President Donald Trump has lost Lynchburg City, Virginia, home to Liberty University—a private evangelical Christian university whose former president was a staunch Trump supporter—making him the first Republican to do so since 1948.
The city, which was once described as sitting at “the heart of pro-Trump evangelical Christianity,” by the New York Times, has a long history of voting Republican, until now.
In the 2020 election, Lynchburg City, which has a population of around 80,000, voted Democrat with 48 percent of the vote going to Joe Biden, and 46 percent of the city’s vote going to Trump, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. The race was close, however, with Biden winning the majority by 750 votes.
Lynchburg City’s decision reflects the state’s general voting behavior, as Biden won Virginia with 54 percent of the vote compared to Trump’s 45 percent.
The city is home to Liberty University, which was founded by Jerry Falwell and Elmer L. Towns in 1971, and Falwell’s son Jerry Falwell Jr. became president of the university when his father died in 2007.
Falwell Jr. is a vocal supporter of Trump and his endorsement was viewed as a pivotal moment for the now-President, as it was one of the first signs of support from an Evangelical leader.
In October 2016, numerous pro-Trump supporters, including Vice President Mike Pence, spoke at the university, and in May 2017, Trump delivered the keynote address during the commencement at Liberty University.
However, in October 2016, before Trump was elected, a group of Liberty students wrote a letter disagreeing with the university’s [former] president’s endorsement of Trump. The letter was signed by roughly 2,000 students and alumni.
The letter said: “We are Liberty students who are disappointed with President Falwell’s endorsement and are tired of being associated with one of the worst presidential candidates in American history. Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him.”
Despite this attitude among some of the students, Lynchburg ended up voting Republican in 2016, with Trump receiving 50.9 percent of the votes and Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton receiving just 41.8 percent.
In 2012, Lynchburg voted for Mitt Romney, who received 54 percent of the vote, and in 2008, the city voted for John McCain, who received 51 percent of the vote.
Lynchburg has had a long history of voting Republican, with the vote for Biden marking the first time the city has voted for Democrats since 1948, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.
Twitter user and Lynchburg resident Amanda Grace highlighted this flip in a tweet that had been shared hundreds of times. While Amanda Grace claimed that Lynchburg had not voted Democrat since 1944, the city voted for Democratic President Harry S. Truman in 1948.
Lynchburg’s decision to flip comes at a tumultuous time for Liberty University. Falwell Jr. resigned in August 2020, amid rumors of he and his wife allegedly engaging in a sexual relationship with another man, and after he took indefinite leave due to a controversial photo of himself with his trousers unzipped. Last week, Falwell Jr. sued Liberty University, saying that it damaged his reputation.
It was questioned whether Falwell Jr.’s fall from grace would impact Trump’s chances in the 2020 election, though Sarah Posner, the author of Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump, told the Guardian that Falwell Jr.’s influence has been overestimated and that: “His fall does not change anything.
“Trump has built relationships with the evangelical base and the religious right leadership in Washington, and they see him as their saviour—God’s hand is on him, he has come to save America at this critical juncture.”
It is unclear whether the scandals surrounding Falwell Jr. had any sway on the results of the 2020 election, or why Lynchburg decided to flip. Nevertheless, the vote proves to be a historic moment for the historically Republican Lynchburg City.
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