Election Day 2017: Partisan politics take center stage at CCLP and Unruh Institute Panel

One year ago this week, CCLP hosted a presidential election event that went strikingly different from the gubernatorial election screening and panel the Center hosted this November in partnership with the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. Compared to the 2016 election viewing, the results from New Jersey and Virginia rolled in rather early and without much drama, leaving a lot of room for speculation about the powerful mandate voters might be sending to the Trump White House. Eileen McMenamin, the former Communications Director for Senator John McCain, and Bill Burton, former Deputy White House Press Secretary for the Obama Administration and Managing Director at SKDKnickerbocker, joined CCLP and the Unruh Institute for a conversation about the results from the 2017 state and local elections.

The event was hosted in the Wallis Annenberg Hall forum, where CCLP and Unruh showed the CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC live results from the gubernatorial races on the media wall. CNN declared the New Jersey governor’s race in favor of Democrat Phil Murphy around 5:00 PM PST and then, in what many saw as a huge surprise, called the Virginia race in favor of Democrat Ralph Northam soon after. As a result, when the panel kicked-off, all attention was turned to Virginia, including to the local races where Democrats eventually managed to flip over 10 House of Delegate seats. “People expected the Democrats to win, but not by this much,” explained McMenamin at the start of the night.

The conversation soon shifted to talk of what 2017 means for the 2018 midterm elections and the parties overall. “The good news from tonight is that Dems from all demographics and regions turned out,” pointed out Burton during his forecast of Democratic success next November. Burton also noted that for the first time in awhile, the polls in Virginia were fairly accurate in predicting Northam’s win, which led the communications expert to comment that, “Pollsters still have not figured out, in the cellular age, how to get to voters.”

Throughout the night, Burton and McMenamin, along with moderator and Unruh Director Bob Shrum, discussed topics such as how the Republicans will strategize to bounce back and the implications of the gubernatorial results for the Senate race in Alabama in December. Students, too, were curious to hear Burton and McMenamin explain what was different in Virginia and New Jersey from the Georgia Senate special election earlier this fall.

The November 7 Election Event concludes CCLP’s “Politics, Power, and the Press” programming series for 2017. The series has done more than could have been expected to highlight the changing demographics, party allegiances, and political norms for students and community members. The Center looks forward to programming in 2018.