Hoppy Kercheval, Opinion

What the Virginia election outcome means for West Virginia

I keep wondering when the West Virginia Democratic Party is going to get some encouraging news, but the bad news just keeps coming.

Democratic office holders switch parties, the Republican Party continues to outpace the Democrats in voter registration (38% to 35%), and now neighboring Virginia, which had been trending Democrat, swings back to the right.

Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat and former governor Terry McAuliffe 51% to 49% in the governor’s race. McAuliffe won urban areas, but the rest of the commonwealth went red, in some cases deep red.

The reddest counties are the ones bordering West Virginia. Youngkin won each of those counties by capturing an average of 78% of the vote. Youngkin won the three most southwestern Virginia counties along the West Virginia border by an average of 86% of the vote.

In almost every Virginia county along the West Virginia line, Youngkin won by a wider margin than Donald Trump in 2020.

Those western Virginia counties are a lot like many counties in West Virginia — rural and white. Tazwell County, Va., has much more in common with Mercer County, W.Va., than Henrico County where Richmond is located.

It is not a stretch to imagine what this means for West Virginia in the next election. The Mountain State is already deep red — Trump won every county in 2020 — and the outcome in the Virginia election, especially in those border counties, suggests not much is changing. If anything, the state may become an even darker shade of red, if that’s possible.

This leaves West Virginia Democrats in a hole. Democrats left in the state Legislature are coming to the realization that being in the minority, especially when Republicans have super majorities in both chambers, leaves them powerless.

There is always Joe Manchin, the de facto head of the Democratic Party in the state and now a central figure in Washington’s political battles. However, Manchin is taking a thrashing from his own party because he won’t sign off on the agenda of President Biden and his fellow Democrats.

Manchin even offered to leave the party and register as an independent. Manchin told me on Talkline this week he doesn’t feel as though he belongs in either party. It is a bad sign when the most popular and well-known Democrat in the state is publicly questioning his affiliation.

Worse yet, the national Democratic Party has written off West Virginia. This once solid Democratic stronghold that loyally backed the party’s presidential nominee in nearly every election for 80 years is now lumped in with the rest of the small red states with only a handful of electoral votes and no chance of flipping a congressional seat.

It’s a shame, really. A viable two-party system is better for governing. But for that to happen in West Virginia, Democrats are going to have to some way, somehow, establish a bulwark and begin clawing their way back into the race.

Unfortunately for them, the results in neighboring Virginia indicate that fight is getting even harder.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.