Are Virginia Republicans prepared for it?
They’ve generally tried to keep social issues off the front burner in recent years and have attempted to run a no-drama, kitchen-table-issues campaign this year.
It’s been hard for them to stick to that script.
Republicans have engaged in destructive infighting, nominated some troubling general election candidates and are waging a costly write-in campaign for an otherwise safe House seat all while carrying the already heavy burden of President Trump on their collective backs.
And let’s not forget how they smash their own thumbs, as Del. Christopher T. Head (R-Botetourt) recently did when he told a group of GOP activists about the plan to shut down the special session on guns and “neutralize the conversation” by punting the matter to the Virginia Crime Commission.
“We needed to make it go away,” Head said.
It’s own goals like this that almost make one feel sorry for Virginia Republicans.
But before we put the final flourishes on the eulogies to the once-formidable Virginia GOP, it’s important to recall a small bit of election history that indicates Republicans might tarry a while longer on the main stage.
First, let’s address the obvious: Trump is the single greatest get-out-the-vote tool Virginia Democrats have had in a generation.
They hope the president will deliver for them a third time this November, giving Democrats control of the House and Senate for the for the first time this century.
But it’s asking a lot of even Trump to turn out the Democratic base in the commonwealth’s off-off year elections.
Virginia Republicans know this, and it should give them a small bit of comfort.
Back in 2009, when Republicans had their own amazing get-out-the-vote machine in then-President Barack Obama, they swept the top three statewide offices and expanded their House majority.
It’s been downhill on the statewide offices since then (here’s looking at you, Ken Cuccinelli).
But in the General Assembly, things have been brighter.
Yes, it’s entirely possible gerrymandering helped protect the GOP’s House advantage, at least until the 2017 blue wave almost swept them and their tailored district lines out to sea.
But, as Republicans recall, the Senate hasn’t always followed the previous election’s House results.
Heading into the 2011 elections, Democrats controlled the Senate, having taken control in 2007 thanks to the spirited campaigning of then-Gov. Tim Kaine and general voter weariness with Republicans.
With Obama overshadowing the field, and a pre-scandal Robert F. McDonnell still riding high in the governor’s mansion, Republicans made a determined run for the majority in 2011 and defeated two incumbent Democrats: Roscoe Reynolds and Edd Houck.
But they had to settle for a 20-20 tie.
This year, Democrats have a better chance to take the Senate than the House. In the House races, Republicans may be able to claw back some of the districts they lost in 2017, even as court-ordered redistricting puts a half-dozen or so GOP seats in peril.
For Democrats, November’s results might look similar to what Republicans saw in 2011: Taking one chamber, settling for a tie in the other.
But that does not take into consideration the influx of money and organization around social issues — LGBTQ rights and gun control in particular — and Republicans’ insistence on fumbling their message.
Add those to the mix, and 2019 could rewrite the history books.