's already been --
SWECKER(overlapping) Which is the 76?
BITECOFER-- called. That's the Chris Jones district.
SWECKEROh, right, and look --
SWECKER-- that's a huge one. We just picked up -- we (unintelligible) we just needed a chairman of the house appropriations.
BITECOFERRight, and --
SWECKER(overlapping) (unintelligible) yeah.
BITECOFERAnd you have a lead in the 81st that looks -- you know, I don't think that's gonna get -- I don't think that's gonna flip back. So I think, yeah, I think you guys have a surplus. (laugh)
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, as Rachel's saying, there are --
SWECKER(overlapping) We know we're gonna win, we know we've taken the majority (unintelligible).
NNAMDI(overlapping) There's a -- there's a --
SWECKERThe key is what happens in Virginia Beach.
NNAMDI(overlapping) There --
SWECKERThere's a lot still outstanding in Virginia Beach that we don't know about.
NNAMDIThere are a few races in the house where candidates are facing the same Republican challenges, who they unseated two years ago -- Democrat Hala Ayala is up against Republican Rich Anderson in Prince William County, and Democrat Wendy Gooditis is facing Republican Randy Minchew in Loudoun County, where with the votes counted so far, she looks like she has a comfortable lead. How confident are you that these delegates will be holding on to their districts?
SWECKERI'm incredibly confident. They both (unintelligible) the Prince William team, Wendy, they won, you know, started running for reelection. Great constituent services, great outreach. And look, let's just face it -- particularly in northern Virginia and the exurbs around there, it's also they stood for, you know, Medicaid expansion, they stood for raising the minimum wage, they stood for making sure that we continue the restoration for rights.
SWECKERSo many things that move Virginia forward, but it's also about Donald Trump. Let's do not forget that. There is a factor over all of this that deals with -- that is a Donald Trump factor too.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Susan Swecker, you're the chair of the entire state. It's very unusual this time around that gun control, because of that summertime special session that only lasted, what, 90 minutes before the Republicans gaveled it.
SHERWOODAcross the state, you know, there's a very strong feeling -- people are worried about the Democrats wanting to take guns away. You know, heard that from the presidential campaign. How -- given the massacre in Virginia Beach, how did gun control --
SHERWOOD-- play in various parts of the state for you?
SWECKERA big overarching factor. I just give a lot of credit to Governor Northam for calling the general assembly back into session to deal with the gun issue. And then the audacity and the arrogance of the house and senate Republicans to not hear any of these bills, call them into session, and have a 90-minute session, and really didn't have any floor debate, you know, showed an arrogance, a tin ear, to this overarching issue that really weighs on a lot of families.
SWECKERI was talking to the first lady earlier tonight and I hope I'm right on this, but I know I'm somewhere near right. But it's like (unintelligible) 90 minutes, and every eight minutes somebody dies on a gun-related situation. I think I'm right on that. But I mean, again, it was not even addressing the issue.
NNAMDISusan Swecker's the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. Thank you so much for joining us.
SWECKERThank you so much for having me. I hope you all have a great evening. I'm having a great evening so far.
NNAMDIYou're listening to Virginia Votes, a special WAMU presentation on today's elections in Virginia. And joining us now by phone is Tom Davis. He's a former U.S. congressman representing northern Virginia. Congressman Davis, thank you for joining us.
TOM DAVISWell, thanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIBased on the results we have seen so far, it does appear that the GOP will not be maintaining control of the general assembly. Is that your view at this point?
DAVISI think that's pretty clear at this point, and the question just is, you know, what's the margin gonna be. There's still a number of races outstanding as the returns come in.
NNAMDISo why do you think the GOP fell short? What was the greatest challenge?
DAVISSo the greatest challenge was you had three Democratic judges in Virginia redrew the lines in southern Virginia that I think netted the Democrats about four seats. I think that's -- that is the -- if you take that factor out of it, it probably doesn't switch.
DAVISBut they moved the lines around in a number of districts downstate, even though you had a redistricting plan that had been approved by Democrats in the state senate, and approved by the Obama Justice Department.
NNAMDIWell, the --
DAVIS(overlapping) But when it comes to redistricting, you can either gerrymander them at the legislative level, or you can gerrymander them at the court level, which is what the Democrats are now finding to do whenever they control judgeships. They've done it in Pennsylvania with the state supreme court, they're doing it in North Carolina, and they did it here in the federal court.
SHERWOODAnd if the Democrats do control both -- this is Tom Sherwood, sir, welcome to the program.
DAVISThanks, I'm happy to be here.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) If Democrats do control the general assembly, they're going to draw those lines themselves, and the Supreme Court says you can make partisan changes. That's gonna be a big, significant difference, isn't it?
DAVISWell, they claim that they wanted a commission. They were running on this, the governor said --
DAVIS-- this was his priority, and now it will be put to the test. Sometimes --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Well, you're right, it --
DAVIS-- those things fall a little short once you get in power, and find out you have the power.
SHERWOODRight, the Democrats have to -- in the house and the senate have to pass it again, and the voters have to approve it, to have that nonpartisan commission --
SHERWOOD-- for the future elections. But the Democrats, if they're in power, could say, well, we think we can draw better lines.
DAVISWell, that'll be a real test, right?
SHERWOODAnd what about Trump?
DAVISTom, let me just say, if you don't have a high tolerance for hypocrisy, then you probably shouldn't be in politics. (laugh)
SHERWOODWell, what about Donald Trump?
DAVISNo question -- look, Virginia is not really a two-party state, it's really two one-party states. And as you see, Democrats made no inroads in the more rural western and southern parts of the state. Their gains are entirely in suburban areas, urban/suburban areas, but they own these areas right now.
DAVISNow they had several things work in their favor. The gun issue clearly worked for them, not just in terms of where voters fell, but in attracting money. The NRA put a paltry amount of money, from what I could see, into these races, compared to Michael Bloomberg and some of the other groups that came in on the other side.
DAVISThat is a shift from what we've seen in the past, when the NRA would basically come in and kind of own these things. They've been weakened by their own internal squabbles, as we know, as well. So that's a huge shift. As you look at resources down the stretch of -- I don't think they were -- most Republicans were being out-spent in the house and senate, as Democrats from across the country piled on.
DAVISIt's not that Republicans don't have the resources, it's just they didn't put them into Virginia. Where was the White House at this point, the Trump campaign? You had, I think, Democratic candidates running for president put more in than the Trump campaign gave to the state party.
DAVISAnd the state party doesn't have a lot of money here. When you don't control the governorship, all that transactional money in the state tends to go to the party of the governor. And Republicans haven't won a statewide race in 10 years. So this is a great night for the Democrats, I think, at this point.
NNAMDILast update we got from The Washington Post, house of delegates, Democrats 40, GOP 34; senate, Democrats, 20, GOP 15. You were one of the last Republicans to represent northern Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives. Republican Delegate Tim Hugo in Fairfax County is in a similar position, trying to hold on to his seat in an increasingly blue part of the state.
NNAMDIHe's facing Democrat Dan Helmer in a race that has brought in over $3.5 million in fundraising, making this the most expensive house of delegates race in Virginia's history. If Helmer wins, what does that mean for the future of the Republican Party in northern Virginia, and what do you think the Virginia GOP needs to do to adapt -- to attract those voters?
DAVISFirst thing, I think it shows it costs a lot of money now just to lose. Secondly, I think I'd say that right now, that the administration is a liability in the suburbs here. Now you go out in the countryside, it's very, very different. But these races tended to be pretty nationalized.
DAVISAnd as I said before, the resources put into these races went heavily to the Democrats. So you have both of those factors. Virginia has always been what I call a counter-cyclical state. They tend to vote against the party in the White House. They've done that in nine of the last 10 governor's races, and the only exception is easily explained, because you had a government shutdown and a Republican administration that year, et cetera.
NNAMDIAfraid we're out of time in this segment, Congressman Davis. Thank you so much for joining us. Tom Davis is a Republican, who represented northern Virginia as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. We're gonna take a short break, and when we come back we will return to this special Virginia Votes, a special WAMU presentation on today's elections in Virginia. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to Virginia Votes, a special WAMU presentation on today's elections in Virginia. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. In studio with me is Tom Sherwood. He is our resident analyst and a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Rachel Bitecofer is the assistant director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. And joining us from the Democratic watch party at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Richmond is Sarah McCammon, national correspondent for NPR.
NNAMDISarah, at the Hilton Hotel, are they acknowledging that they feel the Democrats have won the general assembly?
MCCAMMONDefinitely. There's a lot of excitement in the room. I mean, not every race is successful. We just heard from a state legislative candidate whose race was not successful, and of course it's not universal wins here for Democrats by any means. But they're feeling really good.
MCCAMMONOf course the AP has projected that Democrats have taken control of the state senate, although it's too early to say for sure about the house of delegates. But there's a lot of good energy in the room. You can probably hear behind me a lot of applause. And I think everyone I've talked to so far is very hopeful.
NNAMDIWell, they're obviously making speeches already, so they're clearly thinking that they have already won the general assembly. Joining us now by phone is Danica Roem, who is the Democratic incumbent in Prince William County and Manassas Park, house district 13. And it's my understanding that the AP has called this race for you, Danica Roem. Thank you so much for joining us.
DANICA ROEMWell thank you so much for having me back, Kojo. Thank you so much for just all the work that you're doing, especially on a night like this, when it gets late and you're just trying to inform the public, you know, as a dispassionate, third-party observer. And I really respect what you're doing here.
NNAMDIYou can tell she was a reporter, can't you?
SHERWOODYes, I know she was. Okay.
SHERWOODDelegate Roem, Tom Sherwood here. You're now a veteran of the legislature. This'll be your second term.
SHERWOODWhat do you think Kelly McGinn -- according to most, with 100 percent of the precincts in, you've got, like, 56 percent of the vote. That's a pretty strong win. What do you think made the difference? You really made a big deal about Route 28, and you made some progress, I think, there. But why did you win so big?
ROEMSo first off, just so you know, we're still waiting on a few precincts to come in from the Department of Elections websites. We're still waiting for Buckland Mills and (unintelligible) and --
SHERWOODOkay, well, good.
ROEM-- yeah, so, like, you know, we know the numbers should be good for us there. But what made the difference for us here is that number one, people know that I have worked so hard, and my team as a whole has worked so hard on fixing Route 28, and that when you put in four bills in two years about fixing Route 28 and you have multiple town halls about it, public hearings, and then VDOT actually agreed to administratively implement my alternative intersection design plan, are studying it for the Route 28 corridor between Blooms Quarry Lane and the Boulevard Bridge in Prince William County, people saw that. And they saw that that is progress, and that it's not --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) What would be the difference if the Democrats, as it appears, will be controlling the house. How would that make it different for northern Virginia legislators? I was out driving in northern Virginia traffic today, so --
ROEMOh, for sure -- oh, well, first of all --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) -- have a personal interest in this. How will it be different for northern Virginia --
SHERWOOD-- people if the Democrats are controlling the house when it comes to transportation issues?
ROEMOh, well, first off you're gonna have -- I mean, just the only Republican left in northern Virginia at this point is Dave LaRock, that's it. At this point, you know, when we see Democrats, you know, controlling the general assembly by almost virtually, you know, winning every house of delegates seat in northern Virginia --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) How's it gonna be different, though?
ROEMWhat's gonna be different is that northern Virginia lawmakers are going to be leading the party and leading the majority, and I will tell you that I'm planning tomorrow to make a film, called "To Delegate Vivian Watts," so we can start putting together, you know, whatever we can do for what I would hope to be one of the largest transportation funding bills we've ever had to deal with non-interstate primary highways, for example, to make our roads quicker and safer.
ROEMEspecially with problematic intersections, at single (unintelligible) intersections, so that when I'm dealing with my constituents, who live along the Rollins Ford Road corridor, for example, over in Gainesville, and they had a fatal accident on the state (unintelligible) I want to make sure that we have safer intersection design all along that corridor in Gainesville while (unintelligible) --
NNAMDI(overlapping) But Danica, if I may interrupt --
ROEM-- 28 as well.
NNAMDIIf I may interrupt, because we don't have a lot of time --
NNAMDI-- aside from transportation, what else is a priority for you over the next two years?
ROEM(laugh) Aside from transportation, there's other things, Kojo? (laugh) So number one, we need to fully implement Medicaid expansion. Right now, we are at 331,666 people out of 400,000 eligible people. I want to make sure that all 400,000 people are fully enrolled. That's number one.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) What about minimum wage?
ROEMMinimum wage is gonna go up. I'm gonna tell you that right now. We are, you know, a Democratic majority with a Democratic governor. We will raise the minimum wage. The question will be to what extent, but yes, we are gonna get the job done, I can promise you that.
ROEMI can promise you that we will ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and we will be the 38th and final state needed to do that. And I am gonna be really proud to work with especially delegates Jenifer Carol Foy and Hala Ayala, who are gonna be leading the charge on that again this year, so that we get that over the finish line and we get it done, so that then, you know, whatever process there is after that --
NNAMDI(overlapping) How about --
ROEM-- in terms of the feds, that -- to get, you know, dealt with. And lastly, Kojo, I'm also gonna continue making sure that we get teacher pay above the national average, not below it, and that we make Virginia --
NNAMDI(overlapping) But --
ROEM-- a more inclusive commonwealth --
NNAMDI(overlapping) But --
ROEM-- with --
NNAMDI(overlapping) But --
ROEM-- nondiscrimination policies.
NNAMDIBut you mentioned nothing about gun policy, and that's been a central talking point in this year's Virginia elections. Where do you fall on --
ROEM(overlapping) Yeah, well --
NNAMDI(overlapping) -- gun control and what do you think will happen?
ROEM(laugh) Well, I can just about assure you we'll get universal background checks, because the people have wanted it. And I will personally, you know, work with Delegate Rip Sullivan, who has been championing the extreme risk protection orders for example to make sure that people, who have a history of violence and are threatening violence to themselves or another person can't have the instrument and tools that it would take to, you know, kill themselves or kill another person.
ROEMAnd so I think it's wildly important in this case that we are looking at gun violence prevention policy from a data driven, existing precedent, you know, and standpoint here of what we seen in other states, especially other states where we've seen bipartisan success to get something over the finish line and something that actually works. And we know for a fact that extreme risk protection orders work. We know that they work. And so --
ROEMI would say that that needs to be the number one gun violence prevention policy and by the way the last thing to mention here is that for so many years, for 20 years the Republican majority has held up almost every nondiscrimination measure for LGBQ folks. We are going to treat our LGBQ constituents as full constituents, so that no one is ever singled out and stigmatized by the very people who are elected to serve them in the first place.
NNAMDIDanica Roem is the Democratic incumbent and house district 13, Prince William County in Manassas Park. She has apparently won her seat again. So if it's not too early congratulations, Danica Roem.
ROEMThank you so much, Kojo. And thank you, Tom.
SHERWOODKojo, it just shows what an amazing list of things the Democrats will have if they in fact take over the legislature come January.
NNAMDIRachel Bitecofer, what stands out to you so far, based on the results we have in. And given the fact that there's a Democratic governor, and it would appear soon to be a Democrat-controlled general assembly in Virginia, what can we expect in terms of gun control or anything else?
BITECOFERYeah, I mean, there should be a new sheriff in town when it comes to that. Most citizens don't understand, both at the state and the federal level, the way the separation of power system has bifurcated the policy apparatus, right? So you know, they do not understand why, say Elizabeth Warren became President of the United States next year, she would not be able to enact Medicare for all.
BITECOFERSo whether or not you support the policy is moot, because the Congress has to be the one that enacts the policy and passes the legislation, and the idea of it getting through the Senate is pretty, you know, far out, right? So I don't think many Virginians appreciate the reason that they haven't seen action on guns and they haven't seen action on minimum wage and they haven't seen action on transportation. But they're gonna suddenly notice when all of a sudden, you know, these issues are getting acted upon pretty robustly.
SHERWOODRachel, we haven't talked about Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. He's still under political pressure and personal pressure, with the two allegations of sexual misconduct. Do you have any sense -- I've been looking to see if he's been tweeting. I haven't seen anything yet. But you have any sense of what this will mean for him as the leader of the senate, as the lieutenant governor?
BITECOFERYeah, I mean, you know, Fairfax has survived a scandal that, you know, should be unsurvivable, right? It's a sexual allegation scandal. It's caught up in the dynamics of intersectionality and race. There is a segment of the population that doesn't, you know, line up clearly here, so it's not as clear-cut as some of the other me too, because the African-American community, especially in the Democratic Party, was deeply invested in the idea of him becoming governor, and there's a lot of division as to whether to believe the accusers in this case. I'm not saying I feel this way. I'm saying that's how the electorate feels.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) How big of a role are African-American voters in this turnout?
BITECOFERThey're very, very important, but the long and the short of it is, regardless of all of that, Justin Fairfax's political career, at the statewide level, anyway, is over. He will serve his time out in office --
BITECOFER-- but the idea of him being viable in the 2021 gubernatorial election, to me, that just does not seem like it's too likely to happen.
NNAMDIThe Hugo-Helmer race, according to The Washington Post, Dan Helmer is leading Tim Hugo with 78 percent reporting. Helmer has 53.6 percent, Hugo with 46.4 percent. I want to go back to Sarah McCammon at the Democrat watch party at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Richmond, Virginia. Sarah McCammon, are you there?
NNAMDIWhat are they talking about now
MCCAMMONWell, moments ago, I heard one of the speakers, you know, there's a lot of celebration, of course, with the Democrats taking the senate and hoping to take the house. There have been a -- you know, you can probably hear the applause and the cheers behind me.
MCCAMMONAnd we're -- we've heard the word "bellwether" tonight, which is, of course, something that, especially if Democrats take both chambers of the legislature, I think we're gonna hear more of (unintelligible). We're probably going to hear Republicans minimize the idea that Virginia's a bellwether, because this is a state that used to be a swing state, right, but has become more and more blue, as we've been talking about tonight.
MCCAMMONDemocrats want to point to their victories so far tonight as a sign that this is where the country's going. That this is a repudiation of President Trump. And you know, I have to say I just heard -- got a private message from a Republican source of mine, who is a Republican, long-time GOP member, not a fan of the president.
MCCAMMONBut said, "Trump effect," and said, "It's painful." He is attending a watch party for a delegate, who just lost despite, he said, running an excellent campaign and outspending his Democratic opponent. So I think we're gonna see a lot of analysis of this in the days to come, and certainly Democrats are pointing to this as a victory for something bigger than just -- than just their party here in the state tonight.
NNAMDIRachel Bitecofer, how important were economic issues for voters in this election? Do you think initiatives like raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour got Democrats to the polls?
BITECOFERNo. I mean, the economics right now are -- the country's economy is fairly stable, and really, one of the more interesting data points in our recent surveys from the Wason Center, we asked voters, you know, do you think things in the country are on the right track, do you think things in the commonwealth are on the right track.
BITECOFERSixty percent of people said things in the commonwealth are on the right track; 30 percent say the same thing about the country, all right? And that's Donald Trump right there. So it's just -- it's Trump, Trump, Trump, and although voters don't like to say that, they aren't likely to identify it as a main motivator for them in a public opinion poll, that is underlying everything.
BITECOFERAnd there's gonna be massive conversations about this being a referendum, too, on the impeachment, and I think that Democrats can take some comfort in seeing how the electorate has responded in the environment post-impeachment inquiry.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Joining us now by phone is Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Larry Sabato, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIWhat do you make of tonight's results so far?
SABATOWell, in Virginia it certainly is a big Democratic victory, and maybe Kentucky too. We'll see what the final totals are.
NNAMDIDo you think this is any indication of what we are likely to see next year in the general election?
SABATOWell, I don't think the Republicans were counting on Virginia's electoral votes. I don't think they're that foolish. So this is a confirmation of what has been building for a long time, even predating Trump.
SABATOVirginia turning blue -- you know, we turned purple from red, and it used to be deep red. We've gone through all the colors, and I think we're pretty settled on at least light blue, and probably a darker shade of blue.
SHERWOODLarry Sabato, Tom Sherwood. I don't -- what is it, not since 2009, no statewide Republican has won. Is that -- no, that's not right. Is it right, 2009?
SABATOYeah, no, that's absolutely correct. 2009 was the last time Republicans won anything statewide, which is absolutely remarkable. So --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) So what about the -- with the Democrats taking the house and the senate, who will be the lead -- we just talked about Justin Fairfax as the lieutenant governor who presides over the senate. But who will be leading the senate for the Democrats? Is it clear who that person will be?
SABATONo, there'll be a lot of infighting or maneuvering. But I think obviously you're gonna have Saslaw as the presumptive --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Right, that's why I was gonna bring his name up.
SHERWOOD-- leader of Democrats, and he's been around a long time so I think he's earned it.
SHERWOODAnd then Jennifer McClellan, I think she has just spoken there in the Richmond party, she's from the Richmond suburbs, state senator, former delegate. She was up here raising money for her PAC recently. Everyone's saying she's gonna run for governor. What about Terry McAuliffe doing a repeat, running again in 2021?
SABATOTom, I think he'd pretty much like to. It could be a very crowded primary. I've heard Jennifer McClellan, but there are quite a few people who are looking at it. Now, most of them won't run, but you know, the Democrats just had at one point 25 candidates for president. So if they could handle 25 candidates for president, I suppose they can handle four, five, six candidates for governor in a primary.
SHERWOODIs this gonna be a liberal general assembly, or just a moderate liberal -- what -- how is it gonna be seen?
SABATOI think it'll probably be moderate-liberal, in part because of Governor Northam. No one's ever called him -- at least that I've found credible -- to be a way-out leftist. That -- it doesn't fit him, that label doesn't fit him.
SHERWOODI think Lee Carter is the -- the delegate Lee Carter fits that role.
SABATOYes, Lee Carter fits that, but he's in a caucus of one or maybe two in the general assembly, so --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) He won -- he's apparently won reelection.
SABATOYes, I think he has won reelection.
SABATOYes. And actually, Democrats did very well in most places. Virginia Beach, I don't know about yet. I'm looking at some contrary results. But generally, as I look around the state, Democrats did quite well where you'd expected them to do well, which includes now the suburbs and many of the exurbs, and that's a Trump effect.
NNAMDII was about to say, do you think the specific enquiry into Donald Trump's impeachment has affected Republican candidates in today's elections?
SABATOIs it -- did -- you know, Republicans were expecting that to cause some kind of backlash to help them. It's difficult to say. They could always claim that, you know, Democrats are on the path to win 58 delegates instead of what they got. But I haven't seen any evidence, at least in Virginia, that there's been much of a backlash.
SABATOIf there was gonna be a backlash, it would happen in a deep red state like Kentucky, and it looks like the Democrat has eked out a win for governor. So I'd say that theory is full of holes.
NNAMDILarry Sabato is the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Thank you so much for joining us.
SABATOI've enjoyed being with you, and Tom Sherwood, good to hear your voice again.
SHERWOODGlad to hear yours.
NNAMDIAnd now joining us by phone is Phyllis Randall, Democratic incumbent for the Loudoun County chair of the board of supervisors. And Phyllis Randall, thank you for joining us.
PHYLLIS RANDALLThank you for having me.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that I should be saying congratulations to you. Is that correct?
RANDALLYes, I -- it was a victory tonight, so thank you very much.
NNAMDIWell, congratulations. Loudoun County is the wealthiest county in the U.S., and it's growing in size and diversity. What are your priorities for your next term?
RANDALLWell, so Loudoun County is actually the county in the country with the highest median income, but we do have people who still have needs. And so I want to continue to make sure that I see every single person in Loudoun County, and every single person feels important and seen and respected and heard, as I've always done.
RANDALLSo that won't change at all. There will be some changes we will have, because we've now flipped the board and have a 6-3 Democratic board. So you know, we will revisit things like the gun range shooting lines, we will revisit whether or not we will support the ERA.
RANDALLI will definitely put on referendum having a police department in Loudoun County versus just the sheriff's department. So there are some things that I will be looking at doing. But mostly, you know what, county government is about taking care of the people that you work for, and that's what we're going to do.
RANDALLI'm very proud of Loudoun. You know, as people say, Loudoun goes, and then Virginia goes. And the way Virginia goes, the country goes. And so this was a huge win for us in Loudoun County. And I think it foretells something that is going to be bigger for the country next year.
SHERWOODMs. Randall, this is Tom Sherwood. Congratulations.
SABATOThank you very much.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You ran -- John Whitbeck ran against you. He was the --
RANDALL(overlapping) He did.
SHERWOOD-- state party chairman. The race -- I watched a lot of the race online and different places. How would you characterize the race? It was -- it didn't seem to be very personal. It did seem to be focused on issues. But how would you characterize the contest that you've won so strongly, roughly 56 percent of the vote to about 40.
RANDALLActually, I won about -- I (unintelligible) a little over 58 percent.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Okay. Well, I don't want to slightly you one vote. I might be out of date here. But how -- it seemed that race, you talked about the future of Loudoun County, and you won strongly.
RANDALL(overlapping) Mm-hmm, yeah. So yeah, (unintelligible) year, the Republican Party of Virginia and has been a supporter of the president and his policies. And, you know, I think Loudoun County is just (unintelligible). It's trying to push away from some of those really negative, really divisive policies. It wasn't personal. I've known Mr. Whitbeck for years, and I very much respect the race he ran.
RANDALLHe ran an incredibly disciplined campaign, so it wasn't personal, and it really wasn't about me or even him. I think the people of Loudoun County just decided that they didn't want to engage or have anyone who does engage in those kind of negative, divisive policies that the president engages in (unintelligible) --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Can we see -- can -- thank -- thank you -- can we see you getting into maybe a statewide race in the next couple of years?
RANDALLWell, you know what, I'm gonna enjoy this victory for right now. This was -- we are about one hour into the victory, and so --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Well, that's long enough to start thinking -- that's long enough to start thinking about the future. I'm gonna put you down as a "maybe."
RANDALLWell, I'm gonna enjoy the night, and then when -- we'll talk about other things when they come. But let's enjoy the night first.
NNAMDIWell, thank you so much for joining us, Phyllis Randall. And once again, congratulations on your victory.
RANDALLThank you so much, I appreciate it.
NNAMDIRachel Bitecofer, let's talk about an issue that we have not so far -- abortion. What would it mean for abortion policy if Democrats win -- now that Democrats have won, it seems, both chambers?
BITECOFERI mean, it means -- I mean, truly, unless you have control of the gubernatorial power, you can't really change abortion policy. But it definitely is extra fortification, right? And the time that the Republicans controlled the legislature they moved towards more conservative abortion policy -- the, you know, vaginal ultrasound bill was passed, and you know, certainly has been a more hostile environment. And I think we're gonna see a much more friendly legislature to women's reproductive issues.
NNAMDII want to bring Sarah McCammon in on that one. Sarah McCammon, talk a little bit about what this will mean for abortion in the general assembly and in the state of Virginia.
MCCAMMONYeah, this was a pretty big issue here in Virginia this year. In fact, right before the blackface scandal with Governor Northam, just a couple of days before that, the big headline was about Delegate Kathy Tran's bill that would have removed some restrictions on later abortion, during the third trimester, and, you know, emergency, serious medical situations.
MCCAMMONThat created a real firestorm. The debate surrounding some of the rhetoric around that bill, which did not pass the legislature, by the way. It really kind of turned it into a national issue, and it's something that anti-abortion rights groups have tried to revive, both here in Virginia and in other states. And I think we'll hear more about, heading into 2020. But there was a lot of spending on this issue on both sides, a lot of canvassing. Planned Parenthood spent about $1 million, Emily's List spent about $2 million, backing supporters of abortion rights.
MCCAMMONOther groups, like the Susan B. Anthony List, which is an anti-abortion rights group, were here as well, sending out ads and mailers and canvassing. So as Rachel Bitecofer said, there's only so much that the legislature can do without the gubernatorial branch, but of course now it looks like Democrats may have it all.
MCCAMMONAnd so I think you'll probably see a greater push to expand abortion rights in Virginia, given that there has been a national tug-of-war on this issue in the past year. A lot of states and a lot of advocates are looking ahead to the way the Supreme Court has moved to the right. There may be changes to national abortion policy, and it's really gonna fall to state lawmakers to decide where to draw those lines.
SHERWOODHave -- Sarah, this is Tom Sherwood. Has Governor Northam showed up tonight, or Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, or Attorney General Mark Herring, any of them shown up at the big party?
MCCAMMONI have not seen Northam. He is on the list of people who's supposed to be here. I did see Lieutenant Governor Fairfax milling around, and you know, he's been really pretty quiet in the wake of his sexual assault scandal. Of course, and important to say he denies those allegations, but we haven't seen a lot of him, certainly on the campaign trail --
NNAMDI(overlapping) Got --
MCCAMMON-- but he was here milling around tonight.
NNAMDIGot to interrupt. That's about all the time we have. We've just about come to the end of this broadcast -- a special on Virginia Votes, a special WAMU presentation on today's elections in Virginia. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIRachel Bitecofer, we got a tweet from Defend Democracy, who says, "Tuned in from New York because of Rachel Bitecofer." Rachel Bitecofer is the assistant director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. Thank you so much for joining us.
BITECOFERWell, thank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Sarah McCammon is a national correspondent for NPR. She joined us from the Democratic watch party at the Hilton Hotel in downtown. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Salisbury University is reeling after four separate incidents of racist, sexually aggressive graffiti discovered in an academic hall.
Gifting, exchanging, and bartering are on the rise.
Researchers examined the economic outcomes of more than three million Americans, and they found that people who grew up in walkable areas were more likely to be able to move from the bottom to the top of the income spectrum.