The Democratic Party of Virginia plunged into a full-blown political crisis Wednesday as a series of scandals tarnished the commonwealth's three top Democratic leaders and threatened to reverse the historic gains the party has achieved in the state in recent years.

With Attorney General Mark Herring acknowledging that he appeared in blackface nearly 30 years ago, Democrats were unsure whether he, Gov. Ralph Northam or Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax would survive separate revelations that could alienate the party's base of support.

While the ultimate damage remains unclear, a sense of despair permeated a party that only days ago believed it was on the cusp of winning majorities in both houses of the General Assembly in the fall and cementing its control of state government for the first time in three decades.


"This is just devastating," said Ben Tribbett, a Fairfax-based Democratic strategist. "After a nuclear bomb goes off, it's not always better to be a survivor. We look terrible, and everyone knows it. There's no scenario where things get fixed. Humpty Dumpty doesn't get put back together again."

Alienating 'our base'

The nature of the controversies – two involving racially offensive imagery, the other an alleged sexual assault – seem likely to alienate both African-American and female voters, two of the party's core constituencies.


"We have been carried by our base," Tribbett said, "and you're not going to have energy in your base with something like this going on."

After rushing last week to call for Northam's resignation, Democratic leaders in Washington initially withheld judgment Wednesday after Herring's admission and a statement from Vanessa Tyson, a Scripps College professor who accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in 2004. Some officials said they needed more time to review the information, while others did not respond to requests for comment.

The silence reflected the political minefield that the party now faces in Virginia, a state that President Donald Trump lost in 2016 and that is likely to be crucial for any Democratic candidate hoping to defeat Trump's expected bid for a second term. If Herring and Fairfax were to vacate their offices, as most Democratic officials have demanded of Northam, then Kirk Cox, the Republican Speaker of the House, would be in line to take over as governor.


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