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What's Behind Democrats' Win In Virginia


Virginia was a big win for Democrats in this week's elections. Both chambers of the General Assembly flipped to Democratic control. The governor of Virginia is also a Democrat, so that's a trifecta not seen in Virginia for a generation.

Tram Nguyen helped shape that winning coalition. She's co-director of the nonpartisan group New Virginia Majority. She believes their tactics may have drawn a road map for Democrats across the country. Tram Nguyen joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

TRAM NGUYEN: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What's your explanation of why you were able to succeed?

NGUYEN: Well, I think it was a combination of campaign infrastructure and progressive infrastructure that has been built over, frankly, the last decade. Our approach is year-round. We talk to voters every day about issues that they face every day. We go to communities where they have been forgotten by mainstream candidates, mainstream campaigns. And so the conditions were ripe for a wave of folks to be engaged who are paying attention to the elections in a different way and to have a reason to vote.

SIMON: The results were noteworthy, but the totals were still pretty close in most races.

NGUYEN: Yup, the totals were still pretty close, but if you compare the turnout levels this year to previous elections, it was phenomenal. And that's because there's an intensity level and an enthusiasm level that went into this election cycle that we'd never seen before.

Our organization's identity - right? - has been to really focus on people of color and immigrants and new Americans and young people, folks that have been traditionally left on the sidelines. We're not trying to persuade them or convince them to come towards our ideology 'cause everybody already has a sense of their ideology and a sense of their values. We are trying to say, take your values into the ballot box and vote because that is currency.

SIMON: You described yourself as a nonpartisan group, but would it be fair to say that you do find yourself aligned with Democrats?

NGUYEN: We have a host of issues that our communities deeply care about - right? - criminal justice reform, you know, making sure that everybody has access to quality health care. And in this current environment, I mean, frankly, yes, there are more Democrats that are aligned with our values than Republicans, but we have worked with both parties. And we're also not afraid to hold any politician, no matter what party that they come from, accountable.

SIMON: Yeah. People have been noting for 25 years that the demographic characteristics of Virginia are changing. That's not true of every state, right?

NGUYEN: Well, I can only speak for Virginia 'cause I know - Virginia's my home.

SIMON: Right.

NGUYEN: But, yes, the demographic changes have been significant. But I would argue that demographics isn't destiny. And if we want to engage this changing demographic and this expanded electorate, we have to be very intentional about it. And so for both parties, frankly, and for anybody in the political space, you have to think about ways to engage this growing diversity in an authentic way.

SIMON: What do you believe you've learned in Virginia that might transfer to other - I know Virginia's a commonwealth, but might transfer to other states?

NGUYEN: I think the work was built over time. Year after year, elections are never our finish line. People vote because they want politicians and their elected officials to fix things, to fix things for their lives. And if politicians don't follow through with it, then, again, if our vote is our currency, we can use our vote to vote them out of office. Politicians work for us. And I think if organizations across the country recognize that if we want enduring power and enduring opportunities to pass a progressive agenda, then we have to invest all the time and invest in places where you thought might not be winnable, right? People need a political home, and we created that for them.

SIMON: Tram Nguyen - she co-directs the nonpartisan political organizing group New Virginia Majority. Thank you so much for being with us.

NGUYEN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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