Democrats are coming off of historic wins in the midterm elections of 2018. More Democratic women were elected to Congress , a number of longtime Republican incumbents were ousted, and seats were gained at every level from the House of Representatives down to state legislatures. With the wind at our backs, Democrats have already begun the race for the party’s nomination for President in 2020. Everyone from Senators and governors to mayors and private citizens have begun visiting early-voting states, raising money, and hiring campaign staff in anticipation of a crowded primary. The amount of candidates running in 2020 could easily eclipse the crowded 2016 Republican field, which necessitated two seperate debates for each scheduled event in order to allow everyone to make their case to the American people. While making predictions and strategizing for 2020 is exciting and offers a way to energize the Democratic base, we cannot lose sight of the important elections we face in 2019.
Virginia Democrats remember all too well the results of the 2017 elections. We swept all three statewide offices and picked up 15 seats in the House of Delegates. However, we came up a single vote short for control of the House of Delegates. A single ballot irregularity control of the House of Delegates to be decided by drawing a name out of a bowl. The Republican won the drawing, and Republicans now hold a narrow 51-49 majority in the Virginia House. 2019 is a chance to reverse that balance of power. There are 12 districts in the House of Delegates in which Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) , yet are . There are seven state Senate districts facing , and the Senate is also closely divided: the Republicans hold a slim 21-19 majority. 2019 does not have any statewide races on the ballot, so turnout will likely be significantly lower than it was in 2017, when the gubernatorial election drove turnout up across the state. This is a fantastic opportunity for Democrats to flip two legislative chambers our way and give Gov. Ralph Northam greater ability to enact a progressive agenda and counteract the destructive actions of the Trump administration. Overall, 2019 offers one of the best chances for Virginia voters to alter the course of Commonwealth politics and give Democrats total control of Virginia government for the first time .
Unfortunately, Democrats are finding a way to narrow their path as usual. The talk of the party is 2020. Who is running? Who is not running? Who will endorse and support whom? Going straight to 2020 and overlooking the state and local elections being held in 2019 is exactly what put the Democratic Party at such a historic disadvantage at nearly every level of government throughout most of the 2010’s. Democrats lost at the state level under President Obama. When including losses at the Congressional level and the statewide office level, that number breaks 1000. There has been a lot of focus on recuperating those losses so far, but the party needs to stay on target with that initiative. We cannot be a party that turns out every four years to vote for president and let Republicans dominate at every other level of government. We have made progress engaging our voters at other levels of government and in off-year elections, but more work must be done to further institutionalize voter participation in every single election for Democratic voters. We absolutely cannot afford down-ballot losses at the levels of the Obama years again. Every election, from president to school board, must see a sustained increase in Democratic turnout for the party to properly fight back against Republican legislative priorities year in and year out. There is no way for the Democratic Party to enact its agenda if they do not hold enough offices to make a difference.
2020 offers a fantastic opportunity for Democrats. The presidency, one third of the Senate, and every single House seat is up for election, as well as countless state and local races. However, the people running for these higher offices (usually) have to come from somewhere. If Democrats cannot win smaller races, they will not be able to field quality, experienced candidates for higher offices. We are already in a hole at the state and local levels as a result of the Obama years. Losses of that magnitude are unsustainable and decimate our bench for higher offices. Virginia Democrats cannot look forward to 2020 while overlooking 2019. They must stay on target and deliver the citizens of the Commonwealth Democratic control of the General Assembly.