Virginia is the Latest Example of the “One City, One State” Dilemma
Some will say that Ed Gillespie’s loss was due to a lack of enthusiasm among the conservative base. Others will simply say that Ralph Northam won because of massive Democratic turnout. But the real issue exposed by the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial race is neither of these things; it is something far more important. It’s a dilemma that I like to call “One City, One State.”
As has been pointed out, the primary reason that Gillespie lost was a surprisingly high turnout of the Democratic base in the northeastern counties of Virginia; namely, Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William, and Loudoun, which all border Washington, D.C. But in recent years especially, there has been a massive influx of federal workers with jobs in D.C., who end up living in those northeastern suburbs just outside the D.C. borders. These workers all heavily skew to the left, as evident by the fact that D.C. is the one and only area of the entire country that has never voted for a Republican candidate in a presidential election. But when these workers overflow and spill into Virginia, all of those blue votes begin to shift the entirety of the state, in a problem that is quite similar to California’s massive influx of Hispanic immigrants.
The contrast is clear when you look at the electoral map of the Virginia race, from which I drew the following conclusions. Gillespie performed strongly in the majority of the mostly-rural state, and as I pointed out in the immediate post-election analysis, Gillespie even flipped four more rural counties that the previous gubernatorial nominee, Ken Cuccinelli, failed to win in 2013. He did, by contrast, lose two counties in the southeastern area, known as Hampton Roads, that he won in his Senate bid in 2014, but that was not the most punishing factor.
With the increased turnout of Arlington, Fairfax, and Prince William, combined with the loss of the same Loudoun County that he narrowly won in 2014, he never stood a chance. And if you do the math, the answer is clear: When the vote totals for both candidates from Prince William, Arlington, and Fairfax are removed from the equation, Gillespie trails Northam by just over 15,000 votes. If you also remove Loudoun County’s votes, then Gillespie wins - even after losing Hampton Roads.
Just like that, a state that had previously been a purple state - won by Bush Jr. both times by large margins and Obama both times by narrow margin - where the last few statewide elections (Governor in 2013 and Senate in 2014) were excruciatingly close, has just gone to a decisively solid blue state. And all because of a small suburban area dominating the rest of the rural state.
This is the dangerous trend that I referred to: “One City, One State.” Although in Virginia’s case, this cannot be pinned to any one particular city, other states certainly display this issue. New York is a primary example: The majority of the state (Upstate New York) is also rural and thus rather red, but the small dot at the southernmost tip of the state - New York City and Long Island - decisively shifts the entire state, as it did in the 2016 election. This disparity has even led to a semi-secession movement called the “New Amsterdam” movement, advocating for Upstate New York and the New York City/Long Island region to be split into two semi-autonomous regions within the larger state government, so that each region can better address their vastly different geo-political concerns.
Oregon is another example. In the 2016 election, Clinton won the state over President Trump by over 200,000 votes. However, if the total amount of votes from Oregon’s most populous county - Multnomah County, home of Portland - are removed, then Trump wins.
Oregon’s neighbor to the north, Washington State, is also an example. The most populous county there is King County, where Seattle is located. Take out their numbers, and Trump trails Clinton by only about 19,000 votes. Remove the second-most populous county, Snohomish, and Trump wins the state by about 40,000 votes.
Perhaps the most glaring example is the state of Illinois - one of only two states in the Midwest that the President did not take (the other being Minnesota). In this state, the notorious Cook County - home of the city of Chicago - is where about 40% of the state’s residents reside. If Cook’s vote totals are removed, Trump wins the state by over 200,000 votes. A similar telling occurrence took place three years ago, in Illinois’ gubernatorial election in 2014: When Republican businessman Bruce Rauner challenged incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn, he took every single county in the state except for one - Cook. With this, combined with reduced turnout in Cook, Rauner was able to edge out a narrow victory by 4%.
Overall, the problem here is clear. Democrats may have infamously complained about the electoral college system in the wake of the 2016 election, but it appears that they’re already developing a workaround: the lack of a similar system at the statewide level. Whereas the country maintains that very fair and sensible balance of representation via the electoral college, individual states very much still run strictly off the popular votes; pure democracy. Although this has initially been kept to a handful of already-blue states (particularly along the coasts), Virginia has just proven that this can truly happen to any state.
This should serve as a warning for future elections. Even as red states can hold fast against the influence of larger cities, look for Democratic efforts to overpopulate small urban areas and large cities in crucial swing states, tilting those states’ electoral votes in their favor. They just might be able to work around the electoral college with the strongest example of pure democracy that exists in our country today. If that happens, more states yet may flip.