President Donald Trump has lost Lynchburg City, Virginia, the seat of Liberty University – a private evangelical Christian university whose former president was a staunch Trump supporter, making him the first Republican since 1948.
The city, once described by the New York Times as “at the heart of evangelical Christianity for Trump,” has a long history of electing Republicans, right up to the present day.
In the 2020 election, Lynchburg City, which has a population of about 80,000, voted Democrat, with Joe Biden receiving 48 percent of the vote and Trump receiving 46 percent of the city’s vote, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. The race was close, however, as Biden won the majority with 750 votes.
Lynchburg City’s decision reflects the state’s overall voting behavior, with Biden winning Virginia with 54 percent of the vote versus 45 percent of Trump’s vote.
The city is home to Liberty University, founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell and Elmer L. Towns. 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 support was seen as a defining moment for the current president as it was one of the first signs of support from an evangelical leader.
In October 2016, numerous Trump supporters, including Vice President Mike Pence, spoke at the university, and in May 2017 Trump delivered the keynote address during the inauguration at Liberty University.
However, in October 2016, before Trump was elected, a group of Liberty students wrote a letter disagreeing with Trump’s support from the [former]president of the university. The letter was signed by about 2,000 students and alumni.
The letter said: “We are Liberty students who are disappointed with President Falwell’s endorsement and 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 of some students, Lynchburg finally voted Republican in 2016, with Trump receiving 50.9 percent of the vote and the Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton only 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 a long history of voting for Republicans. According to the Virginia Department of Elections, the vote for Biden was the first time since 1948 that the city voted for Democrats.
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 for Democrats since 1944, the city voted for Democratic President Harry S. Truman in 1948.
Lynchburg’s decision for the change comes at a turbulent time for Liberty University. Falwell Jr. resigned in August 2020 after rumors that he and his wife had allegedly had a sexual relationship with another man and after he had been given an indefinite leave of absence due to a controversial photograph of himself with his pants off. Last week, Falwell Jr. sued Liberty University on the grounds that it damaged his reputation.
It was questioned whether Falwell Jr.’s fall from grace would affect Trump’s chances in the 2020 election, although Sarah Posner, author of Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump, told The Guardian that Falwell Jr.’s influence had been overestimated and that “His fall changes nothing.
“Trump has built relationships with the evangelical base and religious right wing leadership in Washington, and they see him as their savior – the hand of God is on him, he has come to save America at this critical time.
It is unclear whether the Falwell Jr. scandals had any influence on the outcome of the 2020 election or why Lynchburg decided to turn around. Nevertheless, the election proves to be a historic moment for the historically republican Lynchburg.