U.S. Rep. Bob Good. Courtesy of the Good campaign.

Some Republicans are second-guessing the campaign they just ran. Namely, should they have talked less about abortion and more about other things? More to the point, should they have aligned the party around Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposal to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy? Or, in the preferred Republican campaign terminology, should they have said they’d have allowed abortion up to that point?

Those Republicans believe they’d have run better — and won more seats — if they’d focused more on taxes, crime, schools, anything other than trying to defend Youngkin’s proposed restrictions.

U.S. Rep. Bob Good, R-Campbell County, believes otherwise. He doesn’t think Republicans went far enough. 

In a video interview with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, Good criticized Virginia Republicans for being too timid: “What was the state of Virginia’s political leadership position on abortion? ‘We’re okay with 94% of abortions because we want a 15-week ban.’ And the Democrats, the other side, wants 100% of abortions. So we’re going to rally in the red areas and the conservatives and the red base to fight for 6% of abortions. And I submit that’s the reason why we had low red turnout in Virginia.” 

Is Good right? Not about abortion — you can figure out how you think about that — but about his contention that there was “low red turnout in Virginia.” That’s a matter of math, not morality, so let’s see what the math shows.

Are there really Marxists in Richmond?

An addendum today: As Cardinal’s Markus Schmidt reports, John McGuire — just elected last week as a state senator — is now running again, this time against Good for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District. In hindsight, it seems clear that McGuire, who ran unopposed this fall, just spent the autumn organizing part of that district while Good was in Washington helping to bring down the speaker of the House.

John McGuire.
John McGuire.

I’ve postulated before that McGuire could pose a strong challenge to Good. McGuire is running as an unabashed Trumper — and accusing Good of “betraying” Trump by endorsing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Good has also angered some Lynchburg Republicans by getting involved in local politics there, opening the door for McGuire to pick up some support in Good’s backyard. This seems an unforced error on Good’s part; every politician should have his home area locked up — Good has made himself vulnerable to poaching.

Will we see other candidates now jump into the race? A more center-right candidate might think that a Good-McGuire battle will split the right-leaning vote. Of course, it could also split the anti-Good vote.

In the meantime, I can only marvel at McGuire’s contention that “Marxist Democrats now control the Virginia General Assembly.” Liberal Democrats? Absolutely. But Marxists? Really? Once again, we have some math: The new caucus chair of Senate Democrats – Mamie Locke of Newports News – received 71% of her campaign contributions from business interests. The new Speaker of the House – Don Scott of Portsmouth – counts 53% of his campaign contributions from business interests, and that’s on the low side among House Democrats. I may be misremembering the class on Marxist-Leninist theory I took years ago as part of my political science degree from James Madison University, but I’m pretty sure that business groups wouldn’t be giving so much money to real Marxists. 

First, Republican turnout obviously wasn’t high enough in enough districts, otherwise they’d have won a majority. However, the overall results aren’t persuasive — maybe Republican turnout was high but Democratic turnout was higher? That means we really need to define what constitutes “high” and “low” turnout. We have metrics for that!

The Virginia Public Access Project says that 39% of those registered to vote in Virginia this year cast ballots. That may sound low but, in context, it’s actually quite high. This year’s election cycle always produces the lowest turnout of any set of Virginia elections. This year’s turnout was the second-highest on record since voter rolls expanded in the 1990s with the advent of the Motor Voter Law. The record was four years ago, when turnout hit 42% in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, but before that, this cycle produced turnout of 29.1% in 2015, 28.6% in 2011 and 30.2% in 2007. 

This means that, when viewed in context, Virginia this year saw a high turnout election for this cycle. And while Republicans lost, they didn’t lose by much. Democrats won the bare minimum of seats they needed to win both chambers of the General Assembly. They needed to win three seats in the House; they won those three and no more. In the Senate, they actually lost a seat. That means out of 140 legislative seats, Democrats saw a net gain of just two. That’s not a blue wave by any means. Given the closeness of the results, it seems unlikely that the problem was a “low red turnout.” Virginia’s new redistricting map tilted slightly Democratic; Republicans won almost all of the most competitive races. If they’d won just one more House seat and one more Senate seat, things would be very different.

Still, it’s good to see actual numbers, so let’s look at some. Once again, we’re indebted to the Virginia Public Access Project for compiling these numbers. 

Four of the five House districts with the highest turnout voted Republican, as did 13 of the top 20. Of the 20 House districts with the lowest turnout, 14 voted Democratic.

The highest voting House district was House District 30, covering parts of Fauquier and Loudoun counties, where Republican Geary Higgins defeated Democrat Rob Banse. The turnout there was a whopping 56%. The second highest was House District 57 in the Richmond suburbs where Republican David Owen defeated Democrat Susanna Gibson; turnout there was 55.4%. In both cases, turnout was higher than the statewide turnout in any gubernatorial election in the Motor Voter era — and in both cases, Republicans won. That does not sound like “low red turnout.”

The closest House race in the state — House District 82 in the Petersburg area, where Del. Kim Taylor, R-Petersburg, edged Democrat Kimberly Pope Adams by just 74 votes — had the 23rd highest turnout in the state, with 44%. Since the Republican won there, I’m more inclined to say the problem here wasn’t low Republican turnout but low Democratic turnout, at least comparatively speaking. To get a true comparison, we have to look at how districts performed in the same cycle four years ago. However, districts have changed since then, so we really need to dig deeper — to look at individual localities or, even better, specific precincts. When I do that, I see that Adams, the Democratic candidate in 2021, ran slightly behind where her Democratic counterpart ran four years ago in some places. For instance, the Democratic candidate’s best precinct in Dinwiddie County four years ago was Chesdin, where Lachrese Aird took 726 votes. This year, Adams won 672 votes there, a shortfall of 54 votes. In the Church Road precinct, Aird took 174 votes, Adams took 156, a shortfall of 18 votes. If Adams had run even with Aird’s totals — and had picked up three random votes elsewhere — she’d have won.

Here’s another way to look at the data. There were 39 House districts where turnout exceeded the statewide figure; in 26 of those, Republicans won. In the Senate, there were 15 districts where turnout was higher than the statewide rate; Republicans won nine of those. Put another way, where there was higher turnout, Republicans tended to win. That said, the two Senate districts with the highest turnout went Democratic — Senate District 31, which covered parts of Fauquier and Loudoun counties, had a turnout of 53.1%. There, Democrat Russet Perry defeated Republican Juan Pablo Segura. In Senate District 16 in the Richmond suburbs, turnout hit 52.1%, and Democrat Schuyler VanValkenburg defeated Republican state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant.

Was there “low red turnout” in those two districts, which made the difference between a Democratic majority and a Republican majority? Given the unusually high size of the turnout, and the margins in both races, I’m not inclined to say Republican turnout was low — it just wasn’t high enough. Instead, both these districts performed exactly as history suggested they would. The precincts in Senate District 30 voted 52.7% for the Democratic candidate for governor two years ago; they voted 52.7% for the Democratic candidate for Senate this year. Likewise in Senate District 16, those precincts voted 54.6% for the Democratic candidate for governor two years ago; they voted 54.7% for the Democratic candidate for Senate this year.

None of these numbers scream “low red turnout” to me. On the contrary, I could easily make the argument that Youngkin did a pretty darned good job of getting Republicans to the polls — he was just up against a difficult redistricting map. Republicans actually lucked out. Given all the close races that broke the Republican way, it’s possible that Democrats could have won six more House seats and three more Senate seats. That’s no consolation to Republicans who now find themselves in the minority, but things could have been a lot worse. It looks to me as if Youngkin’s strong push for early voting may have saved Republicans from what could have been a wipeout.

Now, all this dances around the real question Good is getting at — that Republicans should have taken a stricter position on abortion. Would that have inspired some Republicans who didn’t vote to show up at the polls? Or would it have repelled some voters even more, and inspired an even bigger Democratic turnout? All I can do is point to the one example we have. House District 21 in Prince William County was rated one of the most competitive districts in the state. Youngkin carried the precincts here with 51.37% two years ago. This year, the Republican candidate, John Stirrup, said he backed what he alternately called a “100% ban” and a “total ban.” He lost, making him what appears to be the only Republican to lose a district that Youngkin previously carried.

In this week’s ‘West of the Capital’

Want more political commentary? You can have it! I write a weekly political newsletter, West of the Capital, that goes out Friday afternoon. This week I’ll look at next year’s congressional races and also some things we’re still learning about this year’s elections. I’ll also have some things to say about civility in Virginia politics. You can sign up for West of the Capital and any of our other newsletters for free.

Yancey is editor of Cardinal News. His opinions are his own. You can reach him at dwayne@cardinalnews.org...