With all the emphasis on the presidential race, less emphasis has been given to the political impacts of the national elections on this region. Here we examine what this year’s election means for Virginia, Maryland and D.C.
President Trump’s “drain the swamp” and other attacks on the Washington community complicated local, state and federal cooperation. In the short term, at least, with Democratic administrations in D.C. and Richmond and a Republican governor in Annapolis willing to work across party lines, there will be greater prospects for regional and federal cooperation on critical state and local issues.
Maryland’s gerrymandered district lines produced the expected results in the down-ballot congressional races. Each of the eight incumbents handily defeated their challengers. Even Kimberly Klacik, who captured the national spotlight and amassed millions from out-of-state donors, managed only a marginally better showing in the 7th Congressional District than the Republican nominee from the previous cycle.
But plenty of competition will come to Maryland in 2022. On their end, Maryland Democrats boast a deep bench of differentiated talent. Their primaries, particularly for governor and state comptroller, will be hard-fought and high-dollar and reflect the ideological diversity found in national Democratic politics. Maryland Republicans, on the other hand, must somehow find the balance between a base that embraces Trumpism and the majority of Maryland voters who flatly reject it.
It’s unclear what the 2020 election means for Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) presidential ambitions. The projected large-scale rejection of Trump, which would have illuminated a clear lane for the center-right governor, didn’t materialize. But Hogan remains one of only a handful of Republicans unscathed by the outgoing president. The next few years will determine whether GOP voters and donors view this as a distinctive or disqualifying attribute.
Democratic dominance continues to define Maryland politics. Democrats won by around 30 points statewide and increased their 2016 vote shares in the crucial battleground counties of Baltimore and Anne Arundel. Frederick County was flipped blue for the first time.
With no major upsets, the big story of the elections for D.C. did not involve a seat on the D.C. Council or Board of Education. It was the impact of the Senate elections on the D.C. statehood movement. Here we see a typical mixed-bag outcome.
On one side, the nation’s capital will have friends and potential statehood supporters in the Biden administration. As with recent Democratic administrations, the incoming team probably will be supportive of local autonomy and interests. On fundamental relationship grounds, this is a big win for D.C. Trump has regularly criticized D.C. as a corrupt “Democrat run” city and has gone back and forth with Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) during his presidency. With her local ties, Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris will be important in deepening ties between D.C. and the administration.
On the other side, however, statehood supporters saw the outcome as a missed opportunity to add a star to the American flag. It was always going to be an uphill climb with a slim Democratic majority. The lights dimmed considerably as the Democrats lost all of the toss-up contests in which they were positioned to win. Though two Senate seats will be decided in January runoff elections in Georgia, the Democrats would have to win both races to have even be a serious chance for a statehood bill to be considered in the Senate.
Virginia’s blue wave continues, with Democrats achieving double-digit wins in the presidential and senatorial races, as well as prevailing in two of the three competitive House of Representatives races (2nd and 7th districts). Joe Biden was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win Chesterfield County and Lynchburg since 1948, and Virginia Beach since 1964.
No Republican running statewide has won in Virginia since 2009. Elections next year for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general will be telling whether Virginia genuinely is blue now. If the historical pattern holds, 2021 should be a good year for Republicans. Only once since 1976 has Virginia elected a governor of the same party as the president elected the previous year — in 2013, when the GOP put up a rigidly conservative ticket.
Much will depend on the ticket advanced by Virginia Democrats. Outside of Northern Virginia and some university towns, Virginia has never been hospitable territory for Democrats who lurch left. Virginia 7th District Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) notably warned her party that “defund the police” and other far-left appeals hurt Democrats down-ticket this year and will hold the party back beyond this election cycle.
The Virginia GOP no longer is weighed down by Trump, whose term has been a disaster for the party, as Democrats swept state and local elections in 2017 and 2019, as well as picked up three House seats in the 2018 midterms. With a mainstream GOP ticket, Virginia could be not only competitive next year but also a national bellwether for measuring the political standing of the Biden administration.