Consider this scenario. A state holds its elections one year before an unpopular incumbent president is up for reelection. Some candidates won’t even commit to supporting the president’s reelection bid for fear of it hurting their own chances.
When the ballots are counted, the president’s party loses control of the state senate, which means the other party controls the legislature and the governor’s mansion. Pundits say that the outcome of Virginia’s election is a bad omen for the president.
Wait, isn’t this what just happened in Virginia this week? And surely the fact that Republicans have lost control of a state they long dominated is very bad news for President Donald Trump’s reelection effort, isn’t it?
Not so fast.
The above scenario, in fact, took place in 2011, when President Barack Obama was in the White House. Republicans scored a win in Virginia that gave them more sway in Richmond than, as one news report put it, “they’d had since the Civil War.”
At the time, Obama’s approval rating had been plunging, after making a temporary uptick in the wake of the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
Democrats were already beginning to worry about his reelection chances, and the Virginia results gave them more reason to worry.
There was even rampant speculation that Obama would dump Joe Biden as his running mate for Hillary Clinton to save his flagging hopes of a second term.
Liberal journalist Jonathan Alter wrote at the time, “If it’s clear that Democrats need to do something dramatic to avoid losing the White House, the Switcheroo will happen.”
Alter went on to say that “The Democrats’ message would be: ‘Vote for Obama if you want the Clinton economy back. Vote for Romney if you want the Bush economy back.’ That’s a compelling enough argument to make an imperiled president do something he would hate — let Bill Clinton drag him over the finish line.”
Obama’s popularity was at its lowest ebb. His average approval rating on Nov. 1, 2011, was just 44%, according to Real Clear Politics. That was down from the stratospheric 65% shortly after he was elected. Fifty-one percent disapproved of the job Obama was doing.
Turns out that Trump’s RCP average approval rating just before the Virginia elections this year was nearly identical to Obama’s at this point: 43.3%.
That’s almost exactly where Trump’s approval was the day he took office. And Trump’s numbers are despite the swirl of impeachment, on top of relentlessly negative media coverage. In fact, Trump’s average approval rating is 6 points higher than it was two years ago.
Everybody knows how Obama’s story played out. He went on to soundly defeat Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
The lesson here is that Virginia’s election isn’t by itself a sign of anything. And that a lot can happen in 12 months when it comes to presidential politics. If Trump survives impeachment intact, the economy is still chugging along, and Democrats put up a weak, or a far-left, candidate, he could win decisively next November.
For Democrats, the lesson is that just because they control Virginia now, it doesn’t mean they will forever. Republicans lost the Virginia governorship in 2013, and then the House, and now the Senate.
But given the pent-up desire by Democrats to push far-left policies on a traditionally moderate-to-conservative state, they could easily find themselves in the minority again in the Old Dominion. And with Trump still in the White House.
— Written by John Merline
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