On most Tuesdays for the last five years, a gaggle of protesters have regularly gathered on a grassy hillside along a main drag in Sterling, Virginia, a far-flung suburb northwest of Washington, DC. In the early days of the Trump administration, as many as 40 people would congregate, brandishing signs that criticized former Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Virginia) for her voting record that aligned almost perfectly with the positions of President Donald Trump. Some of their work, combined with efforts from an army of freshly enraged grassroots activists, led to the success of Democrat Jennifer Wexton, then a Virginia state senator, who defeated Comstock in the 2018 midterms. As Trump’s reelection bid loomed, the protests continued—particularly, in support of the Movement for Black Lives in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last summer.
In the months since President Joe Biden defeated Trump in Virginia, a much smaller group showed up to the usual spot, and the signs they carried have strayed from being missives of discontent. “The message was more like ‘Call this number to get vaccinated,’ different things like that,” Lana Reed, a leader of Sterling’s local Indivisible group, tells me.
After all, there’s not much for Virginia Democrats to gripe about. The party took control of the governor’s mansion in 2017 and flipped the General Assembly two years later, delivering Richmond entirely into Democrats’ control. Since then, state lawmakers have passed some of the most progressive reforms in the country, including abolishing the death penalty, enacting sweeping voting rights reforms, and raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour. Both the presidential and the off-year state elections had been a measure of the revulsion Trump’s victory inspired among broad swaths of the electorate. And Democrats’ success in Virginia during those off-year state elections, heralded as a bellwether by political watchers, foreshadowed the realignments of both major political parties during Trump’s tenure.
But now what? Trump, of course, is no longer the president, which is both a cause for relief but also concern among Democrats who relied on anti-Trump fervor to propel the party’s recent successes. But the nation’s first statewide Democratic party of the President Joe Biden era shows that the Trump hangover didn’t disappear after the new president’s inauguration. There have never been this many Democrats running for state office in Virginia in recent history, but polling, political experts, and trends suggest voters are eager to stick with the status quo.
A crowded field has emerged in the fight for the governor’s mansion—including two candidates, former state delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and state senator Jennifer McClellan, vying to be the first Black woman governor in US history. Ditto the lieutenant governors’ race with its six Democratic hopefuls, one…