Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin arrives to speak at an election night party in Chantilly, Va., early Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, after he defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Credit: Andrew Harnik / AP

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In November of 1952, the state of Virginia did something that it had only done once in the prior eight decades: it voted for a Republican for president. That year, voters in the Commonwealth marched to the polls and voted for Dwight Eisenhower for president, giving him a reasonably comfortable 13-point win, which was something that up to that point was considered next to impossible.

No one really knew it at the time, but the near unbroken streak of Democratic dominance in Virginia was now over. The changing politics of the country, and the regional shift of party support in both the north and south ultimately turned what was a blue state into a reliably red state. From that election in 1952 until 2008, Virginia would consistently vote for Republican candidates for president in every single succeeding election with one exception, the 1964 landslide victory by Lyndon Johnson.

Nothing lasts forever, though, and as the decades passed the state began to change. As the federal leviathan continued to grow in Washington, D.C., northern Virginia communities in Fairfax, Loudoun, Arlington and Prince William counties began to grow with it. Population growth exploded as more people moved into the area, bringing with them a decidedly liberal politics.

When Eisenhower won Virginia in 1952, Fairfax County, just as an example, was populated by around 100,000 people. Today, Fairfax supports a population of nearly 1.2 million people. Smart political observers predicted that this would, eventually, end the Republican dominance of Virginia and make the state contestable by Democrats once again.

For once, the prognosticators were right, because in 2008 Barack Obama edged out Republican presidential nominee John McCain, 52 percent to 46 percent. In the following three elections in the Old Dominion, Democrats would win by four points, five points and 10 points, respectively.

A new day had dawned, it seemed. No longer a red state, Virginia had supposedly turned into a solid and reliably blue state. Success by Democrats in presidential races, as well as a string of statewide offices spawned a never-ending avalanche of analysis saying that Virginia was no longer a place where Republicans could consistently win.

As that belief gripped Virginia Republicans, they began to nominate terrible candidates and then failed to support them. Unsurprisingly, this was a recipe for failure, only further perpetuating the notion that all hope was lost, in a repetitively vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies being realized.

But was it all just a mirage?

It seems so, because last night, voters in Virginia sent a powerful message by voting for Republicans from top to bottom across the Commonwealth. Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin beat former Democratic Gov. Terry McAulliffe, while Republican lieutenant governor candidate Winsome Sears and attorney general candidate Jason Miyares also came out on top. In addition, the Virginia House of Delegates appears now to once again be in the hands of Republicans after a number of pickups Tuesday night.

The key takeaway here is that appearances can be deceiving in politics. Trends over time can fool us into thinking we know the political character of a state, and our reaction to that can end up reinforcing a faulty judgment.

The growth of the northern Virginia suburbs did change the character of Virginia politics, but all it really did was turn it from a reliably Republican state to a contestable “purple” state. The recent success by Democrats there has had more to do with better candidates, better campaigns and better resources ultimately prevailing.

In Maine, we’ve seen this same phenomenon. The assumption that we are a blue state had resulted in a widespread belief among Republicans, and indeed the rest of the state, that the GOP couldn’t win here. When you don’t think you can win, good candidates don’t step forward, which leaves the right with the wrong people running, and amateur campaigns being run with next to no resources. When these candidates ultimately failed, it reinforced the belief that they were doomed from the start.

And yet it was never true here either. We have seen repeatedly over the last 11 years that when Republicans run compelling candidates with quality campaigns and the resources needed to run strong campaigns, they win and win often.

All of which should just reinforce an important point that should be learned by partisans of all stripes, nationwide: Show up, and fight everywhere, even if you people tell you all hope is lost. Maybe they are right, but you’ll never know if you don’t give it a real shot.

Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...