RICHMOND, Va. — It’s the final countdown on the campaign trail and all eyes are on Virginia.
Vice President Mike Pence came out two weeks ago to show his support for a number of Republican candidates for Congress. With a number of big names coming out to the Commonwealth, these races are getting in the national spotlight.
“National figures coming to pay attention to these races in Virginia just demonstrates the nationalization of elections. Elections, particularly for Congress, are not really about local issues anymore,” Rich Meagher, an associate professor of political science at Randolph-Macon College, said.
During the past presidential election cycles, Meagher says Virginia has been a mainly purple state, meaning voters are a mix up of Republican and Democrat. Nationwide, we’re seeing a potential blue wave in backing for candidates for the House of Representatives.
Meagher thinks the “stakes are higher for the Democrats” to get a seat at the table while President Donald Trump is still in office.
“There’s been a lot of national attention over particular Congressional races here in Virginia because they represent vulnerable Republicans challenged by strong Democrats,” he added.
There are a number of key races where Democratic women are trying to take the seats of Republican incumbents: the 2nd District race between Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Incumbent) and Elaine Luria (D-Candidate), 7th District between Rep. Dave Brat and Abigail Spanberger, and 10th District between Rep. Barbara Comstock and Jennifer Wexton (Virginia State Senator – Loudon County).
Following the Supreme Court of the United States confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, Meagher says there’s been more energy from women voters. That could play in these candidates favor.
“Women candidates in Virginia who are going to get a big boost from the anger that women feel, particularly democratic women, because of the treatment of sexual harassment claims in the Kavanaugh hearings,” he added.
Nationwide, Meagher says there’s also a major mobilization of vocal Democratic voters that are “driving the polls” because many are unhappy with what’s happening in the White House.
The Virginia Department of Elections is also anticipating high voter turnout. Currently, over 5.6 million Virginians registered to vote on Nov. 6. As of Monday, nearly 200,000 absentee ballots have been filled out and returned to local registrars’ offices.
Taking a look at the demographic of voters in Northern Virginia’s 10th district, Meagher says there are more Democrats in the district now. Wexton has notable name recognition because she’s won a number of other elections, so Meagher thinks she has a chance to take the seat.
“The national Republican Party have kind of pulled out some of the support they promised to Comstock, suggesting that they are really thinking about that race as almost lost,” Meagher said.
Moving over to the Eastern shore, there’s been some controversy over the race between Taylor and Luria because of the former Independent candidate, Shaun Brown.
She was in the news recently after Taylor staffers were accused of forging signatures to get her name on the 2nd District ballot this November. Her name has since been taken off the ballot. She was recently convicted of using a summer food service program to defraud the federal government of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Brown will be sentenced in March.
Despite this, Meagher says there were some problems with Taylor’s campaign but “they don’t seem to be sticking with him.”
“Taylor has a stronger hand to play there,” Meagher said. “He’s more likely to come through but his challenger Luria has shown some signs of a late surge.”
Arguably the closest race is between Rep. Dave Brat and Abigail Spanberger for the 7th District. The poll was released Monday and puts them at a statistical tie with Spanberger beating Brat by one percent (+/- 4 percent margin of error).
“Both national parties are seeing the Brat, Spanberger race as winnable. So there’s a lot of national attention, a lot of money, a lot of ads thrown on the airwaves,” Meagher said.
This race, in particular, could be the one to watch. Meagher says because there’s so much invested in it from both parties, whoever wins it could reveal how well the party does across the country.
“If Brat wins that race, that suggests the Republicans aren’t going to do as bad as they might elsewhere. If Spanberger wins that means good things for the Democrats and how well they’re going to be able to do,” Meagher said.
The results of these Congressional races, Meagher says, could be an indicator for the statewide races next year for the General Assembly.
An important point to note, though, is right now we’re basing these races off of polls. Meagher says these numbers might not be a true indicator of how well the candidates do on election night because the pollsters might not be taking into account new voters who will be casting their ballot for the first time.
“I think the gap between the Democratic what the poll suggests with turnout and what will happen next week is a lot bigger than what the numbers suggest,” Meagher said.
Election Day is Nov. 6. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you are in line at to vote at 7 p.m., elections officials say you will be able to cast your ballot. Click here to find out where you can vote.