How Virginia's elections have shifted between Democrats to Republicans, in maps – Washington Post – The Washington Post
The last time Virginia voters selected a governor, a year after Donald Trump was elected president, Democrat Ralph Northam posted large margins in rapidly growing urban and suburban areas, netting a decisive victory over Republican Ed Gillespie.
It surpassed Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s narrower win over Ken Cuccinelli in 2013, which included smaller margins in Northern and Central Virginia and Hampton Roads. McAuliffe is seeking another term this year.
And only 12 years ago, Republican Bob McDonnell won the governorship handily. Less than a year into Barack Obama’s presidency, McDonnell limited Democratic margins across the state, winning most counties.
Now, less than a year into the Biden presidency, Republican Glenn Youngkin is seeking to reverse the recent trend toward Democrats in one of America’s most contested states. The election is a return of tight races that have shifted the Commonwealth between blue and red since the 1950s. A Washington Post-Schar School poll released Friday showed the two candidates in a toss-up as Election Day neared.
Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states that elect a governor the year after a presidential election. In Virginia, those off-year contests have tended to favor the party that does not hold the presidency. Since 1977, the state has voted with the current president’s political party only once.
It remains to be seen if Democratic strength will overwhelm the Commonwealth’s penchant for zigging after the country zags.
Virginia Republicans have faced a growing challenge in the past decade as urban and suburban areas, especially in Northern Virginia, have grown and diversified. Trump faced backlash from voters in those areas during his term. McAuliffe and his allies have worked to tie Youngkin to the former president, who endorsed him in May.
[Between the GOP and the governor’s mansion: A bigger, bluer Northern Virginia]
For his part, Youngkin hopes to cut Democratic margins in these strongholds enough to stay competitive. His campaign aims to hold McAuliffe’s totals in Northern Virginia to no more than 60 percent, The Post reported in August, according to two sources familiar with the campaign’s strategy who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share strategy details.
Following a long stretch where Virginians almost always sided with Democrats, the Commonwealth began shifting between red and blue starting in the 1950s. Scroll through the maps below to see how the state voted for governor over the decades.
The ’50s: National Democrats falter, but the state party stays strong
In the late 1940s through the early 1960s, the national Democratic Party started moving left, creating a rift between it and the more conservative Virginia state party.
As a result, Virginia went Republican for the presidential election, reelecting Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, and Democratic for state-level positions the year after.
The ’60s: Civil rights delivers a serious blow to Democratic control
Civil rights, championed by national Democrats, drove Virginia into the open arms of the Republican Party. The state had every congressperson sign the Southern Manifesto opposing the movement and many school systems shut down rather than integrate.
A. Linwood Holton, who died Oct. 28, won the Virginia governorship for Republicans in 1969, the first GOP win in a century. Holton racially integrated the state’s public schools, though the state GOP soon became more conservative.
The ’70s: Republicans continue to gain steam
Republicans started to really dominate Virginia politics. Richard M. Nixon’s “Southern strategy” aimed at bringing conservative Democrats to the Republican Party found a lot of success.
In 1973, partially on Nixon’s coattails, Mills Godwin — a conservative Democrat whom the Republicans persuaded to run on their ticket — defeated Henry Howell, the lieutenant governor who ran as an independent but was the de facto Democrat in the race.
The ’80s: The Democrats see a resurgence
Ronald Reagan won Virginia in a landslide in 1980 and 1984. But his popularity didn’t translate to the state party. A Democrat held the governorship from 1982 until 1994, including a resounding 11-point win by Gerald Baliles in 1985.
The ’90s: Republicans come back fighting
The intense two-party face-offs of the 1980s flipped to favor Republicans in the 1990s.
With Democratic President Bill Clinton in the White House, Republican George Allen won the 1993 governor’s race handily, as did his successor, Republican Jim Gilmore, in 1997.
The ’00s: Virginia’s modern political split starts to take shape
Virginia’s urban-rural divide really started to take shape in the early 2000s. The population of Northern Virginia continued to grow and turn deeper blue, producing huge margins for Democrats such as Obama and Gov. Tim Kaine, now a senator.
The more rural southern and southwestern Virginia started leaning right more consistently, except in college towns.
The ’10s: The trend continues
The trend from the 2000s has largely kept up and even intensified during the Trump years. On Nov. 7, 2017, margins in the D.C. suburbs were easily enough to give Northam the victory over Gillespie.
Election results from the Virginia Department of Elections. Historical Virginia county locations from the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. This story is based in part on a 2017 Post story by Reuben Fischer-Baum and Kim Soffen.