(See the 2018 and 2019 Recommendations following the 2020 Recommendations)
The 2020 election provided Republicans many reasons for optimism even as litigation and concerns about President Trump's re-election outcome continue. We can say without question that across the board, the GOP outperformed the predictions. If Republicans prevail in the Georgia runoffs, the party will have retained its Senate majority and gained seats in the House of Representatives, winning victories that national political media and pollsters thought impossible. Contrary to expectations, America emphatically did not repudiate Republicans.
However, in Virginia, Republicans did not experience this electoral success. Instead, we continued to lose ground. Virginia Democrats increased their totals in the statewide races, cemented gains in two swing districts (2nd and 10th), and further increased their vote totals in safe districts. In the presidential race, Joe Biden won Virginia by nine percentage points, nearly doubling Hillary Clinton’s five percent win in 2016.
Suburban counties in Northern Virginia and Richmond continued to move away from Republicans, as the following chart of (unofficial) results shows:
County/City Clinton 2016 Trump 2016 Biden 2020 Trump 2020
Fairfax County 64.4% 26.8% 69.94% 28.03%
Loudoun County 55.1% 38.2% 61.39% 36.66%
Prince William County 57.6% 36.5% 63.52% 34.75%
Chesterfield County 45.9% 48.2% 52.42% 45.96%
Henrico County 57.4% 36.6% 63.19% 35.16%
Democrats improved their margins in the five largest suburban Virginia counties, increasing their vote share by at least five percent in each. Virginia undeniably continued to trend blue in 2020. Professor Mark Rozell, Dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, noted in a recent article analyzing the 2020 election in Virginia that:
“[The 2020 election] illustrates a political trend that has become increasingly clear in the past 15 years. The growth of suburban populations that are college-educated, affluent, and more liberal in their voting has powered the state’s drift away from its historically conservative politics.”
We believe that the 2020 election demonstrates how Republicans can win by expanding their electorate, and there are lessons the Virginia GOP can learn from the strong Republican showing in other states and our historic Republican roots. However, we believe we need to tailor an approach for applying these lessons specifically to suburban Virginia voters.
Lesson #1: Identity politics is a losing proposition, but defining and running hard on issues of salience to particular ethnic and religious communities is part of a path to success. Perhaps one of the most eye-opening elements of President Trump’s vote haul was his improvement with African American, Hispanic, and Jewish voters. It has been decades since Republicans have done as well with these groups.
The Trump campaign focused on two issues that resonated with minority voters. First, President Trump shined a blazing spotlight on Democrats’ undeniable, radical turn toward socialism, spearheaded by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and their acolytes. This issue gained traction with Hispanics in Florida, many of whom are refugees or descendants of refugees from communist Cuba and Venezuela.
Second, President Trump and his campaign highlighted how Democrats are more vocally identifying themselves as defeatists who believe our nation’s greatest days are past and who advocate what might be called “managed decline” or “leading from behind” as other powers displace the United States as the world’s preeminent power. Historically, Republicans have always been a party of optimism, from President Reagan’s “Morning in America” campaign advertisements to President George H.W. Bush’s “vision thing” to President Trump’s “Make America Great Again”. Although it has been undoubtedly difficult to maintain an optimistic attitude in the face of the pandemic’s myriad economic, social, and psychological challenges, Republicans believe deeply in our country’s strength and that America’s best days are ahead.
For example, the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed program to rapidly bring a COVID-19 vaccine to market is a quintessentially American – and Republican – story. It is a story of a public-private partnership in which the federal government used its vast financial resources to tap the private sector to unleash American innovation and ingenuity. Having a vaccine by next spring will set the record by several years for the shortest time ever to develop a vaccine.
The ethnic and minority electorate in Northern Virginia differs from that of South Florida; in addition to a large Hispanic community, we have a large and rapidly growing Asian and South Asian community. Nevertheless, we believe the principles outlined above still hold, and to win, we must emphasize discrete issues that truly resonate with the fast-growing ethnic communities in Virginia, particularly its suburbs. Moreover, we need to champion these issues not only during election season, but year-round. President Trump devoted time and energy throughout his presidency to opposing socialism, not just in campaign speeches but in policy.
Appealing to ethnic solidarity for its own sake, we believe, is a losing proposition. Joe Biden’s “you ain’t black” was not a compelling argument. Voters are individuals, and assuming they will vote a particular way because of their ethnicity is infantilizing and denies voters agency. Frankly, voters are smarter than that. But if candidates speak to them directly, repeatedly, on issues we know they care about, and we press those issues even between elections, the 2020 election demonstrates voters will listen.
Lesson #2: The evolving breakdown among voter groups is not along ethnic lines, but along educational and socioeconomic lines. The 2016 and 2020 elections, at a national level, were extremely close. At the 30,000-foot level, it appears Republicans and Democrats have traded urban and suburban hypereducated, middle- to upper-middle-class voters and working class, non-college graduates. Nationally, this trade has resulted in two razor-close presidential elections. However, in Virginia, this trade has made winning Northern Virginia substantially more difficult for the GOP.
Northern Virginia is one of the most affluent, highly educated regions in the country, and the more it has trended in this direction, the more it has moved away from Republicans. And as Northern Virginia has grown in population and affluence, Virginia has moved away from Republicans. Unfortunately, that trend continued in 2020.
The party that figures out how to marry the highly educated suburban voter bloc with the non-college voter bloc will set itself up to be the majority party in Virginia. We want Republicans to be that party. Republicans have “faith in ourselves, in our system, and in our own traditions” to provide equal and unfettered opportunity for all Americans and, as we describe below, this concept may prove to be a key thread that can unite college-educated and non-college-educated in a powerful electoral coalition.
Lesson #3: Passage of Constitutional Amendment #1 represents an extraordinary opportunity for Republicans and a chance for the party to enjoy a fresh start with the electorate. Amendment #1, providing for a bipartisan redistricting commission to draw district boundaries following the decennial census, will create more competitive districts, including in Northern Virginia. Democrats will not be able to gerrymander themselves into a permanent majority in Virginia. The first elections under the new lines – possibly as early as 2021 – will provide Virginia Republicans an opportunity to reintroduce the party to new electorates at the local level; we must be prepared to meet the moment.
Lesson #4: Socioeconomic voters are not monoliths. Even ostensibly liberal suburbanites have an inner Republican, if we can find the right issues to reveal it. California may be a deeply Democratic state, substantially bluer than Virginia, but in 2020 California voters rejected regulations that would have forced Uber and Lyft to cease operations in the state. They also rejected the return of affirmative action in state college admissions. Californians, and especially suburbanites, have come to rely on Uber and Lyft as essential services, and when presented a referendum on labor regulations that would have led to those services leaving California, they rejected it.
We need to define issues that hit home for suburbanites in Northern Virginia, educate our candidates and voters on these issues, and build our campaigns around these issues. For example, the proposed changes to the admission criteria of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology directly disadvantage Asian-Americans, the fastest-growing population in Fairfax County. This could be an extremely potent issue in the 2021 election. A second fertile issue will be the repercussions of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), which will increase all Virginians’ energy costs while inflicting environmental damage through the clear cutting of Virginia’s forests for solar farms. A third powerful issue will be the Democrats’ planned Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), which will increase gas taxes by 50 cents, hurt lower income citizens that rely on their cars for income (i.e., rideshare and delivery drivers), and reduce funding for our roads. A fourth issue is the continued closure of public schools despite exhortations from the pediatric community to keep schools open, which has led to increased rates of failing grades among Fairfax County students.
Lesson #5: Register voters. Concerted, targeted registration efforts will yield dividends. National Review recently published a piece highlighting Texas Republicans’ successful 2020 elections, in which they defended every toss-up House seat and delivered the state in the presidential election. One crucial element of this effort was a new voter registration drive. In particular, the Texas GOP used the national GOP’s “new movers list” of voters who moved to a new state and were registered as Republicans in their prior state of residence. Texas also reviewed publicly available subscription lists of periodicals more likely to have Republican subscribers. Texas Republicans estimate their registration and recruitment efforts led to 186,000 new GOP votes in 2020, which they believe played a critical role in close down-ballot races.
We believe Virginia Republicans are well-positioned to apply these lessons as early as the 2021 elections and have several recommendations for implementing them in 2021 and beyond.
Recommendation #1: Republicans need to perform an in-depth study of the Northern Virginia electorate. To our credit, Republicans have tried very hard to reach the ethnic minority communities of Virginia. Our candidates have campaigned on issues we believe resonate with the ethnic communities of Northern Virginia. Issues such as school choice and lowering taxes have been staples of Republican campaigns. However, we simply have not gained traction with voters. We have been guessing at what voters care about, but our results suggest the need to better identify, define, and communicate the most relevant issues.
We urge the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) and its supporters to undertake a deep, penetrating study of the suburban Virginia electorate to identify key issues for these voters. The study should include both polling and in-depth focus group discussions designed to learn the key issues of the different ethnic and religious communities in Northern Virginia. The study should break down the issues of most importance to college- and graduate school-graduates and non-college graduates. No more guessing or assuming – it is time for us to know what Virginia’s suburban electorate really thinks.
In addition, the study should make an effort to understand the perception of the Republican Party in Northern Virginia. We believe that perception is unfairly negative, due in significant measure to the influence of the major media providers in the region. Nevertheless, it may be that we need to focus more intensely on changing that perception. We can only do so once we know, in detail, what that perception is.
The results of this study should form the foundation of our campaigns in Northern Virginia for the next decade. From this foundation of understanding of Virginia’s suburban electorate, RPV and its candidates and activists can craft solutions based on conservative Republican principles.
While such a study will be expensive, if we do it once and do it right, we will be prepared to compete – really compete– and break the Democrats’ stranglehold on Northern Virginia – for a decade or more. Our proposed study is one of the most valuable investments the RPV and its allies can make. We therefore urge RPV and Republican activists to raise funds to perform this study.
Recommendation #2: Identify issues that have specific appeal to both college-educated and non-college educated voters. These are the issues that will allow Republicans to marry the suburban electorate with other parts of the state. As an example, in our experience, Northern Virginia voters are concerned about environmental issues, and America’s energy revolution, including fracking, has led to a dramatic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, less dependence on foreign players and lower energy costs. Republicans need to make this part of their pitch to suburban voters. We can be the party of both environmental concern and American industry and jobs. Those two positions are not in tension, and we need to make that point to suburban voters. We need not be overtly hostile to suburban issues like environmentalism; Republicans have much to offer on these superficially Democratic issues, and we should seize the opportunity.
Recommendation #3: Make RPV the “Opportunity Party”. Simplify our campaigns, highlight our optimistic view of the United States and Virginia, and prioritize the issues voters care about in our campaigns. Democrats’ obsession with identity politics, boutique issues, and ideological hobbyhorses provides an opening for Republicans to talk about basic issues that truly affect voters: economic advancement, public safety, education, and the environment. In 2021, Virginia Republicans have the opportunity to make inroads in what are considered traditional Democratic issues, particularly highlighting the negative effects of the laws passed by Governor Northam and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly while demonstrating a positive alternative vision for the Commonwealth.
We may not have found these issues in 2020, but results elsewhere in the United States demonstrate that if we find them, we can succeed and break the Democrats’ hold on Northern Virginia.
One possibility would be to brand RPV as the Opportunity Party. Unlike Democrats, whose increasingly elite base supports policies that negatively affect others’ opportunities but not their own, we Republicans aim to provide all voters the space to enjoy opportunities. Our immigrant communities came to the United States for opportunity and public safety. Our existing communities want opportunity and public safety.
Reihan Salam of the Manhattan Institute recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
“The GOP is making inroads with upwardly mobile, culturally conservative Hispanics, Asians and Blacks who identify as hardworking members of a multiethnic mainstream. These voters distrust the bleak narrative of woke liberalism. They believe in hard work and an enabling state that fosters job growth and rewards strivers.”
Virginia’s suburbs, especially Northern Virginia, are full of the “upwardly mobile, culturally conservative” minority voters Salam identified. A message tailored to the particular concerns of this economic mainstream may find a more receptive audience than in years past, as Democrats’ lurch to the economic and cultural left puts the differences between the parties into ever-sharper relief.
We believe completing a study will allow us to finely target these opportunity-based campaigns. But even without a study, we know there are issues that can cleave voters away from the Democratic Party. The proposed changes to the admissions criteria of Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology truly are a heat-seeking missile that progressives have fired at opportunities for Asian-Americans – many of them first- or second-generation immigrants. Abolishing the police poses particular risk to minority communities and worries suburban voters; even Rep. Spanberger colorfully made this point to her Democratic colleagues. Public safety is a basic prerequisite for voters to have the opportunity to thrive.
The continued closure of public schools without evidence that schools are a high-risk COVID transmission environment, and over the objections of national public health authorities and pediatricians, is another issue with the potential to win bipartisan support. Evidence is mounting that school closures disproportionately affect the economically disadvantaged and minority communities. Although the Democrats fancy themselves the “party of science”, their continuing school closures fly in the face of scientific evidence and experience in the United States and elsewhere.
Fairfax County residents have started an “Open FCPS” campaign to force the Fairfax County School Board to reopen schools. FCPS released a study in November 2020 stating that the number of F grades during the virtual schooling period increased 83 percent, from 6 percent of all grades given in the first quarter of the 2019-20 school year to 11 percent in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year. Hardest hit were Hispanic students (a 92 percent increase in the number of F grades given in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year as compared to the 2019-20 school year), students with disabilities (a 111 percent increase), and economically disadvantaged students (an 83 percent increase). This is an issue that has bipartisan support and represents an excellent opportunity to pick off independents and moderate Democrats who are fed up with the excessively restrictive, contrary-to-evidence pandemic response of local Democratic leaders.
Recommendation #4: Launch a systematic, targeted registration drive. Republicans throughout the state have recognized the importance of registering new voters. Democrats registered an enormous number of new voters between 2016 and 2018. As described previously, Texas Republicans’ registration efforts protected every House seat deemed at-risk by political media and provided a comfortable margin of victory in the presidential race.
Local Virginia Republicans, including the Fairfax Republicans, have launched local registration efforts. It is time for RPV to augment these efforts by launching a systematic, targeted voter registration effort. Because Virginia does not have party registration, the effort should rely on data that may indicate a prospective voter’s Republican affinity – for example, subscription lists to Republican-leaning periodicals and the RNC’s “new movers list” of voters who have moved to Virginia and were registered as Republicans at their prior address. This will ensure we are registering only Republicans, particularly important when undertaking registration drives in more heavily Democratic areas.
We recommend RPV launch a fundraising drive specifically for the purpose of voter registration and that they work closely with candidates and local parties on this effort. We further recommend beginning as soon as possible to support our 2021 campaigns.
Republican grassroots activists should understand that it may take several years for a systematic registration drive to fully bear fruit, and must have the patience to keep their shoulder to the wheel and see the effort through.
Recommendation #5: Rapidly capitalize on Democratic excesses and define the Democrats as a party that has turned liberalism into expensive policies affordable only for the wealthy elite. Within a week of the election, Democratic moderates blamed their losses in the House on the embrace of the “socialism” label and such extreme slogans as “Defund the Police” by the more radical members of their caucus. Next year may find Democrats engaged in a low-grade internal civil war, with radicals and center-left members jockeying for position and trading jabs. If past is prologue, we can expect the more radical elements of the Democratic Party to continue to loudly espouse policies that are anathema to suburban voters.
In tandem with Recommendation #3, in which we highlight the GOP as the Opportunity Party, RPV should establish an effort to systematically tie Democrats to the excessive positions of their loudest voices. A Rapid Reaction Team that quickly responds to radical Democrat proposals will define the Democrats and create the contrast needed between the parties to give Republicans a chance to win back suburbanites.
RPV’s campaign should not simply be “look at the latest outrageous thing the Democrats are saying!”. We believe the campaign should focus on defining Democrats and their radical woke liberalism that only the wealthy can afford. We urge RPV and the State Central Committee to form a working group to implement a rapid response strategy that has real reach across traditional and social media.
There are numerous examples of Virginia Democrats’ unaffordable, elitist liberalism: the VCEA, with its electricity rate increases that will hit the poor hardest and its environmentally damaging forest clear-cutting; their proposed carbon tax, an extraordinarily regressive tax that would accompany Virginia’s joining the TCI described previously; their caving to the teachers’ unions to keep schools closed during the pandemic, even as a large body of research shows schools are not a COVID super-spreader and many other essential workers, including grocery store clerks, food service personnel, medical personnel, and first responders are taking great risks to remain on the job (and while the children of many elected Democrats attend open private schools); and more. In each case, Democrats are constraining the economic opportunities of others with ineffectual policies that make them feel virtuous and cost them nothing. In short, today’s Democrats relentlessly assert their moral superiority on the backs of others.
The theme of the Opportunity Party versus the Party of Elite Liberalism may resonate with the broad multicultural mainstream seeking economic opportunity.
SUVGOP has already begun this effort by launching its “REPEAL VCEA!” campaign to encourage the General Assembly to repeal this regressive, environmentally unfriendly legislation. We have launched a kickoff video and a website, www.RepealVCEA.com, with more to come, and intend to make it a major issue in the 2021 elections. The Democratic blog Blue Virginia has already attacked this campaign, which suggests Democrats understand their vulnerability on the subject.
Virginia’s 2021 elections represent a tantalizing opportunity for Republicans. With Joe Biden’s presumed victory in the presidential race, Democratic enthusiasm likely will ebb. Constitutional Amendment #1’s passage means Republicans will not face a gerrymandered district map. Republicans nationally made tremendous inroads with minority communities and elected one of the most diverse group of Republicans to office, with more women, Asian-Americans, and African Americans than ever before. Democrats may be in for a season of recrimination after a worse-than-expected showing in 2020. The stars are aligning for a renaissance of the Virginia Republican Party.
Virginia Republicans running locally and statewide in 2021 on the theme of the Opportunity Party have the chance to seize the political high ground of optimism, opportunity, and true diversity.
We look forward to working closely with RPV, its affiliates, and all the wonderful Republican grassroots groups throughout the commonwealth to make 2021 the “Year of the Virginia Republican Renaissance”.
 Mark Rozell, Once a Powerhouse, Rural Virginia Continues Watching Its Political Clout Decline, Roanoke Times, Nov. 22, 2020 (link).
 Dan McLaughlin, How Texas Republicans Kept Their State Red, National Review, November 13, 2020 (link).
 Reihan Salam, Can the GOP Build a Multiracial Coalition?, Wall St. Journal, Nov. 21, 2020 (link).
SUVGOP recommends an educational campaign on the
structure of the Republican Party and how it operates we call
“GOPolitics 101”. We will soon update our website to include
information explaining the organizational structure and operation of the Party and will begin offering neighborhood “coffee briefings” to interested parties. We suggest local Republican organizations consider a similar program.
Local Republican units receive no
funds from the RNC, RPV or other national conservative organizations.
In 1998, the Boulder, Colorado business community started the “Buy Local” campaign to support local
businesses and the local economy. We recommend Republicans create the same type of program and messaging for political contributions. Ask GOP supporters to "Donate Local" to their local unit before sending funds to national organizations.
As the chart demonstrates, Republicans were crushed by small donor contributions to
Democrats in General Assembly races in 2019. Local units should explore ways to establish and build a small donor program, such as signing up with WinRed, sending email and/or print solicitations and maintaining a list and communicating regularly with these donors. We further recommend setting up a regional meeting and bringing in a fundraising expert to provide insight and tips on how to expand these efforts.
Last year, SUVGOP’s first recommendation was that the Republican Party of Virginia and its units should adjust their roles in Virginia GOP politics by “going local”. Now, more than ever, we believe this to be essential. The Republican
Party must be in a position to nominate well-known, well-pre-
pared candidates with an existing base of support in the suburbs.
We recommend that the unit committees in suburban areas, especially those counties that have Magisterial Districts, encourage each District to create and actively maintain District-level Facebook pages and if possible, add Twitter and Instagram accounts. We further recommend that Republican proprietors of social media pages post at least once daily; increase their video content; and consider low budget ad campaigns,
For many newcomers, getting involved with the GOP can be
daunting. The committee structure, the inside baseball, and the
long-standing relationships can make integrating into the Party difficult for new volunteers. Attending a unit committee meeting
for the first time, where everyone already knows everyone, can be
a bewildering experience. We recommend more social and small group projects as outlined in our report.
Republicans in Northern Virginia ran
one of the most diverse slates of candidates in their history in 2019.
We believe the GOP needs to make a concerted effort to work with minority civic, business and religious groups and develop ongoing relationships. Opening up opportunities for more minority candidates.
We recommend holding strategic registration drives targeting new movers, attending naturalization ceremonies, organizing at conservative-oriented events and securing lists of known but unregistered Republicans, would all allow the GOP to level the registration playing field.
State Party communications
should be about more than just seeking donations. Our experi-
ence with the SUVGOP newsletter suggests that activists would
welcome regular updates from around the state on important races, candidates, rising leaders and issues. Keeping Republicans in-
formed and making them aware of Party developments will make
them effective ambassadors and advocates.
With Republicans now in the minority in state government, the RPV’s importance as the north star and voice of organization and party development. A renewed level of
energy within and visibility of the RPV is essential to boosting morale and encouraging party development at every level.
We are extremely grateful to RPV for implementing our 2018 recommendation to establish a Suburban Advisory Committee. The committee met for the first time in June 2019. We believe the Suburban Advisory Committee’s activities should expand and we detail our ideas in the report.
The Republican Party of Virginia and its units should adjust their roles by “Going Local”. SUVGOP outlines several first recommendations in our report as listed here.
The state party and local units should collaborate to invest heavily in identifying the most important issues to suburban voters in each election cycle and with an eye toward identifying longer-term suburban trends.
· Republican candidates running in suburban areas of Virginia should choose two to three issues of concern to the electorate and define our solutions to these problems - issues that will encourage crossover voting by independents who may normally be inclined to vote for the official positions of the Democratic party, its candidates and elected officials.
The state and local parties in suburban areas should make an immediate and concerted effort to recruit a deep bench of potential candidates who are very involved in their communities and plan to run for office over the next five to ten years. The parties should offer education and assistance in the mechanics of professional campaigns.
Our tone matters. State and local candidates should develop a campaign tone that appeals to suburban voters.
Local units and the state party should place a renewed emphasis on making volunteer politics an enjoyable and rewarding activity in which volunteers feel personally invested. Opening up opportunities for innovation and individual responsibilities.
The Party should regularly communicate with activists across the state via a weekly or monthly email newsletter.
Suburban city and county units should make it as easy as possible for working families and young voters to participate in the Republican community.
Local units should experiment with new forms of precinct organization to reach suburban voters.
The Republican Party should encourage the development of organic grassroots groups such as the Tea Party and SUVGOP. The existence of such groups demonstrates the breadth of the Republican Party, not disunity.
The Republican Party of Virginia should establish a Suburban Advisory Committee comprised of unit chairs in suburban areas to provide advice and guidance on reversing the trends in these critical regions.
Thank you for taking the time to read our brief initial recommendations on "Winning Back Suburbia: Proposals for Virginia Republicans"
For a more detailed dive into our proposals download an electronic copy or email us: SUVGOP@gmail.com
Copyright © 2020 Suburban Virginia Republican Coalition - All Rights Reserved.