What a victory! We’re thrilled to celebrate the big progressive wins in Virginia with progressives and activists, where PFAW pulled out all the stops to FLIP both chambers of Virginia’s General Assembly. Now Democrats control the state’s legislature for the first time in nearly a quarter century paving the way for a new era of progressive policies and reforms that will benefit the people of Virginia and the country as a whole. Virginia is now the shining example of what can happen in the South with sustained investment and work.
Tuesday’s other major victory was Democrat Andy Beshear winning the governor’s race in Kentucky. This is a state that went for Trump by 30 points. It is a state where the Republican incumbent, Matt Bevin, was as Trumpian of a candidate as you can get and where Trump himself campaigned for Bevin. Trump begged Republican voters in Kentucky to turn out for Bevin because of how the race would reflect on him personally, saying, “You can’t let that happen to me!” It is a state where Republicans tried to make the election a referendum on impeachment.
Until now, Trump has largely been successful in rallying his base to prop up Republicans in the deep-red states where he is most popular with pre-election campaign stops. But Bevin’s far-right attacks on health care and on teachers made the governor himself so unpopular, even in deep-red Kentucky, that it provided the setting for a critical repudiation of the “Trump Effect.” Tuesday’s result in Kentucky has Republicans sweating now because of what it means for the potential weakening of Trump’s base. They are especially nervous about what it could mean for another disastrously unpopular Republican who is up for reelection in Kentucky next year: Mitch McConnell.
Now, back to Virginia! Tuesday’s victory was years in the making. It was more than just turning a map from red to blue. It was monumental for voting rights, health care, common-sense gun reform, gerrymandering, abortion access, and so much more in Virginia and across the country. And it was also historic and drenched in important symbolism.
Virginia was a previously a red state every modern election cycle until 2008 and it was the capital of the Confederacy. It was the home of the ban on interracial marriage that needed to be overturned in Loving v. Virginia. It is the home of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and other iconic members of the radical Religious Right pantheon, as well as their many universities and institutions. Virginia is also the home of some of the worst attacks on women and LGBTQ+ people in the country, including attempted legislation like the infamous transvaginal ultrasound law and an anti-trans bathroom ban.
We at PFAW recognized many years ago the potential to create in Virginia a template for long-term progressive change in America – even in the South. And we all are eternally grateful to everyone who stood with us, and believed and invested in this vision. Last night, all the hard work paid off and now every statewide elected office and the entire legislature in Virginia are controlled by Democrats. You helped make history.
PFAW’s Right Wing Watch had covered extreme right-wing activist E.W. Jackson for years before he made it onto the Republican ticket as the GOP’s candidate for lieutenant governor n 2013 – our research helped defeat him.
When he ran for governor, we exposed Republican Ken Cuccinelli’s ugly anti-Latino racism that he thought he could get away with because no one was looking. We were looking, though, and we were instrumental in defeating him – in part by turning out the Latino vote.
In the last gubernatorial election, we exposed and defeated Republican candidate Ed Gillespie who thought he could win by running as just Trump enough – putting on an establishment, mainstream face for some audiences while aiming to rile up his base with racist anti-immigrant ads right out of the Trump playbook.
There will be lots of analysis in the coming weeks, but let’s be clear, what we saw on Tuesday is that progressivism – especially in the form of a backlash to Trumpism – is contagious and it even sells in places where the prevailing “conventional wisdom” might not predict. Last night’s results helped prove that progressives and Democrats need to compete EVERYWHERE. Democrats in Virginia chose to compete in many more districts that were considered “safe Republican” than Republicans did in similarly “safe Democrat” districts – and it paid off.
This year alone, PFAW’s Latinos Vote! program engaged mightily in this election with Spanish-language radio ads on seven stations, and we ran digital ads in 30 competitive districts, fielded staff and volunteers all over the state, and hosted phone banks both in our DC office and online for activists across the country. We invested in long-shot young, progressive candidates who now will help lead our movement for a generation. We helped bring national attention to Virginia’s elections and fire up Democratic volunteers and donors, including bringing in some celebrity help as we did with special visits by PFAW board members Alec Baldwin, Dolores Huerta and Cristela Alonzo, as well as support from Khizr Khan.
Of course, Virginia is the biggest but not the only great story. Altogether, PFAW endorsed 130 candidates on ballots in 21 states. Like, Amelia Parker, a human rights activist and founding member of the progressive City Council Movement, who won her election for Knoxville, Tenn. City Council. It will become the city’s first women-majority council when she is sworn in. Amelia had run an impressive, yet ultimately unsuccessful, write-in campaign in the last election in 2017. This year, through grit and determination, she got on the ballot and won a majority of the vote.
Here are a few more quick stories from some of our many key races this week:
- In 2017, Republicans held onto a bare majority in Virginia House of Delegates by one seat in a race that ended up a tie and needed to be decided by randomly picking the winner’s name out of a bowl! Far-right Republican incumbent David Yancey’s name was chosen, but two years later in their rematch, Democrat Shelly Simonds flipped the Virginia House, District 94 seat!
- One of the star endorsees of PFAW’s Next Up Victory Fund, Va. Del. Danica Roem – whom we also helped elect in 2017 as the nation’s first openly transgender person to serve in a state legislature – won reelection handily, overcoming a torrent of bigoted anti-trans smears from Virginia Republicans and right-wing groups. Her Republican opponent was a far-right extremist who had compared same-sex marriage to slavery.
- Another one of our amazing young progressives, who we helped elect through the Next Up Victory Fund in 2017 and 2019 is Kelly Fowler. She held onto her seat in the Va. House after being targeted by racist attacks from the Virginia GOP that sought to whip up fear of immigrants and tie Kelly – who is of Latinx heritage – to violent gang members.
- Two more of our Next Up-endorsed candidates who flipped critical seats that will give Democrats their new House majority in Virginia were Joshua Cole and Dan Helmer, both of whom Alec Baldwin campaigned for when he joined PFAW for a day of action in Virginia two weeks before Election Day. Cole had lost his bid for state House in 2017 by a mere 73 votes (and might have won that year if not for an election administration error that directed several hundred voters in that district to the wrong precinct). This year, your support helped score a decisive victory. We also worked hard to support Dan Helmer in one of the most watched races in the state , and our Next Up Victory Fund 2019 kickoff rally – featuring Helmer and 15 other PFAW-endorsed candidates, as well as former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, Andrew Gillum, Dolores Huerta, and others – was hosted in his campaign office! Helmer flipped what was the final Republican-held district in Northern Virginia!
- When the new democratic house majority is sworn in, the new speaker of the house will be the first woman speaker of the house in Virginia’s history, the likely majority leader will be the first African American person in that post, and the likely democratic caucus chair will be the first Latino in that role! Once again, when progressives win, diversity wins. This is what progress looks like.
We had some crucial victories in local, non-state legislative races as well.
- Steve Descano won his election for Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney. Here is what he said to his supporters after his win:
“Now together, we are bringing criminal justice reform to Fairfax County. We aren’t going to charge for marijuana possession. We aren’t going to hold people in jail because they can’t afford bail. We are going to root out systemic discrimination for people based on who they are, where they come from or the color of their skin. Together we will make Fairfax County a more safe and just place for everyone.”
- Progressive Ghazala Hashmi flipped a Republican-held state Senate seat to become the first Muslim elected to the Virginia Senate and help secure the new Democratic majority in that chamber.
- And, last but not least, another Muslim candidate for Senate, Qasim Rashid, whom we proudly endorsed but who unfortunately fell short in his long-shot bid to flip a seat held by the GOP for decades, showed us what leadership looks like as he set an example that, in an ideal world, would be a standard for political candidates. Upon hearing that there was a man at one of the polling places in his district trying to tie him to “ISIS terrorism,” Qasim stopped by the precinct to talk with the man. This is how Qasim described the exchange in a Facebook post:
I told him my job is to serve all humanity—not just Democrats—& I need him to join me in compassion—not fear.
I asked if he would appreciate me tying him to the KKK or Nazis just because he’s a white male Christian. He said no, and then had no response when I asked him to think about how I might feel when he tries to tie me ISIS terrorism.
I told him that should I be fortunate enough to win, my door will remain open to him. After a short chat he said he understood why his comment was wrong & hurtful—& apologized.
Compassion through action.
Hundreds of PFAW members volunteered – not just in Virginia but all around the country. Thousands of you donated to PFAW’s comprehensive statewide campaign to turn Virginia blue as well as directly to many of our endorsed candidates. With your help, we will continue to support amazing candidates, like Qasim and all of our progressive champions, who ran to make history and advance progress, win or lose.
THANK YOU for standing with us in this work. And THANK YOU for all of your support and effort that made yesterday’s victories possible.