Virginia Democrats would tell you publicly their throng of statewide candidates is an embarrassment of riches, a reflection of the state’s accelerating diversity and the growing muscle of its metropolitan areas.
Virginia Democrats privately would tell you that some of their candidates are embarrassments, though perhaps not on the scale of the Republicans’ Trump channeler, Amanda Chase.
You need a scorecard to keep track of the Democratic candidates. There are five for governor, eight for lieutenant governor and two for attorney general. It’s not much different on the Republican side. Five are running for governor, five for lieutenant governor, three for attorney general.
The Democratic field is a mosaic: Six candidates are Black, two are Hispanic, five are women. Among Republicans, whose governing body on Saturday could consider dropping a convention for a primary, white males dominate. There are two Black candidates, a candidate who is Asian and three women.
Democrats agree their ticket can’t be three white guys and it shouldn’t be overweighted to the party’s anchor, Northern Virginia. The backlash to Donald Trump, the fury over George Floyd and the aftershocks of Ralph Northam’s blackface moment — all factors in the ballooning field — demand a ticket that looks like the New Virginia.
If only Democrats, mindful of demographic and geographic balance, could assemble it the old-fashioned way, the un-democratic way in which the whims of grandees carried disproportionate weight. This worked when the party was a white segregationist cabal and, because of laws limiting access to the polls, only a sliver of eligible population voted.
Modern Democrats acknowledge that synching up slates of candidates ahead of the June primary is perilous and would fuel resentments that would weaken the party. That doesn’t mean they don’t consider the possibility — as an abstract exercise. Put another way: Democrats can dream.
The ideal Democratic ticket depends on whom you ask.
It might be a consequence of early internal polling — that, not by accident, widely is circulated among activists — and the money primary — fresh fundraising reports were due at week’s end — but Democrats anticipate that, like him or not, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe will be renominated for his old job.
That would be accompanied by two things synonymous with the NoVa-based Macker: ravenous fundraising — he says he’s already harvested more than $6 million — and a disciplined organization that, with politics practiced in isolation because of the pandemic, maintains momentum through strategic leaks and social media.
This includes Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement of McAuliffe, broken Thursday night by Axios, the online national politics news outlet. The U.S. House speaker isn’t as much delivering the Bay-area — ’Frisco not Chesapeake — as attesting to McAuliffe’s feminist cred in a field that includes two Black women, Jennifer McClellan and Jennifer Carroll Foy.
One of them, McClellan, a delegate-turned-senator from Richmond and low-key corporate lawyer, keeps knocking down chatter she would be an ideal nominee for lieutenant governor (LG), an office whose few duties include presiding over the Virginia Senate of which she’s been a member since 2017.
Doubling down on her ambitions for governor, McClellan on Friday called for universal child care. The mother of two, McClellan says child care is essential to a strong start in classrooms largely off-limits during COVID-19, contributing to an expanding learning gap.
The possibility McClellan drops back, bringing a bigger name and a bigger base that might clear a crowd of lesser-knowns, diminishes if only because of a compressed political calendar. She’d have until March 25, barely a month after the close of the legislature, to collect signatures to get on the primary ballot for LG.
Were McClellan the nominee, delegates now running for the No. 2 office could defend their House seats. It’s easier doing so with incumbents, even if they’re still pretty much newbies, as Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman, both Latinas from blue-trending Prince William County, are.
Another possibility: The current lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, a Black man, gives up for the gubernatorial nomination to seek a second term. Polls show him a distant second to McAuliffe, whose Black protégé, Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond, Fairfax blames for stoking allegations he sexually attacked two women.
That has Fairfax even more determined for governor. It is a chance to clear his name and, perhaps, trip up Stoney for 2025, when he’s likely to run for governor.
As for attorney general, Democrats could forgo retread Mark Herring of Loudoun County for fresh face Jay Jones of Norfolk, doing the seemingly unthinkable: dumping an incumbent — something Democrats haven’t done since the 1966 U.S. Senate primary.
Herring is running for a third term, having retreated on the bid for governor that inspired Jones’ candidacy. Jones, a young Black lawyer with longstanding personal ties to Northam, is — without saying it — taking advantage, in part, of ill will over Herring’s demand, before his own blackface humiliation, that Northam resign because of his.
Herring is confirming the Jones threat by co-opting a Jones proposal to set up a permanent civil rights section within the attorney general’s office.
Maybe Democratic primary voters know something we don’t.
Contact Jeff E. Schapiro at (804) 649-6814 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to his podcast, Capitol Chat, on Richmond.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter, @RTDSchapiro. Listen to his analysis at 8:45 a.m. Friday on VPM News, 88.9 FM.