‘I’m just trying to work very, very hard at it…’
(Liberty Headlines) Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox is a low-key retired school teacher who hasn’t faced serious competition since the first President Bush was in office.
Now he’s a top target of Democrats—both in and out of state—who have shoveled millions of dollars toward their best latest hope at flipping a red legislature—and with it the potential spoils of a 2021 gerrymandering coup.
Officially, many on the Left claim their added attention to the local races is simply looking to capitalize on voter antipathy toward the current resident of the White House.
However, their long-term designs on Virginia have been in place through a chain of outspoken left-wing leaders that included Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, as well as Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chair and Clinton campaign bundler.
A native New Yorker, McAuliffe (also a former business partner of Hillary Clinton’s brother) was dispatched to secure the crucial swing state for her in 2016, and delivered it after personally authorizing the restoration of voting rights of tens of thousands of felons.
Virginia Republicans have not won a statewide election in a decade. Still, the one conservative holdout has been its statehouse in Richmond.
Once a solid red, the GOP narrowly kept the majority last election thanks to a random name being drawn out of a bowl in an evenly-split district.
The implications almost became crucially significant after all three of the state’s top Democratic leaders—Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring—became embroiled in separate scandals involving racist blackface and rape incidents in their past.
The succession crisis threatened to put Cox in the governor’s mansion if Democratic party leaders had stood on principle rather than political expediency and acted on their early calls for Northam to resign. Instead, all three managed to weather the scandals, which have now fallen out of national headlines.
‘Bellwether’ … and More!
With each off-year election, Trump-fixated Democrats have doubled down on the stakes by claiming a would-be mandate against the president, as was evident in a special congressional election earlier this year in neighboring North Carolina.
However, Virginia’s legislative elections, one of four held in the year preceding the presidential election, have long become the marquee warmup for the election cycle, both a symbolic and a strategic victory given its proximity to the nation’s capital.
Several 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls have made stops in Virginia, and more are expected before Election Day.
Winning control of the statehouse would give Virginia Democrats control of both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office for the first time in more than two decades.
That would be the culmination of the state’s rapid political transformation. Demographic shifts and population growth in the Washington suburbs have weakened the political influence of the state’s conservative, rural areas.
These off-year legislative elections when there no statewide candidates running typically favor Republicans, but Democrats have other forces working in their favor.
Special Interest Bonanza
For Cox, this year has meant trying to hold on to his own seat while raising millions for both his race and to help his caucus.
“I’m just trying to work very, very hard at it,” he said.
Democrats—including billionaire California hedge-fund investor Tom Steyer pledged to invest heavily in the state.
Attack ads accusing him of being a shill for special interests are all over the airwaves in his Richmond-area district.
Meanwhile, Democrats are trying to paint him as a crony of President Donald Trump.
Cox’s opponent, Sheila Bynum–Coleman, recently had one of the biggest fundraising hauls of any candidate in the state and has several high-profile endorsements from advocacy groups spending unprecedented amounts on state legislative contests, including the Human Rights Campaign and Emily’s List.
Much of the Democratic messaging mirrors what party candidates are running on nationally, including increasing gun-control laws and fighting climate change.
Bynum–Coleman recently launched TV attack ads calling Cox too cozy with the National Rifle Association.
“You’d be surprised how much gun violence is going to impact this race,” Bynum–Coleman said.
Democrats are also are banking on the hope that impeachment efforts by U.S. House Democrats will put a renewed focus on the Trump presidency just ahead of next month’s elections. It’s unclear what effect that will have in Virginia, but polls have consistently shown Trump with a low approval rating in the state.
Republicans are largely trying to avoid being tied to Trump while attacking Democrats as backing a far-left agenda that’s out of step with most mainstream voters. Many Republicans, including Cox, are counting on their longstanding community ties to help diffuse anti-Trump energy.
Sue Till Blue
The state also has undergone forced redistricting courtesy of former Attorney General Eric Holder’s “sue till blue” strategy, which helped deliver several new congressional seats last year.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that found the GOP-led Virginia House illegally packed black voters into certain districts when they drew legislative boundaries in 2011, helping Republicans who lived in nearby districts.
The new map helps Democrats and dramatically shifts the partisan dynamics in several districts that were once safely Republican. Two of the state’s most powerful Republicans, Cox and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones, saw some of the biggest partisan and demographic swings.
Their new districts now include more inner suburban and urban precincts and fewer rural ones. African Americans now make up a third of Cox’s district, up from 18 percent.
Jones now represents a Hampton Roads district that is half African American, up from about a quarter.
“I do think [the new map] was targeting senior [Republican] members. Having said that, that’s over. I’m very happy with my district and I’m going to work my district hard—always do,” Cox said.
Cox is hoping his practiced habit of door knocking—the kind of political scutwork many of his colleagues seek to avoid or minimize—will pay off. He’s made door knocking part of his routine, even when not facing an opponent.
He’s hoping to hit 5,000 new homes in his district before Election Day.
Making the rounds in a newly added part of his district during a recent weekday afternoon, Cox kept his pitch short and largely politics free: He’s a retired school teacher who has worked to boost teacher pay, freeze college tuition and support veterans.
“If I can help you with anything, please give me a call,” Cox said to one potential voter before moving off to the next house.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press