In their reporting on the election returns, The Post’s Gregory Schneider, Laura Vozzella and Antonio Olivo captured the new reality for Virginia Democrats. They wrote: “In McLean, Sophia Lynn said she liked both Carroll Foy and McClellan — whom she described as ‘highly motivated and talented.’ But she ultimately threw her support behind McAuliffe to take on Youngkin, echoing anxieties that other Democratic voters have expressed about keeping Virginia blue. ‘This is a pragmatic decision,’ said Lynn, 60. ‘In the post-Trump era, we Democrats have to make pragmatic decisions.’”
“Pragmatic decisions.” Not swinging for the fences but backing candidates — save for ticket newcomer Del. Hala Ayala (Prince William) — who’ve already shown they can win statewide. Or, in Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s case, win twice.
Pragmatism is an entirely logical and defensible political strategy. It’s particularly so when Democrats have so much on the line this year — not just the state’s top three offices but control of the House of Delegates, too.
They have may helped themselves in the House, ousting two incumbents who also ran for statewide office — Lee J. Carter (Manassas) and Mark Levine (Alexandria) — as well as the outspoken Ibraheem S. Samirah (Fairfax). Jettisoning these three was a sure sign of pragmatism, a preference for candidates who are unquestionably liberal but less abrasive.
And pragmatism may also have carried the day in Ayala’s victory for the lieutenant governor nomination. Ayala had the support of party leaders, which helped lift her above the crowded field. But a late-breaking kerfuffle over campaign contributions Ayala got from progressive boogeyman Dominion Energy threatened to derail her.
It didn’t, of course. Aside from Ayala’s whiplash-inducing about-face on Dominion money, the episode showed Ayala is a believer in the ancient Virginia rule about special interest cash: If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, take their money and then vote against them, you got no business being here.
Alongside all that pragmatism are the “anxieties” facing Democrats. Donald Trump is no longer in the White House. What will they do without him?
If McAuliffe’s opening salvo is any indication, it’s to delay the inevitable move to something else as long as possible. McAuliffe used a portion of his victory speech Tuesday night to link Youngkin and Trump at the hip. McAuliffe said Youngkin, “literally, folks, has one policy, one — an election integrity plan based on Donald Trump’s conspiracy theory about the 2020 election.”
That policy still exists on the Youngkin website. So, too, does Youngkin’s Trump ad. Will these be problematic items for the political newcomer? In parts of the commonwealth, they absolutely will be. In others, not at all, as was vividly demonstrated in the 9th House District GOP primary, where former Trump campaign lawyer Wren Williams easily defeated longtime incumbent Charles Poindexter. Williams’ big issue? Election integrity.
McAuliffe and his ticketmates need something else to win in November. If history is an indication, McAuliffe will mount an aggressive air campaign that will attempt to define Youngkin as little more than a younger, taller Trump.
McAuliffe debuted this approach in the ad his campaign produced in the wake of Youngkin winning the GOP nomination.
The Youngkin campaign looks like it, too, will be aggressively defining the former governor. Its first general election ad features Carroll Foy doing what she did best during the Democratic primary: calling McAuliffe a failure who left the bulk of Virginia behind during his four years in office.
Both spots are tough, but fair — a lot like the results of Tuesday’s primaries and the May GOP nominating convention. In both cases, voters made the pragmatic choice to lead their statewide tickets.
Let the race to November begin.