News & Politics

Paul Krugman: Why You Should Care About the Virginia Governor's Race

"What happens there could decide the fate of the nation."

Photo Credit: swisseconomic/Flickr Creative Commons

Virginia is a microcosm of the divisions in American politics, explains Paul Krugman in his Tuesday New York Times column. On one hand, the state is beginning to shed vestiges of its Confederate past. Virginia is becoming more ethnically diverse, and also supported the Democratic candidate in the last three presidential elections. On the other hand, even one of its more liberal cities, Charlottesville, was home to a white supremacist rally that killed one woman and injured many others. It's also a state that, despite a Democratic governor, was among those that refused the Medicaid expansion that would have, free of charge, increased the number of Virginians with health insurance. "That refusal," Krugman notes, "means gratuitous financial hardship for many and a significant number of people dying from lack of medical care."

This is why the current governor's race is important, and why there's reason to worry. Democrats, as a general rule, writes Krugman, "are much less likely than Republican-leaning voters to cast ballots in state and local elections; as a result, a politically moderate state has a hard-right legislature. And there’s a real possibility that it may soon have a Republican governor, too."

After all, the Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie, is borrowing heavily from the Donald Trump playbook. Krugman writes:

"He’s accusing Ralph Northam, his Democratic opponent, of dishonoring the state’s Confederate heroes. (Funny how people who accuse their rivals of being unpatriotic worship men who engaged in armed rebellion against the United States.) He’s not only accused Northam of being soft on illegal immigration, but he’s insinuated that this somehow makes him an ally of a violent Central American gang." 

While much of Virginia didn't vote for Trump, that doesn't mean Northam can sit back and relax. In fact, while much of the state's voters disapprove of Trump's policies, Gillespie's rhetoric could, as Krugman points out, "mobilize enough angry white voters to swing the election if Democrats don’t come out in equal force." And if they don't? Krugman warns that "all the worst impulses of the Trumpist G.O.P. will be empowered." 

If the Democrats can mobilize and get out the vote in force, however, the rewards will be great. According to Krugman

"If, on the other hand, Northam wins and Democrats make big inroads in the state legislature, it won’t just probably mean that hundreds of thousands of Virginians will get health insurance, and it won’t just be an omen for the 2018 midterms. It will also encourage at least some sane Republicans to break with a man they privately fear and despise (see Corker, Bob)."

Which is why Krugman is concerned that this race isn't getting the national attention it deserves. Progressive activists, understandably bruised by a variety of fights, would do well to heed his words: "Virginia is now the most important place on the U.S. political landscape—and what happens there could decide the fate of the nation."

Read the entire column

Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.

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