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Scandals Are Likely To Affect This Year's Elections In Virginia


And sitting next to her in the studio is Kyle Kondik. He's a political analyst with the site Sabato's Crystal Ball, which is run out of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. He writes with longtime political analyst Larry Sabato there. Thanks for coming in.

KYLE KONDIK: Good morning.

GREENE: So you have a crystal ball. What is going to happen here? We have three top leaders in the state of Virginia who are all facing calls to resign. Where does this go?

KONDIK: Well, the crystal ball is a little hazy right now. I have to say that this is - I can't think of a situation that is sort of parallel to this, where you have the three top officials in a state, all of whom are in line to be governor, all with these serious questions. But, you know, what it does for Governor Ralph Northam - who faced calls, many calls to resign, almost uniform calls to resign from presidential candidates and also from top officials in Virginia - it does give him a little bit of breathing room that he could basically hang on because the people below him who would take over for him are so damaged, too.

GREENE: Well, can we talk about this being in the state of Virginia - I mean, a state that has confronted a painful past when it comes to race, the capital of the Confederacy? I mean, this isn't just happening anywhere. It's happening in the state of Virginia, these, I mean, admissions of wearing blackface.

KONDIK: Yeah. And this is all wrapped up in the, you know, the sad racial history of Virginia, but also, you know, the South and the country as a whole. And, of course, Virginia is where we saw the white supremacist march in Charlottesville in 2017, and also it's been sort of ground zero for this battle over Confederate statues. And, you know, again, this whole discussion about blackface is sort of a part of a larger problem about, you know, basically whites being, you know, insensitive on racial issues. And here we have two of the top officials in the state who are all wrapped up in that now.

GREENE: Well, and let's talk about the politics here. I mean, President Obama won this state twice. Democrats have made gains in the state of Virginia. But how does this all position Democrats now, both in Virginia and nationally? Because Democrats have, you know, tried to claim the moral high ground when it comes to denouncing racism, when it comes to supporting survivors of sexual assault.

KONDIK: Also what's important about the political situation in Virginia is that Virginia is one of the few states that have elections in odd years. And in November, the entire state legislature's going to be on the ballot. The Republicans hold two-seat majorities in both the state House and the state Senate. And the thought was that the Democrats are going to be favored to win back the House - win the House and the Senate and probably elect the most liberal government in Virginia history, assuming that that Democratic state legislature will be paired with a Democratic governor. But perhaps all of this chaos throws that outcome into doubt and maybe helps the Republicans hold on.

GREENE: Wow. You're suggesting, I mean, this could be a real political earthquake in the state and change a lot of the forces we saw at work.

KONDIK: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's impossible to know what sort of effect these scandals might have on, not just the results in November but also, you know, the lead-up to the campaign - you know, Democratic recruiting efforts to get candidates fundraising, motivation to vote amongst Democratic base voters, which was very high in 2017 in Virginia, I think in large part because of Donald Trump's presence in the White House, you know? I guess one positive thing for Democrats is that politics are so nationalized now, particularly in Northern Virginia, which is both very vote-rich, very Democratic, but also probably doesn't feel as much of a connection to state politics in Richmond. And voters there may be sort of more motivated by national factors. And, again, I think Democrats would have to hope that that kind of generic enthusiasm continues, even in a state where the top Democratic officials are all caught up in scandal.

GREENE: Kyle Kondik of the UVA Center for Politics. Thanks so much. We appreciate it.

KONDIK: Thank you.

GREENE: And Sarah McCammon is still in the studio. Sarah, can I just ask you one question? The top three officials here in the line of succession are all Democrats. But next in line - I mean, I know this is hypothetical, but were all these officials to have to resign - is a Republican, right? And it's been a real quirky way that that has become the reality.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Yeah. Kirk Cox is the House leader - he's a Republican - only because Republicans are in charge, and they're only in charge because they've managed to hold onto control. Back in 2017, Democrats came really close to taking the House after many years of Republican control. There was this one seat that was really, really close and had to be decided by casting lots, people may remember.

GREENE: I remember that.

MCCAMMON: The Republican won. The Republicans retained control of the House. Kirk Cox is the leader of the Republicans, and he's fourth in line for the governor.

GREENE: So that one local race, decided by casting lots, could really change everything in Virginia, potentially. But there's a lot to work out here, of course.

MCCAMMON: In theory, it could.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Sarah McCammon. Thanks, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.