Consider this a bonus column to wrap up some late-breaking developments over the weekend as we head toward Election Day on Tuesday. My regular column today is “Seven questions that this election will answer.”
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Early voting suggests a near-record turnout on Tuesday
As of Saturday, 776,236 Virginians had cast ballots early, so, as expected, we had a big surge of last-minute early voters. We don’t know what percentage of the total vote the early voting will be, but in the congressional midterms in 2022 and the gubernatorial election in 2021, about one-third of the ballots were cast early — 32.8% last year and 36.1% the year before. If that percentage holds this year, that means the total turnout will probably be about 2,328,708. That would be comparable to 2019, when 2,383,646 people voted in the legislative elections. That was a heavy turnout year, with 42.4% of registered voters casting ballots, compared to just 29.1% in 2015 and 28.6% in 2011. As of the start of October, Virginia had 6,107,832 registered voters; that number is no doubt higher now. If my estimates of the total vote (based on the number of early votes) is correct, then we’re looking at a turnout of 38.1%, just a few percentage points under the 2019 record.
As I pointed out in my Thursday column, there’s still a lot we don’t know. Gov. Glenn Youngkin has pushed early voting hard, so we don’t know whether we’re going to see a higher percentage of people vote early this year. If so, then my estimate above doesn’t work.
We also don’t know who a heavy turnout benefits (heavy being a relative term; I’m measuring it against similar election cycles, not presidential or gubernatorial years, which always draw more voters). In 2019, that record turnout for this cycle clearly benefited Democrats — unhappy with then-President Donald Trump, Democrats turned out in large numbers (or, perhaps more accurately, voters turned out in large numbers and many of them voted Democratic). On the strength of that, Democrats were able to win both chambers of the General Assembly.
However, in 2021, we had a heavy turnout for the governor’s race — larger than any gubernatorial race in the Motor Voter Law era — and that benefited Republicans. Therefore, I’d still caution against drawing too many conclusions from the early vote until we’ve actually counted them. Remember that even in that record 2019 legislative turnout, most people didn’t vote. So let’s turn the question around: Who’s not voting this year? Regardless of the answer to that question, it seems safe to say we’re going to have a relatively big turnout for what is traditionally a low-voting cycle.
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House candidate defies court order after canceling children’s health insurance
On Saturday, The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress broke a remarkable story about Tim Griffin, the Republican candidate for a House of Delegates seat that covers Amherst and parts of Bedford and Nelson counties. The paper reported that Griffin “has been defying multiple court orders for months, as he now owes thousands of dollars in fees and payments after canceling his own children’s health insurance.”
In November 2021, a Lynchburg court ordered that Griffin “must pay his ex-wife and their two young children for health care coverage, spousal support and attorney fees.” The story went on to say that Griffin appears to have canceled his children’s health insurance two months later, and has repeatedly failed to make the payments ordered by the court. The grand total has now eclipsed $33,000.”
There was a time when a report like this would have been considered devastating and might have even changed the outcome of the race. That won’t happen here. Griffin is running in a district that voted 73% Republican in the governor’s race two years ago. Furthermore, his lightly funded Democratic opponent, Sam Soghor, has intentionally not focused on any of the other controversies swirling around Griffin — namely, whether he even lives in the district. Earlier this fall, Cardinal’s Markus Schmidt reported that some Republicans were so skeptical that they hired a private investigator to figure out where Griffin really lives. At a recent candidate forum in Bedford, Soghor never raised this, and closed almost all his speaking periods with “peace and love.”
A Democrat is hardly likely to win in this district in any case, but the questions surrounding Griffin’s residency would have seemed to be a prime target for an attack. Instead, this district stands as an example of what happens when districts are so lopsided one way or another — the decisive contest here isn’t this week’s election but the Republican convention in May that nominated Griffin. It doesn’t appear that the party has done much vetting of its candidate, but whose responsibility is that? The chairman of the Republican unit in Bedford County, home to most of the voters in this district, is none other than Griffin himself.
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Gilmore makes a comeback in Roanoke Valley Senate race
One of the most unusual developments in this year’s campaigns is the reemergence of the car tax as an issue, this time with Democrats pushing for it to be eliminated. (Markus Schmidt wrote in detail about this last month.) Some of us are old enough to remember 1997, when Republican Jim Gilmore won the governorship on the most effective campaign slogan I’ve ever seen: “No car tax!” The details are somewhat more complicated, since the so-called “car tax” — actually a personal property tax — is not a state tax but a local tax. His plan was to have state funding replace those lost local revenues. Part of the car tax got cut, but the rest of the tax remains. Neither Republican governor since Gilmore — Bob McDonnell or Glenn Youngkin — has made a push to complete the abolition, but now Democrats Lily Franklin, a House candidate from Blacksburg, and Trish White-Boyd, a state Senate candidate from Roanoke, have. Of the two, White-Boyd has made “no car tax” most central to her campaign.
During the Cardinal-sponsored campaign forum between White-Boyd and state Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, she mentioned she’d even talked to Gilmore about the idea. A recent White-Boyd mail piece features Cardinal’s coverage of the car tax — including a picture of Gilmore.
Lest voters be confused about who he’s backing, Gilmore recorded a robo-call for Suetterlein that phoned into many households in the district, along with a text message on Suetterlein’s behalf.
If you had told me 25 years ago that someday a future Democratic candidate would be favorably invoking both Gilmore’s name and signature policy initiative, I would have asked what you were smoking. Then again, I wouldn’t have predicted back then that I could walk into a store and be given a joint (see the lab test we ran on that “gifted” cannabis, which found it had an unhealthy amount of mold).
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Do Republicans sense an opportunity in Roem-Woolf race?
The state Senate race between Democrat Danica Roem and Republican Bill Woolf in the district that covers Manassas, Manassas Park and part of Prince William County hasn’t gotten much attention. This is a district that leans slightly Democratic — it went 51.5% for Terry McAuliffe two years ago. That doesn’t sound like much of a lean, but it still fell out of the range of the four districts that the Virginia Public Access Project ranked earlier this year as officially competitive based on prior election returns.
Last week, though, Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC put $500,000 into Woolf’s campaign. For context, last week’s campaign finance reports — filed before this donation — showed Woolf with $108,395 in the bank compared to Roem’s $16,832. That half-million-dollar drop is a lot of money, especially in a race where Roem has until now raised the most funds. Meanwhile, the Senate Democratic Caucus has put $400,000 in late money into this race. Does this suggest something is happening here?
I try not to rely too much on rating services but I notice a wide variation here. CNalysis, run by Chaz Nuttycombe of Blacksburg, ranks this district as “solid Democrat,” likely on the strength of Joe Biden’s margin of 26.7 percentage points in the last presidential race. However, the conservative Virginia Project site lists this district as a toss-up — along with the Danny Diggs (R) – Monty Mason (D) race in Senate District 24 on the Peninsula and the Russet Perry (D) – Juan Pablo Segura (R) race in Senate District 31 in Loudoun and Fauquier.
I notice that the Virginia Project may be conservative-aligned but isn’t predicting Republicans will win everywhere; it says that Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico County, is likely to oust state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico County, in their contest in Senate District 16. While analysts may differ in how they rate districts — a little more leaning here, a little more toss-up there — they’re almost always in agreement as to where the tight races are. Here, we have pretty wide agreement, which makes this one to watch. A Woolf upset in Senate District 30 would greatly enhance Republican prospects of winning, or at least tying, the Senate.
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What a difference a county line makes
I’m indebted to Staunton City Attorney John Blair for this observation, which he originally made on Twitter/X, where he tweets as “Stauntonian.” He points out that in Albemarle County one school board race — between Margaret Bryce and Allison Spillman — has so far cost $315,863 through Oct. 26. Meanwhile, across the county line (and across the mountain) in Augusta County, seven candidates running for four seats for the county school board have together raised only $14,605.
True, some of that is because the two candidates in that expensive Albemarle race are running at-large and the Augusta candidates are running in much smaller districts. Still, even in one of Albemarle’s district races — for the White Hall seat, between Joann McDermid and Rebecca Berlin — the candidates have raised $18,214 and $10,388 respectively. You’ll notice that McDermid’s cash haul is more than all the Augusta candidates put together. I’d gently suggest that the temperature in some school board races this fall is a lot higher than in others.
Some final reminders:
Polls are open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
If you’re trying to find your precinct, or a list of who’s on the ballot in your locality, see our election page.
In Tuesday’s column, I’ll offer some advisories on what to look for — and what to be wary of — on Election Day. And on Tuesday night I’ll be posting running analysis through the night as the numbers come in. If you’d like even more political commentary, you can sign up for our free weekly political newsletter, West of the Capital, that goes out every Friday afternoon.