Virginia’s elections on Tuesday night were a stinging loss for the Republican Party. Governor-elect Ralph Northam won by the biggest margin for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate since 1985, and Democrats made massive and unexpected gains in the House of Delegates.
Election night was also very difficult for the National Rifle Association, which is headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, and spent big bucks in an effort to defeat Northam and several other Democrats who ultimately won. The NRA poured over $2 million into races in Virginia, including a massive $750,000 advertising push in the last three weeks before the election.
The losses came up and down the ticket. Northam, Lieutenant Governor–elect Justin Fairfax, and Attorney General Mark Herring all faced NRA-backed candidates and won. In 13 competitive races where the Democratic candidate was endorsed by the pro–gun control group Giffords (until recently known as Americans for Responsible Solutions) and the Republican was backed by the NRA, the Giffords candidate was victorious in 12. The winner of the 13th race still hasn’t been declared, as Democrat Shelly Simonds and Republican David Yancey await a full vote tally. Among the winners was Chris Hurst, whose girlfriend was fatally shot on the air as she reported for a local Virginia television station. His opponent was backed by the NRA.
Other gun-control groups like Moms Demand Action and Everytown also pushed hard for these pro–gun control Democrats—Everytown dumped $700,000 into Virginia races as election day drew near.
NRA candidates in very safe Republican districts still won, but that was to be expected. In short, the NRA got its clock cleaned everywhere that mattered.
Since the NRA frequently gets involved in competitive federal and state races nationwide, almost always on behalf of Republican candidates, naturally sometimes its candidates win and sometimes they lose. There can be a tendency to over-read these results—if a race didn’t meaningfully turn on gun control, it probably didn’t tell us much about gun politics. But that was clearly not the case in Virginia.
Northam, who boasted about his F rating from the NRA, protested outside NRA headquarters in Fairfax after the Las Vegas shooting that claimed 58 lives and injured 546 others. “I appreciate it when someone says, ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with you.’ But it’s time to take it a step further; we need to take action,” he said.