Why swing state Virginia may swing against Trump –or any Republican

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally in Fredericksburg, Va., on Aug. 20, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally in Fredericksburg, Va., on Aug. 20, 2016. AP

Amera Matthews doesn’t like Hillary Clinton: She’s too polarizing and doesn’t seem genuine enough. But Matthews can’t stand Donald Trump.

That’s why the telecommunications company recruiter who has voted for both Republicans and Democrats in the past expects to reluctantly – very reluctantly – cast a ballot for Clinton for president in November.

“He’s vitriolic. He says things just to start things. . . . I would never want to put somebody like that up on a platform to represent the entire country to the world,” said Matthews of Prince William County, a bustling Virginia exurb an hour outside Washington. “I definitely won’t be voting for him,”

As the Democratic and Republican candidates for vice president debate Tuesday night in Farmville, Virginia, they will do it in a state surprisingly open to voting for the Democratic ticket.

For nearly half a century, Virginia went Republican in every presidential election. But thousands of new residents, many Hispanic and Asian immigrants, have been pouring into the sprawling suburbs outside the nation’s capital, changing the demographics, and opening the state to national Democrats.

Barack Obama in 2008 became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1964, and he won again in 2012. The governor and both U.S. senators are Democrats, though Republicans still control the Legislature.

And now, even before popular Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., takes the debate stage, Trump might be pushing the swing state farther toward the Democrats.

“He is a blabbering fool,” said Chris Marshall, 35, a bookkeeper from Manassas.

“He doesn’t act professional,” said Jorge Torres, 18, a high school senior from nearby Woodbridge.

It scares me to think he could have his finger on the button,” said Rene Taylor, 47, of Manassas, who is unemployed.

I’m definitely going to vote for somebody not him. I just don’t agree with almost anything he says. I think he’s very racist and ignorant. As long as he doesn’t get elected, I think we’ll be OK.

Roxsana Henriquez, 23, a student from Ashburn

Republicans haven’t won a statewide election in Virginia since 2009 after fielding a string of candidates ill-suited to the rapidly changing state, which has become more diverse, more youthful, more educated.

The state’s population grew nearly 5 percent from 2010 to 2015, with the uptick largely among Democratic constituencies including African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics.

“Every year Virginia moves further away from Republicans. No question about it,” said Scott Surovell, a Democratic state senator in Virginia. “It’s further and further out of reach.”

Polls have consistently found Clinton leading in Virginia, though her lead has narrowed at times and many are not enthusiastic about her. Dissatisfied voters cite Clinton’s ongoing scandals over her email and family foundation as reasons for their skepticism.

“Unfortunately, with . . . the Republican being Trump I’m kind of left with Hillary Clinton,” said Celene Carter, 19, of Manassas Park, a sophomore at Northern Virginia Community College.

Quentin Kidd, the director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, said Trump lost some support in Virginia after a spate of negative publicity following both political conventions as well as the selection of Kaine as Clinton’s running mate. But, he said, that support for Trump is returning. “They will come back,” he said. “He has the ability to make it close.”

We’ve been through the Clintons and the Bushes and I’m looking for something different. He’s not afraid to make the change and to pull the trigger. If something is not working, he’s going to make the change.

Kevin Lang, 55, who works in software sales in Manassas

Beverly Cuellar, 43, a stay-at-home mom from Manassas who is part Hispanic, supported Obama but hasn’t been happy with him and is undecided nowabout whom to support. She loves Trump’s “Make America great again” slogan because the country is in turmoil. “I don’t think it’s as great as it once was,” she said.

Clinton has support among minorities, including African-Americans in the inner cities and Hispanics and Asians in the bustling suburbs of Northern Virginia, but she still struggles with young people, an important piece of Obama’s winning coalition.

Trump has support among the military and veterans in Hampton Roads, home to the world’s largest naval base, as well as more rural areas, where farms, manufacturing plants and coal mines were once prevalent in the center, south and southwest of the state and the economy isn’t what it once was.

The evangelical vote in swing states like Missouri could be pivotal for Donald Trump. How do such voters find a way to support a candidate whose public behavior and beliefs seem to be at odds with their own?

But the sheer numbers of people moving into Northern Virginia make it difficult for Trump unless he changes tactics.

“The rest of the state is much more conservative,” said Don Sheehan, 66, a Marine and FBI retiree from Manassas who supports Trump. “But given the demographics, I would say the influx of people coming into Northern Virginia . . . will always outweigh the rest of the state. I fear it is going that way.”

Sheehan wished Trump had made inroads with minority communities but worries that it’s too late after his statements about building a wall on the Southwestern border, deporting immigrants and banning Muslims. “I do not think he’s going to make it,” he said.

Maybe he’s a good businessman but I think making friends and not starting wars is more important than making money.

Hailan Shali, 25, of Haymarket, who teaches overseas in English

Members of both parties say Virginia could deliver a Republican victory again with the right candidate who offers a moderate message and embraces the minority communities in the vote-rich areas outside the nation’s capital. So far, that’s not Trump.

“This state can still be competitive,” said Harry Wilson, the director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College. “A different candidate, a candidate other than Trump, would be able to make hay of Clinton’s issues.”

The last Republican to win statewide, Bob McDonnell, ran as a pragmatic problem-solver with the slogan “Bob’s for Jobs”and pledged to tackle kitchen-table issues, including jobs, roads and schools. Ed Gillespie, who cast himself as a moderate in the 2014 Senate race, shocked Virginia’s political class by nearly toppling the state’s most popular politician, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner.

Tom Davis, a moderate Republican who represented Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than a dozen years, said Trump needed to pay special attention to Northern Virginia – filled with ethnic communities, educated residents and government workers – to be successful in the state. “He needs to speak their language,” he said.

Corey Stewart, the longtime chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, who is leading Trump’s campaign in Virginia, said he had urged the candidate to visit and campaign in minority neighborhoods and churches in Northern Virginia that past Republicans have “foolishly ignored.”

“For 20 years, Republicans had grown complacent,” said Stewart, who is running for governor next year. “We can’t do that anymore. We need to work harder, go reach out and make contact with minority voters.”

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01

Indiana Governor Mike Pence and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine squared off in the only Vice Presidential debate of the 2016 campaign. Seated at a table with moderator Elaine Quijano, the format was intended to inspire discussion. The conversation prim