WASHINGTON — Northern Virginia’s population heavyweights were solid blue on Election Day, which a Democratic and a Republican strategist each say will only bring more focus to the region in upcoming elections such as the 2017 governor’s race.
President-elect Donald Trump’s Virginia campaign director, Mark Lloyd, said he is proud his team made it so close statewide, with gains especially pronounced in more rural areas.
“Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William — they were a huge challenge for us … each part of the state is a little different, especially for Republicans, I think,” Lloyd said at a discussion organized by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. “A Northern Virginia Republican is not the same as a Southwest Virginia Republican.”
“So much of Northern Virginia is just a suburb of Washington, D.C. Republican, Democrat, whatever, [their] livelihoods are tied to things not changing in Washington, D.C., and I think that it was reflected in the vote,” he said. “Republicans just were not going to come out and vote for the change candidate like they were in other parts of the state.”
Hillary Clinton’s Virginia campaign director, Brian Zuzenak, said the largest single group of staffers he had anywhere in the state was in Northern Virginia.
“That’s because Northern Virginia is 40 percent of the projected Democratic electorate,” he said.
“The way population trends are going, Northern Virginia continues to grow, so I think you’re going to see more and more emphasis given to Northern Virginia because that’s where the population is,” Zuzenak said.
Clinton won Virginia by about five percentage points, thanks in large part to the strong turnout in Northern Virginia and diminished turnout or some gains elsewhere.
Statewide, turnout was hovering just below 71 percent of registered voters as the vote count was finalized. In Fairfax County, elections leaders say the turnout was about 82.5 percent.
Lloyd said Trump’s national campaign staff were calling him from New York every 20 minutes as the first results came in from more Republican parts of the state with hopes that the early lead was a sign of how the night would turn out.
“I said, ‘Fairfax isn’t in’,” he said.
Fairfax County has more voters than any other jurisdiction in Virginia. More than 65 percent of voters there backed Clinton, while just 29 percent backed Trump.
Zuzenak, who has run other Virginia operations for Democrats, said that does not mean Democrats can take statewide races for granted.
“Places do change, and campaigns can make inroads into certain places that no other campaign can make,” Zuzenak said, citing the relatively small margin by which Trump beat Clinton in typically Republican Chesterfield County.
“It can happen, but it relies on the uniqueness of the campaign to make that happen,” he said. “There are Republicans who still win in Northern Virginia. Barbara Comstock got re-elected fairly handily.”
Trump won Stafford, Fauquier and Clarke counties, but no jurisdictions closer to the Beltway.
“I don’t think it’s a whole brand of Republicans that can’t compete in Northern Virginia, I think it was Donald Trump that couldn’t compete in Northern Virginia,” Zuzenak said.
Lloyd said he believes that feeling could change if a President Trump is effective.
“One thing we can do — not to insult anybody — we drain the swamp,” he said. “When things turn around, maybe some folks that were reticent will come along, be more encouraged by limited government, less government, and maybe then things will change. Do we have to work harder? Well, honestly I don’t know that we could work a whole lot harder.”
Still, he said, Virginia Republicans may need to focus on turnout in more traditionally Republican areas to improve odds in statewide elections.
“You kinda have to go catch the fish where they’re bitin’,” Lloyd said.