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COVID Restrictions, McAuliffe for Governor, and a Republican Convention: Political Analysis for Friday, December 11, 2020

A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone between them.
A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone between them.

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis.  Topics include tightened restrictions with rising rates of COVID infection in Virginia, McAuliffe officially joins the gubernatorial race, and a Republican convention, rather than a primary for their nominee.

Craig Carper:  From VPM News in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper.  Joining me now from the Richmond Times-Dispatch is political columnist and VPM’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro.  Jeff, good morning.

Jeff Schapiro:   Hi there, Craig.

Carper:  Jeff, Governor Ralph Northam on Thursday tightened COVID restrictions, kind of, and not surprisingly, there's another political quarrel over Virginia's response to the pandemic.

Schapiro:  You know, we've been at this now since March, nine months, and there is a pattern here.  Ralph Northam, our physician governor, puts in place restrictions and the Republicans in the General Assembly, the legislature had been the Republicans’ last redoubt of power, no longer, and the Republicans push back.  The governor also took a swing at Donald Trump.  So, please know that the governor's concerns about public safety not withstanding, he's prepared to throw the occasional political punch.  As for what the governor is doing this time, he describes this as a modified stay at home order, that Virginians are expected to remain in their homes between midnight and 5:00 AM.  The governor quoting his father, his 90+ plus year old father, a judge over on the Eastern Shore, “Nothing good happens after midnight.”  A lot of people are wondering what a five-hour lockdown is going to do to control the spread of the coronavirus in Virginia.  One step that is likely to have presumably some effect, public gatherings have been cut down to 10 from 25 people, and the masking requirement has been strengthened.  All of this in response to the surge in the virus and the measures of the surge, the positivity rate.  In other words, people testing affirmatively for the coronavirus is now at 11%.  On Thursday, 5,400 people were confirmed positive for the illness, again a spike of record levels.  Southwest Virginia and now central Virginia, the listening area, if you will, their hospitals are running out of space for COVID patients.  All of this seems to have inspired the sharpest response from out of power Republicans.  Tommy Norment, the minority leader, the Republican minority leader in the Virginia Senate, his words, “This smacks of martial law,” he says of the governor's latest announcement.  Todd Gilbert, the Republican minority leader in the House of Delegates, “blatantly unconstitutional,” his words.  Meanwhile, we have the governor attacking the president, again, no surprise there.  He says the president has, these are his words, “checked out on COVID.”  Atop all of this, of course the FDA is approving on an emergency basis that Pfizer vaccine, and the governor has said that with that approval this vaccine could be in circulation in Virginia this weekend.

Carper:  And it's no surprise that Terry McAuliffe, the former governor, announced this week that he's running again for his old job.  Perhaps surprising is the response of his black opponents in the Democratic primary.

Schapiro:  Terry McAuliffe, again, has made no secret of his interest in standing for governor.  Again, he made that clear almost a year ago.  There had been considerable speculation that with a Biden presidency, that McAuliffe might be offered a position in the Biden cabinet, Secretary of Commerce, for example.  However, it's quite clear that Terry McAuliffe much prefers being in charge.  And now that the Democrats have a majority in the General Assembly, the idea of sitting as governor with the wind, if you will, at your back of a blue party majority is clearly very enticing.  But a great deal has happened over the past four years, and a great deal has happened over the past months, including this elevated racial sensitivity, largely attributed to the George Floyd death in Minneapolis.  And so we are hearing from the black opponents of Terry McAuliffe in the Democratic primary, and that would be Jennifer Carroll Foy, a delegate from Northern Virginia, who is quitting her job as a legislator to run full-time for governor, Senator Jennifer McClellan from here in the Richmond area, and Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor.  That you know, somehow McAuliffe is standing in the way of black progress.  The time has come.  Particularly, we're hearing this from Carroll Foy and McClellan for black women who have never been elected statewide, at least never been elected governor of any state.  Standing in their way, McAuliffe, hypersensitive to this.  And one of the distinguishing features of his announcement was the continuing support of black legislators and black political leaders. So, honorary co-chairs of his campaign include Levar Stoney, the young black mayor of Richmond, a McAuliffe protégé, Charniele Herring, one of the Democratic leaders in the House, as well as the chairman of the Courts Committee, and Louise Lucas from Portsmouth, the Senate president pro tempore.  So, clearly McAuliffe is aware of all of this and trying to react, to respond positively.  One would point out that heading into a Democratic primary next June, Terry McAuliffe has two advantages, and they are of consequence.  One, name recognition, he's a former governor.  Two, he has raised a ton of money, well north of a million, while his rivals are struggling to get significant traction on the fundraising front.  The Democratic primary could become a five-way affair.  Lee Carter, who is a delegate from Prince William County, the only self-professed democratic socialist in the House of Delegates and also a Lyft driver, has set up a fundraising apparatus for a possible gubernatorial campaign. This would introduce to the primary fight a Bernie Sanders sound-alike, albeit one with a red crew cut.

Carper:  And one big surprise this week, Jeff, Republicans decided to select their 2021 slate at a convention, rather than in a primary.  The decision has a Trump sound-alike now running as an Independent.

Schapiro:  You know, this really shocked me.  You know, one would have thought that the Republicans with all of their problems, in particular that their party appears closed and seems to be shrinking, that their base of supporters is now reduced largely to older white males in the countryside, that the primary would have been a way to go, an open-to-all primary that would allow voters beyond the base to participate.  But no, the governing body of the party, the Central Committee narrowly voted to go with a convention.  And I guess it was something of a shock that this has had the effect, if you will, of kind of culling the ranks.  Amanda Chase, that Trump sound-alike who had preferred a primary has said that she will now run as an Independent for governor.  You know, getting on the ballot as an Independent is not easy.  There are petition requirements, a lot of signatures that have to be obtained in each of the eleven congressional districts.  And of course, putting together a statewide political apparatus, that's a reach.  But nonetheless, the Democrats are very happy with this development, convinced that it will bleed votes from the eventual nominee.  Kirk Cox, the former speaker, hopes that he is the nominee.  He is now the only declared candidate.  And though he indicated that he had a preference for a primary, he's prepared to go along with a convention.  What we don't know is who else will join this contest for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.  Pete Snyder, who ran for lieutenant governor, keeps making sounds that one would associate with a candidate.  Word has it he's been hiring a staff for a convention.  Glenn Youngkin, this gazillionaire who you would think having never run for anything before would prefer a primary, he too is still apparently pondering a possible run.  So, the Republicans are keeping us on the edge of the seat.  One would note in closing that Bill Carrico, former state senator who had toyed with the idea of running for governor is not and is throwing support to Kirk Cox.

Carper:  Alright, thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Jeff, we will catch up again next week.

Schapiro:  Stay safe.