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2016-11-16 / Featured / Front Page

Trump wins, but is Chesterfield turning blue?

Democrats gain ground in election
By Rich Griset
STAFF WRITER


Democrat Eileen Bedell, who challenged U.S. Rep. Dave Brat for his 7th District seat, walks in the Midlothian Day Parade in mid-October. She lost the election last week, but is encouraged by the turnout. 
James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer Democrat Eileen Bedell, who challenged U.S. Rep. Dave Brat for his 7th District seat, walks in the Midlothian Day Parade in mid-October. She lost the election last week, but is encouraged by the turnout. James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer Donald Trump’s historic upset of Hillary Clinton wasn’t last week’s only election surprise.

Democrats also gained a significant foothold in Chesterfield, a county that was once more reliably Republican. According to the county’s unofficial election results as of Friday, Trump received 84,981 votes in the county to Clinton’s 80,996, a difference of less than 4,000 votes. This shows a much smaller spread than the 2012 election, when Republican nominee Mitt Romney received 90,934 votes to President Barack Obama’s 77,694, a difference of more than 13,000 votes. In 2008, Sen. John Mc- Cain bested Obama 86,413 to 74,310, a difference of more than 12,000.

For Quentin Kidd, a professor of political science at Christopher Newport University, it’s just another sign that Chesterfield has become a bellwether of how the state will go in the presidential race. When Chesterfield came out so strongly for Clinton on election night, Kidd says he knew Virginia would be hers even before the rest of the state results came in.


On election night, Eileen Bedell greets supporters at Capital Ale House in Midlothian. 
James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer On election night, Eileen Bedell greets supporters at Capital Ale House in Midlothian. James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer “I call it a demographic leading county,” Kidd says. “It’s a canary in the coal mine when I’m looking at Virginia.”

For a Republican to win Virginia, Kidd says Republicans need to have a 15- to 20-point margin of victory in Chesterfield. Unlike most other swing states like Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio, Virginia went for Clinton instead of Trump. Kidd points out that Virginia doesn’t have the same economic anxieties as portions of the old Rust Belt, which voted for Trump.

“Virginia is not quite those kinds of economies,” says Kidd, acknowledging that though Virginia still has its agricultural and Coal Belt roots, nearly two-thirds of Virginia’s population lives in the eastern part of the state. “Our economy, as much as we worry about it being weak, is fundamentally better than Ohio’s economy.”

Of the Democrats’ improvement in the presidential race, Elizabeth Hardin, chair of the Chesterfield County Democratic Committee, says there were many factors, including their ground game and the quality of their candidate.

“Hillary Clinton really had the message that people were looking for,” Hardin says. “A lot of our voters, I think, were really turned off by Trump’s message, the misogyny and the bullying bluster that was so much a part of that campaign.”

Jerry Baldwin, chairman of the Chesterfield County Republican Committee, did not respond to questions emailed to him by press time.

Locally, the redrawing of the once comfortably Republican 7th District and a belief that there were more Democrats than previously thought in the area convinced Eileen Bedell to take a run at Republican Congressman Dave Brat. The county cast 66,013 votes for Brat over Bedell’s 55,650. Hardin argues that the fact that Bedell was able to get 45.7 percent of the vote in the county is proof that the county is becoming more Democrat-leaning.

“That is the best performance that a Democrat has done in the 7th District as far back as I can recall,” Hardin says. “I think that bodes very well for us next year and in the coming years,” she adds, referencing the races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and House of Delegates.

After conceding defeat at the Capital Ale House in Midlothian on election night, Bedell told the Observer that changes were underway in the 7th.

“There are a heck of a lot of people in the 7th District that still want to be heard,” Bedell said. “There is no such thing as a safe district in Virginia because Virginia is changing.”

Bedell’s campaign manager Grant Hallmark conceded that they had hoped turnout for the Democrats had been a little bit higher.

“Chesterfield wasn’t great for us. We were expecting a little bit better,” Hallmark said. “It’s not a solid red place [anymore].”

According to Kidd, generalizations about localities shouldn’t be made on the basis of congressional elections because of gerrymandering.

“It’s hard to say much about the congressional district or state senate [district],” Kidd says. “These aren’t competitive districts. Dave Brat doesn’t have to worry about being beaten by a Democrat unless he does something crazy.”

Regarding the national presidential polls being wrong, Kidd says it’s important to note that most of them were wrong within the margin of error.

“We have to accept that polls are not precise,” he says, pointing out that “Hillary Clinton won the vote nationally, she just didn’t win the Electoral College vote.”

Going forward, Hardin is looking ahead to the possibility of a bluer Chesterfield.

“We already knew that Chesterfield has the number of voters that if we can get the vote out, we can tip an election in the state,” Hardin says. “I think [the national election is] really going to energize the base, and we can get the vote out. I feel very optimistic about next year.”

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