Political pundit breaks down Virginia’s role in the presidential election at Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce

Dr. Bob Holsworth spoke to member of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, December 14, about Virginia's role in the 2016 presidential election and what's to come in the next year.
Dr. Bob Holsworth spoke to members of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce Wednesday about Virginia’s role in the 2016 presidential election and what’s to come in the next year. (Amy Poulter)

It has been 36 days since Donald Trump was elected president. As the president-elect continues to make cabinet appointments and presidential promises, Dr. Bob Holsworth dissects them.

A managing principal of DecideSmart and the founding director of the Center for Public Policy, Holsworth studies the ins and outs of Virginia politics.

On Wednesday afternoon, Holsworth spoke to Southside residents about what role the state played in the election and what the state can expect next.

Virginia was the only southern state to turn blue on Nov. 8, and there’s a distinctive reason why, Holsworth said. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s lack of turnout played a role in swing states, but in Virginia, she won a by a slightly larger margin – about 5 points or about 212,000 votes – than President Barack Obama in 2012.

The bulk of Clinton’s state support came from Northern Virginia, or what Holsworth called the swamp that Donald Trump wanted to drain.

“Donald Trump lost Northern Virginia by 350,000 votes,” Holsworth said. “He could get every voter in rural Virginia and it wouldn’t make up for that loss in Northern Virginia.”

While Clinton led the vote in Norfolk by more than 40 points, President-elect Trump won Virginia Beach by 3.5 points, a margin one point higher than Mitt Romney had in the 2012 election against President Obama.

This year, rural counties voted predominantly Republican Holsworth said, which is far from what he saw 20 years ago. In 1996 when Bob Dole ran against President Bill Clinton, those same counties elected Clinton.

“Rural counties in Southeastern Virginia, with the exception of counties like Brunswick where there are large minority populations, was like the rest of the country – entirely red and red by large numbers,” Holsworth said.

What caused the shift in Southeastern Virginia and similar communities across the country? Holsworth points to a lack in economic growth for working class families and said that strategizing for regional progress by local officials is key to tackling that problem.

Next year, Virginia will be one of two states to hold a gubernatorial election. A new governor will be elected and Holsworth supposes that the outcome will serve as a “referendum on the first year of Donald Trump.”

“What does Virginia think? That’s how the election will be read,” Holsworth said.

To date, four candidates are on the ballot to take Governor Terry McAuliffe’s seat. Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam is the only democratic candidate, while three republican candidates – Senator Frank Wagner, Ed Gillespie and Corey Stewart – are running for the office.

“Republicans are lining up to run this year because they think this might be their best chance of winning a statewide race in Virginia,” said Holsworth, “because of the last 10 statewide races, democrats have won nine of them.”

Historically, voter turnout for gubernatorial elections is typically much lower than presidential elections. In the 2013 gubernatorial, 2.24 million Virginia residents cast their votes, compared to the almost 4 million who voted in the 2012 presidential election.

Holsworth said that voter turnout – which he said was underestimated by pollsters in November – will play a huge part in picking the next Virginia governor.

“For every 75 people that voted in the presidential election this year, 30 of them won’t show up to vote next year,” Holsworth said. “But, clearly Virginia will be seen as the epicenter of electoral politics in 2017.”

Poulter can be reached at amy@localvoicemedia.com

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Amy Poulter has lived in more than a dozen cities – including New York, San Antonio, Austin, Orlando and Jersey City – but she was born right here in the Southside. Amy graduated from Old Dominion University and worked for The Virginian-Pilot and Princess Anne Independent News before joining Southside Daily. Before working as a multimedia journalist, she was a professional chef and musician. In her free time, Amy enjoys listening to music, reading, spending time at the beach and chasing her two pups around the park.