Virginia is in the final hours of a gubernatorial contest that none of its residents deserve. But it did not have to be this way.
Tomorrow’s election had the markings of a bonanza for the Democratic Party. The Republican gubernatorial primary was a knock-em-down-and-drag-em-out affair, with a cheap Sons of Confederate Veterans knockoff — from Minnesota! — coming with 5,000 votes of the party’s nomination.
The eventual nominee, former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie, is probably the worst candidate to have running in a year where his party is about as popular as head lice, syphilis, and root canals. He is a Washington insider, a Virginia outsider (from New Jersey!), and is emblematic of the worst elements of the current rendition of his party.
The Democrats even have history on their side: With the exception of 2013, the opposition party has won every gubernatorial election in the Commonwealth since 1977. Boosting the opposition party’s chances this year is a historically unpopular president who could not even garner the votes of his party’s only living presidents in last year’s presidential election. And people are not passively disapproving of Trump, either: they’re getting active, building movements, and running for office, giving the Democrats the kind of energy that has not been seen since 2008. The national media has helped in a way, framing this as the first statewide electoral test of Donald Trump’s presidency, and it is one that is happening in the administration’s backyard.
And, yet, here we are: in the final hours of this election, the Republican candidate is now even-money to become the Commonwealth’s 73rd governor.
The reasons for this center around the Democratic nominee for governor, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.
After defeating former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello in the Democratic primary, Northam began the race with a sizable advantage in fundraising and the polls. He has maintained the pace on the former, having raised $10 million more than Gillespie. But his grip on the latter has slipped after a campaign that has been as much befuddling as it has been anger-producing.
Perhaps we should have Northam’s desperate lunge towards the center coming. After all, in its endorsement of Northam during the Democratic primaries, the Washington Post stated that
The fact is, the policy differences between the two, though real, are not enormous, and their contempt for the president is beside the point. Our preference for Mr. Northam, a pediatric neurologist, is based more on his experience, temperament and, especially, his chances of success in the face of likely Republican control of one or both houses of the state legislature for the foreseeable future.
Mr. Perriello, while accomplished and intellectually agile — he has done admirable work in the nonprofit sector and as an international envoy in the Obama administration in addition to his stint in Congress — is less likely to make a dent. Notwithstanding his cogent take on corporate consolidation and industrial automation, his soak-the-rich tax plan, which would finance two years of debt-free community college and other programs, is a non-starter in a centrist state.
You know what Northam’s experience — does voting for George W. Bush twice and nearly switching parties a decade ago count? — and temperament has gotten Virginians? A candidate that went from calling Donald Trump a “narcissistic maniac” during the primaries to pledging that he would be open to working with him. A candidate that has gone from opposing a sanctuary cities ban in the state senate to stating that he would sign such a ban if it came across his desk.
In other words, someone who has a backbone of overdone linguine. The mistakes of this campaign have been singularly of the Democratic candidate’s own making, and the result could plunge the Commonwealth into another four years of right-wing governance right as fascists target Charlottesville for their biggest stand, with murderous consequences.
For some, though, the problem is not Northam or the Democratic Party’s refusal to pay attention to what’s right in front of their own faces. No, the issue is….Bernie Sanders. And those pesky left-wingers who will not stop advocating for the rights of the unheard.
The Daily Beast has covered itself in glory this week on that front.
After Northam shocked progressive Virginians with his endorsement of a sanctuary cities ban, the group Democracy For America (DFA) pulled its resources out of the coordinated campaign being run by the Democratic Party of Virginia. Coordinated campaigns are always run by the state party, but the work that they do is typically done alongside other interest groups that are a part of the Democratic coalition, like labor, environmental, and racial groups.
(You can read DFA’s statement here. It is pretty damn good.)
That was too much for former Vermont governor and current lobbyist-mercenary-for-hire Howard Dean, who turned on the organization he founded with a tweet deeming the move “incredibly stupid” and claiming that it “discredits” DFA’s work. But that was perfectly measured next to Maryland resident Michael Tomasky’s piece in The Daily Beast, where he called DFA’s move “self-righteous”, “the reason people hate the left”, “idiotic”, “childish”, and “sanctimonious”. A progressive organization that has a brightline over who receives its support? Wanting a Democrat to cease capitulating to the worst instincts in American politics, especially one that is fueling far-right demonstrations in our streets today? To Tomasky, that pales in comparison to other considerations, such as
The question at hand is what “principle” DFA thinks it’s advancing by making this kind of showboat move less than a week before an election? I know what they’d say. Here on planet Earth, the only principle they’re advancing is the demand for impossible purity in a state where a man running an openly pro-Confederate campaign (Cory Stewart) came within 1.2 points of beating Gillespie in the GOP primary.
Terrible, yes. But Tomasky was not the only one.
Eleanor Clift’s turn in the sun involved the insinuation that Bernie Sanders was deliberately trying to tank the chances of a Northam win tomorrow. Instead of starting out from the most obvious point — Our Revolution only endorses candidates based on reports from its affiliates, none of whom have endorsed Northam, and that Northam probably did not seek Sanders’s help or endorsement in the first place given his campaign — Clift and her various “unnamed Democratic sources” heap scorn on a candidate that ran as a “democratic socialist” eighteen months ago for not endorsing a candidate calling for bans on sanctuary cities.
Liberals will constantly tell you to “vote for someone, and then hold their feet to the fire once in office”, but then they will excoriate you for taking their advice. Because the campaign season is now permanent, any critique opens you up to accusations of “purity politics” or “helping (insert Republican here) win”. They do not want partnership in crafting a more perfect world; they simply want dominance and a submission under whatever vomit they choose to place on your ballot.
It is bad enough when they do this, of course, over issues such as labor rights, the minimum wage, or reproductive health. But given the pronounced and open racial warfare that many on the far-right seek with people of color in this country, it is a particularly piercing blow when liberals tell those who disagree — and those whose lives would be on the line — to simply shut up and vote for Democrats. Politics is soaked in the thick muck of America’s original sin, and this kind of politics is just as much a symptom of that as anything else.
I love my Commonwealth. I love its beaches, mountains, and plains. I love the food. And, most of all, I love its people.
It is because of this love that I simply cannot recommend a vote for Ralph Northam or any other candidate for governor. Instead, I recommend that voters across the Commonwealth spoil their ballots for governor or simply leave them blank.
To the Black voters that the Northam campaign and its allies thought so little of that they would leave Justin Fairfax off portions of their campaign literature, leave your ballots blank. To the union voters who could not get a straight answer out of Northam on the open shop during the primary, leave your ballots blank. To the Latinx voters who have seen their sitting lieutenant governor capitulate to the worst elements of far-right race-baiting against their community, leave your ballots blank. Make tomorrow A Day Without Immigrants, Labor, and Black People, and let’s see how the Democratic Party fares under such conditions.
Instead, vote for candidates who actually give a damn about working people. Candidates like Justin Fairfax, who is fighting against a monstrously unpopular pipeline that threatens the safety of communities across West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. Candidates like Montigue Magruder in House of Delegates District 69 or Lee Carter in District 50, both members of the Democratic Socialists of America and both carrying the cause of the working class in Virginia forward.
And to the likes of Eleanor Clift and Michael Tomasky, stick to what you are good at — caping for Democratic millionaires — and stay the fuck out of my home. Virginians deserve better these candidates, and they deserve better than the likes of you.