Close to 1,800 Democrats gathered in Richmond on Saturday at a fundraiser featuring two presidential candidates designed to kick off the fall state legislative elections. The party said it brought in more than $425,000.
Democrats can make 2019 “the greatest year in the history of the Democratic Party of Virginia,” said Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, speaking early in the Blue Commonwealth Gala at Main Street Station. All 140 seats in the General Assembly are on the ballot in November.
Joining Democrats were presidential contenders Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. The event was broadcast live on C-SPAN.
The fundraiser was mostly pep rally with some serious moments. Attendees who paid at least $150 a ticket ate dinner and mingled while party officials gave speeches, which were difficult to hear in the train station’s newly-renovated shed over the din of conversation.
Buttigieg headlined the dinner and spoke after Klobuchar, who told Democrats: “You elected the most diverse group of people you have ever seen in the Virginia legislature [in 2017]. You did that. People that stood up and won.”
In a speech focusing on national and Virginia politics, Buttigieg said Democrats will change the national conversation at a chaotic moment in history.
“As a Democrat from a red state, I believe we need to stand together and demonstrate that there is no place in this country where Democrats can’t win. Not one state and not one commonwealth,” Buttigieg said.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, one of three Democratic congressional candidates who flipped GOP-held seats in 2018, said the party’s successes in winning 15 state House seats the year before, along with the big wins at the federal level, provide momentum to take control of the state legislature this year.
“Please continue working and fighting and donating your time, your energy, your money,” she said. “Because here in Virginia we have proven time and time and time again that it is worth it. And we are living proof of that.”
Rep. Elaine Luria, D-2nd, paid tribute to the 12 people killed in the mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.
“As the nation has moved on to the next big story, I want you to know that I will never stop talking about Keith Cox,” Luria said, after speaking about one of the shooting victims, who died trying to save his colleagues.
Democrats said taking a majority in the state legislature — where Republicans narrowly control each chamber — would allow them to pass “common-sense gun-safety legislation.”
“If there are people in office who don’t want to have those difficult conversations, then those people don’t deserve to represent our communities across the commonwealth,” Luria said.
Democrats brought out plenty of party stars, but absent from the stage were the party’s three statewide office holders in Richmond: Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
Northam continues trying to overcome the scandal that broke Feb. 1 with the revelation of a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook. He first said he was in the photo and apologized, then the next day said he was not in the photo, and then in May told WHSV-TV in Harrisonburg that he’d “said all along” he wasn’t in the photo.
It remains unclear who the two people in the photo are after an investigation by law firm McGuireWoods failed to ascertain the answer.
Herring, who has said he plans to run for governor in 2021 and wrote an op-ed Saturday in the Daily Press calling for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, attended the dinner as a guest. Fairfax, who is fighting allegations of sexual assault against him by two women, opted not to attend.
John March, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia, said in a text message to the Richmond Times-Dispatch that Democrats were ignoring the disarray of their party’s leadership.
“This event is a nice Band-Aid for their problems because they get to flaunt two candidates that have zero chance,” he wrote. “Let’s not forget that Ralph Northam’s yearbook photo exists and that Herring admitted to the same thing.”
Buttigieg recently finished fourth in a poll of Iowa Democratic voters, behind former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who flirted with a presidential run before deciding to help state Democrats campaign and raise money this year, earned applause with his continued tough talk about President Donald Trump.
After the party wins in 2019, McAuliffe said, in 2020 “we’re going to tell Donald Trump, delusional Don Trump, we’re going to tell him to get the hell out of the White House and get his ass back to Mar-a Lago where he belongs.”
Among state party officials speaking were Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, and legislative leaders from the state House and Senate.