What’s the difference between *this* massively hyped supposed 2018 bellwether election and the *last* massively hyped supposed 2018 bellwether election, the Handel/Ossoff special in Georgia? No, it’s not just scale, although it’s true that a gubernatorial race like tonight’s in Virginia is stronger bellwether material than a House race was. The key difference is whose turf the race was run on. Handel/Ossoff took place in a red district, with Democrats showering mind-blowing amounts of cash on Ossoff in hopes that he could steal Tom Price’s old seat and give the party a morale-boosting shot in the arm. He fell just short but liberals could take that in stride, reasoning that they never expected to win that seat anyway.
They do expect a win tonight in blue Virginia, a state with two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor and one of the very few battlegrounds last November to tilt towards Hillary Clinton. In the past 15 years, only two Republicans have won a race in Virginia for one of those four offices: George W. Bush in 2004 and, errrrrr, Bob McDonnell in 2009. The Democratic nominee, Ralph Northam, has led in almost every poll while the Republican nominee, Ed Gillespie, is saddled with a Republican president whose job approval is reliably below 40 percent nationally and in the low 30s in Virginia according to some surveys. Add all of that up and a Democratic Party that’s starved for significant electoral victories is facing a reckoning tonight: If we can’t win here, we can’t win anywhere. If Northam blows it, you’re going to see a liberal nervous breakdown this week second in intensity only to the one they suffered last November.
You’re also going to see endless hot takes about Gillespie supposedly having run a dirty race-baiting campaign. And not just from the left!
.@EdWGillespie was one of the good guys, but now he peddles fear and white nationalism. It’s better for VA and America that he not prevail.
— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) November 7, 2017
Gillespie did run ads targeting MS-13 and vowing to keep Confederate statues up but the most racially incendiary ad of the campaign came from the left, not the right. That was the one produced by Latino Victory Fund in the final few weeks showing a Gillespie voter trying to run down Latino and Muslim children with his car. How much did that ad matter in motivating angry Republicans to turn out? We’ll see:
“It played into the common refrain from the left that the right is evil” Robert Kinsler, a 33-year-old Alexandria business owner, told me
— Fenit Nirappil (@FenitN) November 7, 2017
Even if Northam wins as expected, lots of D irritation at LVF lobbing that grenade at 11th hour. https://t.co/8eaOzHsS59
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) November 7, 2017
Northam was sufficiently nervous about the effectiveness of Gillespie’s condemnation of sanctuary cities that he started to backtrack on his own support for them — leading him to be attacked as racist from the left. If Gillespie pulls it out tonight, tomorrow’s political news coverage will be a media frenzy of ripping into Northam for wimping out by tacking to the center on immigration and ripping into Gillespie for having abandoned his genteel establishment Republicanism (he’s an old Bush hand) for anti-immigrant, pro-Confederate Trumpism. And despite Northam’s persistent lead in the polls, Gillespie does have a real shot. He’s cut Northam’s lead in half in the last few weeks, from nearly seven points a month ago to just 3.3 now. And he famously hugely overperformed his polling in Virginia once before, falling just short of defeating Mark Warner in 2014 despite polls predicting a blowout victory for the Democrat.
Polls close at 7 p.m. ET. Decision Desk HQ is tracking results tonight, as always, which you can follow live statewide with the handy widget below or county by county at their website.
Jeff Blehar, who’s tracking the race for DDHQ, gave me this quickie preview of counties to watch in the early returns to know which way the wind is blowing tonight:
Chesterfield — An early reporting Richmond suburb. Gillespie narrowly won it 2014 while falling short statewide by less than 1 percent.
Henrico — Northam should be up by double digits. If tighter, uh-oh.
Virginia Beach — Gillespie needs to be winning by around 6.5.
Loudoun — If Gillespie’s winning Loudoun by 1-2% he’ll be governor.
Fairfax and Arlington are the key Democratic strongholds, notes Jeff, and both tend to report late. Gillespie will need a big lead early on to withstand the inevitable late Northam surge. The most unsatisfactory outcome to both sides, I assume, would be a shockingly narrow Northam win — a disappointment to Republicans in losing the race and a disappointment to Democrats given the margin in a state they expect to win handily. That result would leave both parties highly anxious about What This Means for the midterms next year. Because we seem to live in a world of endless political frustration for both sides, that’s probably the result we’ll end up with. Although, if this report of mega-turnout in Fairfax County is accurate, maybe Northam’s margin won’t be so tight after all.
The fastest way to get news on election night is via Twitter so I’m embedding the handy dandy election-media tweet widget here for your enjoyment. This race is big enough in bellwether terms that all of the cable news networks should be covering returns live. Put on some coffee.