The Republicans have Trump, and can always fall back on his messaging to rally their base. But in Virginia, the Democrats lack the one leader that can rally the base across the Commonwealth.
With all three of the statewide-elected Democrats serving in Virginia’s executive branch in politically compromising positions, candidates across the state have not been able to fall back on the momentum of the current political agenda and fundraising from the high profile party leaders.
Northam did give Democrats a talking point in regards to gun control after the special session was shut down in less than two hours by the Republican-led General Assembly. This will play well for Democrats in districts like HD-66, where Sheila Bynum-Coleman (D) is working to unseat House Speaker Kirk Cox (R) in the newly-redrawn boundaries.
However, not all Democrats will be able to use this to their advantage, like in Senate District 11, where pistol-packing Amanda Chase continues to try and use guns as a central issue to drive the base in the conservative district, even vowing to “shoot down” gun groups in a paid Facebook ad.
After his tough, scandal-ridden winter, it has been hard for Northam to get any momentum on other fronts. His PAC is still funneling money into races but he is making very few appearances as his own scandals still loom over each race.
Besides the money, the same goes for Lt. Governor Fairfax, who has been accused of sexual assault by two women, and Attorney General Mark Herring, who admitted to wearing blackface years ago. The executive branch that won in sweeping fashion in 2017 has proven to be more of a liability in 2019.
Earlier this year, Terry McAuliffe, jumped in to try to guide the party to another blue wave in November. But outside of his incredible fundraising skills he has yet to lead on messaging and building the party platform. To be fair, that is a hard task to ask of him as he is not currently running for any type of elected office.
The former Governor is still doing big events to help Democrats raise money across the state – including a recent appearance at an event for the controversial senate candidate Joe Morrissey (D).
U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) have been stumping hard for candidates across the state, providing motivating speeches at fundraisers and meet and greets. But in regards to policy and legislation, the Senators participate in such a polarizing D.C. environment with a completely different legislative agenda that is hard to consider them leaders for the state level Democrats on the issues.
This means that Democratic candidates are unable to mold their campaign in the likeness of any popular, high profile candidate. Instead, they must forge their own individual path towards a win.
The legislative areas that Democrats are collectively focusing on include fully funding public schools and providing affordable, quality healthcare for Virginians. Depending on the district, you might even find gun control as a top component in a campaigns communications plan, or somewhere closer to the bottom of the priorities for the more rural districts.
This means talking to individual voters, going to community meetings, taking phone calls and staying up late each night for call time. Many have forged a plan to craft their campaigns to the mold of their district, more than ever before.
I am not implying that the party is in chaos or disarray by any means, with Democrats repeatedly out-raising their Republican counterparts across the state.
The candidates are being tasked to reach directly to the voters, having to bypass the polarizing talking points to find out what needs to be changed in order to improve the day-to-day lives of Virginians.
We will find our November 5th if the issue based-messaging employed by the Democrats is more successful than the continuation of the Trump-like rhetoric from the majority of the GOP.