But Randolph Macon College political science professor Lauren Cohen Bell says that view may be way off the mark.
“I don’t think the scandals are likely to have a huge effect on individual races this fall,” Bell said.
“Rather, the general assembly elections are likely to be decided by hyperlocal factors: Who are the candidates? Is the incumbent well liked? Who has the better campaign organization?”
In other words, the fundamentals still apply. That ought to come as a relief to Democrats, who ducked, bobbed and wove their way to the end of the General Assembly session.
And it’s something of a letdown for Republicans, who believed — not without reason — that the Northam/Fairfax/Herring debacles were priceless political gifts.
Bell said a key issue in the General Assembly elections has always been how many races are uncontested.
“Right now, of the 56 uncontested races in the House of Delegates, 35 of them are held by Democrats, and only 21 are held by Republicans,” Bell said. “Only 14 of the 44 contested seats are currently held by Democrats.”
Democrats, then, are recruiting more candidates for more races — expanding the playing field, and their chances, in November.
The federal courts have given them a leg-up, too, with new, court-ordered House district boundaries that could help Democrats flip up to half a dozen seats.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on those new district lines March 26.
But even with more candidates and better district lines, Bell thinks Republicans still “may have a slight edge” in overall voter turnout. And that’s because of the scandals.
“I am certain that the General Assembly Democrats would rather not have to be campaigning under the cloud of scandal in the executive branch.” Bell said.
“But both House and Senate races will be affected by the fact that the Virginia State Board of Elections has recorded about a half-million new registered voters in Virginia since 2015, and at least 200,000 since 2017.”
Bell said, “we know that the partisan skew of those who turn out (as evidenced in every election since then) has moved at least to some degree toward the Democrats.”
On balance, then, Bell said she would “probably give the Democrats the edge in November, barring any really significant changes between now and then.”
Which once again brings us back to fundamentals.
As Bell noted, turnout in Virginia’s off-off year elections drops precipitously from midterm election years.
“Over the last few cycles,” Bell said, “General Assembly election turnout rate has been about 29 percent statewide. If we hit that mark again this coming fall, that will mean a turnout rate that is less than half of the proportion of voters that turned out in 2018.”
With marginal voters out of the picture, that means the partisan die-hards and politically engaged independents will decide the General Assembly races.
And President Trump’s shadow will loom across the Potomac. How much of an effect he will have remains to be seen. He’s already changed the contours of the commonwealth’s political map. More profoundly, perhaps, than the scandals of the Big Three Democrats.
“Virginia has two Democratic U.S. senators, and seven Democratic members of the House of Representatives who are fresh off their 2018 campaigns and have huge name recognition,” Bell said. “I don’t think local Democrats are going to be hurting for star power.“
“I think the challenge will be for Republicans to figure out who are their best luminaries this year,” she said.
Virginia Republicans haven’t had a homegrown luminary in years. And their national choices? The less said about them the better on the Virginia campaign trail.