Here's What to Watch for in Virginia Tonight

How to tell if Trump is helping Republicans and hurting Democrats.

We’re doing a special Tuesday edition of TNB tonight at 8:30 p.m.

We’re likely to have returns by then and can start understanding the results. If you want to get smart about what’s happening in Virginia and what it means for 2022 and 2024, tonight’s livestream is the place to do it.

Come and hang out with us, TONIGHT at 8:30.

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe listens to introductions while waiting to speak at a Get Out The Vote rally October 30, 2021 in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

1. Trump Is Rocket Fuel

After getting a backdoor win in 2016 (thanks Director Comey!), Donald Trump was really bad for Republicans. He cost them races all over the map. He lost the House for Republicans. He lost the Senate for Republicans. He was a drag on just about every ticket, nearly always running behind down-ballot R’s. And he was rocket fuel for Democrats: Trump was so unpopular that he became a turnout machine for Team Blue.

What we’re seeing in Virginia today suggests that Trump has finally gotten to a place where he is an unambiguous net positive for Republican candidates.

By the numbers, Glenn Youngkin should not energize the Republican base. He’s a plutocrat who treats the base like a bunch of dopes.

But when the returns come in tonight, watch how Youngkin does in the very reddest counties in Virginia: the places where Confederate fanboy Corey Stewart did great in the 2017 GOP primary.1 We’re not just concerned with the percentage of the vote Youngkin gets here, but the total turnout from these counties.

At the same time, watch how Youngkin does in the suburbs to see if he’s able to eat into the Democratic margins with college-educated, suburban voters.

I suspect that what we’ll see tonight is

(1) Youngkin getting high turnout levels in rural Trump country.

(2) While also making inroads with Democrats in suburban Northern Virginia.

If this happens, the most likely explanation will be that:

Trump is meaningfully on the ballot for Republican base voters—that he has succeeded in energizing them with his claims of election fraud, critical race theory, etc.

But that Trump is simultaneously not on the ballot for Democrats and swing voters, who view him as the irrelevant past with no connection to what they’re voting on today.

Historically speaking, this is very strange!

Nixon was not a net-positive for Republicans in the 1974 midterms (or the 1976 general). Republican voters were not energized by loyalty to Nixon and Democrats had not turned the page on him.

Ditto for Herbert Hoover and the Republicans of 1934.

All of which is to say that:

  • The linkage between Trump and Republican voters is something new.

  • It is unambiguously helping Republican candidates.

  • Democrats have no idea how to counter it.

Or at least that’s my working hypothesis going into tonight. But that’s the top level. Let’s look at the details.

2. The Numbers

In trying to understand the level of Republican base turnout for Youngkin tonight, look at the raw vote totals from the following counties and compare them with 2017:

These aren’t the most important counties in the election, but they’re the most heavily Republican mid-sized counties. If you see Youngkin going over, say, 30,000 votes in Hanover, that will tell us something.

It’s also worth watching the Youngkin vote share in these counties: Can Republicans go from winning by *only* +40 to Saddam Hussein-level margins of +50 (or beyond)?

There’s no law of physics which says it’s impossible for Republicans to win rural areas by 60 points. Or 70 points. With our ongoing educational polarization, that is absolutely a thing that can happen.

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