“Virginia is a bellwether state and we are going to be there,” said John Feinblatt, Everytown’s president. “There is no doubt this is a test. This is the next theater for what’s going to happen everywhere in 2020.”
With its odd-year elections, Virginia has a long record of serving as a leading indicator for national contests the following year. The state’s voters in 2009 were the first to reject Democrats in the Obama era, foreshadowing the rise of the Tea Party, and did the same to Republicans in 2017 following President Trump’s election. That year, Democrats swept out a generation of long-tenured suburban Republican lawmakers while coming within a coin flip in a tied race of winning control of the state’s House of Delegates for the first time since 1999.
Virginia remains a complex state demographically and culturally, with wide swaths of rural areas where Confederate flags are common and belief in gun rights sacrosanct. But the current gun control debate comes as the state has nearly completed a Republican-to-Democratic transition in statewide elections, as urban and suburban voters have swung hard away from Republicans over the last decade.