Virginia Democrats say 2017 was about convincing people state races are important; 2019 is about beating GOP gerrymandering

By Davis Burroughs

September 24, 2019

Democrats in Virginia are back to finish the job they started in 2017, according to journalist Paul Rosenberg.

In article for Salon, Rosenberg looks back at how Democrats surged from a quiet minority to coming “within one disputed ballot and a random drawing of sharing power” in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017. In flipping 15 House seats that year, Rosenberg writes, Democrats’ victories served as an “an early harbinger of the 2018 blue wave,” across the country.

Can it happen again?

With only two seats needed to flip each chamber and a court-ordered redistricting on their side, Democrats are in their best position to win control of the House and Senate than they have been in 26 years (when they last held majorities in the Commonwealth’s bicameral legislature).

The same outside forces that got them to this point are back, and arguably, stronger than ever before.

Swing Left, a national grassroots organization, was instrumental to Virginia Democrats’ gains in 2017. This year, the group has already raised over half a million dollars for to support the 15 campaigns it targeted in Virginia. Swing Left also merged with Flippable, a similar organization that won five of eight races it targeted in 2017.

“We spent a lot of time in 2017 just trying to convince people that state races exist and are important,” said Catherine Vaughan, co-founder of Flippable and chief strategy officer with Swing Left told Salon.

Matt Caffrey, Swing Left’s Eastern field director, said he’s finding volunteers are hyper aware of Virginia’s elections, and they know this is their first opportunity to beat GOP gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering, the practice of redrawing electoral lines for political gain, often along racial lines, mostly benefited state Republicans in recent years. In the 2017 House of Delegate elections, for example, Democrats won the popular vote by over 9 percentage points, but still fell short of winning the majority in the chamber.

A federal court struck down that gerrymandered House electoral map last year, ruling Republicans had packed too many black voters in the same districts, thereby diminishing their voting power. The three-judge panel appointed a special master to draw a fair replacement map that is in play for 2019.

“The single biggest thing that we’re encouraging folks to do is our letter-writing program,” Caffrey said. “We’re going to be aiming for 150,000 letters into Virginia to likely Democratic voters who don’t always vote… to say this election is too important to sit out.”

All 140 seats in the House and Senate are on the ballot this November and a record number of Democratic candidates are running in both the state House and Senate elections, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. 

Democrats are running on promises to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, protect and expand access to affordable healthcare, restore voting rights for hundreds of thousands of ex-felons, and — in the wake of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach — finally pass gun safety legislation.

Democrats think these positions will propel them to victory. And with a record number of candidates, historic levels of outside support and a more favorable electoral map, there are many reasons to believe them.

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