On Wednesday night, a Trump campaign advisor confirmed that the Republican nominee’s operation was pulling out of the swing state of Virginia, effectively conceding the state to Hillary Clinton. At the same time, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson was making moves in the state.
Trump had built up a modest field operation in Virginia, but the campaign never considered the Old Dominion State crucial to the Republican’s path to 270 electoral votes. Virginia — also known as the Mother of Presidents and the Mother of States — casts a mere 13 electoral votes, and went for President Obama in both 2008 and 2012.
Clinton holds a 9.4 percent lead in the current RealClearPolitics polling average, and it’s entirely likely the Trump campaign’s internal polls proved even worse for the Republican’s electoral hopes.
Fallout from the “Access Hollywood” comments in 2005 may also have damaged Trump’s competitiveness in the state, as concerns about the nominee’s alleged sexism riled Republicans and created an avalanche of criticism from more than 40 elected members of his party (including House Speaker Paul Ryan).
Trump’s operation had other serious problems in Virginia recently. The campaign fired Virginia State Chairman Corey Stewart after he participated in a protest in front of the Republican National Committee (RNC) headquarters.
“The RNC has not been very friendly and has been pulling resources out,” Stewart told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday. “They’ve been starving the Virginia Trump campaign even though it’s necessary to win the country. If we lose this state, it’s because of the RNC reneging on their promises to adequately fund the state’s ad program and ground operation.” Stewart alleged that he was promised 80 new staff positions by the RNC in previous weeks, but only about 20 were actually delivered.
Meanwhile, the Johnson campaign has made inroads in the state. On Tuesday evening, Liberty University announced that Gary Johnson will address the convocation next Monday, taking the place of football star (now Major League baseball athlete) Tim Tebow.
— Liberty OSD (@LibertyOSD) October 12, 2016
Early last month, the Richmond Times-Dispatch endorsed Johnson, after a long history of only endorsing Republican candidates for president.
In August, Virginia Congressman Scott Rigell endorsed Johnson, much to the chagrin of the state’s Republican Party. In April, Johnson also received the endorsement of Robert Sarvis, the most successful Libertarian candidate in the state’s history. Sarvis won 6.5 percent (nearly three times larger than the party had ever seen before) in the Old Dominion State’s gubernatorial election in 2013.
In the RealClearPolitics polling average, however, Johnson holds a mere 8.5 percent, compared to Trump’s 36.8 percent and Clinton’s 44.3 percent. He will have to win over most of Trump’s supporters in the swing state in order to compete with Clinton — an exceedingly difficult task, even with performances at Liberty University, endorsements from conservative papers, and the support of Republican lawmakers.
Nevertheless, Virginia Republicans should notice that Trump’s campaign is effectively conceding the state, and give Johnson another look.