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Virginia Voters And The State Of The Union


Much of the nation's political energy is going to be focused on the midterm elections this year. Democrats are hoping they can take control of Congress in November. Last night, NPR's Don Gonyea was at a State of the Union watch party in Virginia, one of those places that we're going to be watching closely through 2018. He joins us in the studio this morning.

Hey, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Tell us where you were exactly and why you chose that spot to watch the president's speech.

GONYEA: So I was in Northern Virginia. These are the Washington, D.C., suburbs. They're growing. They're becoming more diverse - lots of jobs connected to the federal government. And all of that has made Virginia much more friendly to Democrats over the past decades. Obama carried it twice. Clinton carried it in 2016. And in 2017, what looked to be a tight governor's race was won easily by the Democrat.

MARTIN: All right, you talked to Republicans and Democrats in Northern Virginia. What'd you hear?

GONYEA: Well, let's start with that watch party. It was at George Mason University, and I was with about 15 members of the College Republicans, among them, 21-year-old Joshua Keruski.

JOSHUA KERUSKI: I've been pleased with President Trump's first year in office. I think that going forward, there's a lot to work from in terms of what we've gotten so far.

GONYEA: So the big fight in Northern Virginia will be for a congressional seat held by Republican Barbara Comstock. She won in 2016 but not by nearly as much as Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in her district. Again, here's Joshua Keruski.

KERUSKI: I think probably the first or biggest challenge is just saying that you're a Republican in Northern Virginia. There's kind of a social stigma that goes with that.

GONYEA: At another event, I talked to a local county GOP chairman, Will Estrada. He says don't underestimate the power of positive economic news.

WILL ESTRADA: I personally believe that Donald Trump's policies are incredibly helping our country. But there's also no question that, among many of the voters that we're trying to win over, he's not very popular.

GONYEA: Now let's hear from a Northern Virginia Democrat. Seventy-three-year-old Randy Ihara has this take on Trump.

RANDY IHARA: It's been a disaster.

GONYEA: He says Trump has worked to undermine democratic institutions, he's attacked the FBI and the press.

IHARA: Basically, where he's divided this country - tribalized the country - there's Trump believers, and there's not.

GONYEA: And Rachel, he thinks that all of that will mobilize Democrats in the midterm. But he also cautions the party won't win the House and Senate by just being anti-Trump.

MARTIN: Although when you think about Northern Virginia, I mean, this is real close to D.C., just across the Potomac, so it's hard to imagine that the race is going to be any - about anything but Donald Trump.

GONYEA: Exactly. And Republicans may choose not to talk about Trump but about policies instead, but Democrats will. You can bet they'll continue to hammer home that voting for a Republican is voting to give President Trump more power. It might be hard for the campaigns to ever really branch out beyond that, especially with so many big storylines still unresolved involving the president.

MARTIN: NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea for us this morning. Thanks so much, Don.

GONYEA: It's my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "RAPPAHANNOCK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.