If Simonds ultimately prevails, the result has the power to fundamentally reshape the political power structure in the state when Democratic Governor-elect Ralph Northam starts his term in January. Democrats will have more leverage to push for liberal priorities, with Medicaid expansion expected to be at the top of the list. It would be yet another blow for a Republican Party reeling from recent losses in Virginia and Alabama.
Virginia has long been labeled a swing state, but the recent election results may indicate that the state is becoming more favorable for Democrats. “I think Virginia is essentially a blue-ish state now. I don’t think it’s purple-ish, I think it’s blue-ish,” said Quentin Kidd, the director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.
It’s likely that Democrats made gains in the House of Delegates because liberal voters are energized to make a statement in the Trump era. Democratic candidates have consistently outperformed expectations in special elections in 2017, pointing to a surge in enthusiasm among Democrats. And while Democrats had been expected to win some seats in the House of Delegates, their recent 16-seat gain has stunned political observers.
A key question is how much of the recent Democratic success is due to Trump. In 2012, Chris Cillizza had Virginia on his list of nine swing states where that year’s presidential election “will be decided.” In 2016, Politico identified Virginia as a swing state in the presidential race and FiveThirtyEight included Virginia on its list of “purple states.”
Some political commentators, however, have argued that the time has come to stop calling Virginia a swing state. “Virginia over the past few decades has transitioned from solid red to blue,” conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin argued in The Washington Post in June.
Virginia has voted for Democrats at the presidential level in the last three elections and in the last two governor’s races. Currently, the state’s Senate delegation is made up of only Democrats. Under the Obama administration, though, the Democratic Party had a mixed record of victory and defeat. In 2009, Republican Bob McDonnell defeated Democrat Creigh Deeds in the governor's race, but Democrats went on to win every statewide race during the Obama years after that. In 2011, however, Democrats lost the Virginia Senate, and Republicans continued to have an edge in the upper legislative chamber. Over the course of Obama’s presidency, Democrats also lost a total of 11 seats in the House of Delegates.
“Virginia is trending blue, no doubt about that,” said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. “But we should keep in mind that in another off-off year cycle, 2019, Republicans may take back some of the seats they lost in this year’s local elections.”