Governor Terry McAuliffe in a speech earlier today said, essentially, that this week’s elections don’t “really change anything” in Richmond, from his perspective. After all, Democrats hold only 34 seats in the House of Delegates, so he was unlikely to find success regardless of the Senate outcome. “I wanted to win the Senate. I gave it all I have,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you know, it wasn’t going to make a difference really one way or the other.”
I’m sure the donors he cajoled into dropping millions into Virginia are just thrilled to hear that. Even if your money had bought a couple of Senate seats, it wasn’t going to matter anyway. Ouch. (Unless, of course, they knew they were giving this year to build infrastructure for next…)
The other standard line after Tuesday has been that the elections simply maintained the status quo. The Senate was 21-19 before Tuesday, and its 21-19 after. Just move along…
But is that reality? Did nothing really change?
Time will tell, of course, but I think the change is more substantial than meets the eye.
Two so-called moderate Republicans, John Watkins and Walter Stosch, were replaced by candidates that appear to be more conservative, particularly on social issues, and likely on fiscal issues as well. Both Glen Sturtevant and Dr. Siobhan Dunnavant are pro-life, and strongly so. And both stated they opposed Medicaid expansion during the campaign, something both Watkins and Stosch supported. They’ve indicated support for education freedom.
If nothing else, it appears that the Senate Republican caucus lurched a bit more to the right, perhaps a lot more.
This continues a trend that’s been happening for several election cycles. My first General Assembly session with The Family Foundation in 2003 found names like Chichester, Stolle, Potts and Wampler dotting – and controlling – the caucus. Conservatives were vastly outnumbered. Not anymore.
Of course, the Democrat caucus has changed as well. Gone are pro-life Democrats Chuck Colgan and Phil Puckett, as well as other more moderate members like Roscoe Reynolds. That caucus has lurched much farther to the left.
The deep cultural and political divisions that make policy making far more difficult are evident, and likely here to stay for a while.
Terry McAuliffe’s best spin on Tuesday's election may be that “nothing really changed,” but in reality it has. How that will affect 2016, and beyond, is anybody’s guess.