Election preview: How Virginia fits into the national fight for political power

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — When Virginians cast their ballots on Election Day, the state is expected to lean blue in key races but others are still considered toss-ups.

Democrats are hoping to maintain the voter enthusiasm that has handed them big wins in the wake of President Donald Trump’s 2016 upset. Republicans in Virginia are also banking on big turnout, partially in reaction to a slew of recently passed progressive policies on gun control and policing.

After spending the last few presidential races in the spotlight, Virginia appears to have lost its status as a key battleground state this time around–signaled by reduced spending on advertising and fewer high-profile campaign stops.

Since the general election began, President Donald Trump has paid one in-person visit to the commonwealth, holding a rally in Newport News in September that was partly intended to get the attention of voters over the border in competitive North Carolina.

Former Vice President Joe Biden hasn’t returned to the Old Dominion since winning the Democratic primary, though his wife Jill Biden, running mate Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Emhoff have all touched down in Virginia.

Nationally, pollsters are favoring a Biden win that is expected to include Virginia’s 13 electoral college votes. A Roanoke College Poll released on October 31st shows Biden with an 11-point lead over President Trump in the state–a statistically significant edge.

8News Political Analyst and Randolph-Macon College Professor Rich Meagher said demographic changes have contributed to the liberal shift in recent years.

“Virginia is becoming more and more demographically diverse and those voters are Democratic,” Meagher said. “After years of voting red in national elections, in the past few races, Virginia has been solidly blue. So this year, we expect no different. It should be a clear win for Joe Biden in the national election.”

If Biden does win the presidency, Democrats would still need a net gain of three Senate seats to win control of the chamber. With a Trump victory, Democrats would need four new seats since the vice president is the tie breaker in a possible 50-50 split.

In Virginia, Meagher expects incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner to keep his seat, as polls show him outpacing his Republican challenger Daniel Gade.

“Warner very narrowly won six years ago and so the thought over the last few years was that he would be vulnerable when he was up again but things have changed,” Meagher said. “It shows just how strongly the state tilts towards the Democrats.”

Republicans are not expected to win back control of the House overall but, here in Virginia, the party is trying to roll back recent Democratic gains.

Meagher said Republicans have a chance of taking back two of the three congressional districts that flipped from red to blue in 2018. In District 7, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, the incumbent Democrat, is in a tight race with Republican Del. Nick Freitas. Democratic U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria is facing Republican Scott Taylor in a narrow rematch for the fate of District 2.

Even so, Meagher said all eyes are on District 5 this season– a historically red district where polls are too close for comfort. He said if Democrat Cameron Webb can beat out Republican Bob Good it will likely be part of a larger trend.

“If Webb does pull off the upset in that race, that suggests that it is going to be a huge night nationally for Democrats,” Meagher said. “It will be a bellwether to show us just how strong this turnout surge for Democrats is this year.”

Especially when it comes to close congressional races, there is a good chance the results will not be clear by the end of Election Day. The state will continue to count absentee ballots through noon on Friday, Nov. 6.

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