With little fanfare and almost no national attention, Virginians headed to the polls in local elections on Tuesday, and there was a stunning upset in one city that’s been dominated by Democrats in recent elections. Control of the Staunton City Council flipped from blue to red after a surge in turnout among Republican voters, and at least one local pundit believes that Gov. Ralph Northam’s anti-gun efforts are to blame for the massive increase in voter turnout that propelled conservatives to victory.
May elections have traditional been a hard nut to crack. Turnout is usually, frustratingly, in the 20 percent or less range, and it can be seductive to look at the relatively low vote totals of the winners and tell yourself, next cycle, man, all we’ve gotta do is get our side to come out, and we can steal this thing!
The tailwind for the Rs, dating back to the winter, was the tumult locally over gun-control legislation being advanced in the General Assembly by Democrats, who had run on gun control as a key issue in the 2019 legislative races that gave them control of the House of Delegates for the first time in more than two decades.
The political payback to Northern Virginia for flipping the House seemed poised to take out the pockets of D control in central, south and western parts of the state, as we all remember, in what seems like distant past now, the Second Amendment sanctuary movement, which was at its height in December and January.
As the Augusta Free Press‘s Chris Graham notes, Staunton voters backed Barack Obama twice as well as Hillary Clinton in 2016. Voters in the Shenandoah Valley city also backed Democrat governors Terry McAuliffe in 2013 and Ralph Northam in 2017, but this year gun owners and Second Amendment supporters were energized by the gun control bills approved by the Democrat-controlled legislature and signed by Northam just a few weeks ago.
Graham says not only did Republicans take control of the city council in Staunton, they also flipped the city council in nearby Waynesboro as well.
The candidate most closely associated with the sanctuary movement in Waynesboro, Jim Wood, came up well short in his challenge to the sitting mayor, Terry Short, though two other candidates backed by Republicans – Bruce Allen and Lana Williams – won seats to give conservatives a working majority on Waynesboro City Council moving forward.
The conservative slates in both cities ran as a unit and highlighted the Second Amendment as a key issue in their campaigns.
Bottom line is that the strategies worked, flipping both from D to R, but the change in Staunton is stunning almost beyond words.
These local anti-gun city council members had to run for re-election without the help of Michael Bloomberg running millions of dollars in campaign ads to bolster their campaigns, and without the financial largesse of the gun control movement’s billionaire sugar daddy, their efforts weren’t enough to overcome the surge in turnout by Second Amendment supporters.
What does this tell us about how Virginia might vote this November? I’d say it’s good news for Republicans hoping to oust Rep. Abigail Spanberger in the 7th Congressional District, and could signal problems for the Rep. Elaine Luria in the state’s 2nd Congressional District as well. Both Democrats were elected in the 2018 blue wave election, but represent districts that have traditionally voted more conservatively. If gun owners turn out in November like they did in this week’s local elections around the state, they could have a decisive impact on a number of races in the state.
Tuesday’s election results also demonstrate that the anger and pushback to Ralph Northam’s gun control agenda hasn’t dissipated or disappeared, and once his gun control bills become law on July 1st, I suspect that they’ll become an even bigger drag on Democrat candidates in much of the state. State legislators aren’t up for re-election in Virginia until 2021, but they too are paying close attention to this week’s election results, and the incredible turnout on the part of pro-2A voters may lead a few of the rural representatives to continue to take a more cautious approach to Northam’s future plans, which includes re-introducing a sweeping gun, magazine, and suppressor ban in the next legislative session.
Gun owners should be proud of their grassroots efforts in the build up to this week’s local elections, and I hope that they’re even more energized and engaged as we head towards Election Day in November. We’ve demonstrated that it’s possible to oust anti-gun politicians and elect officials who will respect our Second Amendment rights, but we can’t let up now.