Many Democrats already focused on the 2020 presidential race but there are important 2019 elections that deserve attention. Republicans hold a one vote majority in both chambers of Virginia’s legislature, but elections this November have the potential to change that. The entire legislature is up for reelection, and Republicans majorities are precarious. A few districts that could flip if Democrats give it all we’ve got.
Virginia could be the first state of the former Confederacy where mainstream, progressive Democrats take full control of state government, but that only happens if the Democratic base is engaged. Here at Data for Progress, we’ve identified ten races where your money is most needed. In all ten of these districts, only one Democrat filed to run, so there is no primary. Every penny you give will be used to beat a Republican and take back Virginia for the people.
We’re working with Crooked Media to support these candidates as part of a our new Fuck (Gerry)mandering initiative.
Democrats have one opportunity to get a head start in a senate race, and that race is SD-08, a Virginia Beach district that voted for both Trump and statewide Democrats in 2017. Incumbent Bill DeSteph is stuck in the past, in terms of his high-school humor, his attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community (which have somehow moved right recent years), and his belief that none of this will affect his reelection chances, even in a district statewide Democrats have recently won. Democrat Missy Cotter Smasal promises to be a different type of representative. In the tradition of newly elected Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, she focused on getting the details right, in her case entered politics through a local effort to lock school doors during the day, while not losing sight of the big issues like climate change.
While Northern Virginia gets the most attention for leftward swings after 2016, the Richmond suburbs had one of their own. While three Republicans in competitive districts went down, one remained. Roxann Robinson has proved herself to be an adept position, portraying herself a moderate by using the Susan Collins technique of throwing her name on a few popular sounding bipartisan measures that either won’t pass or were easily going to pass without her. In 2017, she received the first real challenge of her career when mental health professional Larry Barnett came 0.4 percent away from unseating the fake moderate. This year, he’s back for a rematch, campaigning on necessary reforms for the state, ranging from the broader concepts of clean elections to the specifics of community-based mental health services.
Virginia Democrats didn’t dream big enough in 2017, and Joshua Cole is the greatest victim of that. HD-28 narrowly voted for Obama and Trump, but had always supported its Republican incumbent, who retired in 2017. Virginia Democrats made the choice not to back up their nominee, Cole, who got outspent by over 3:1, and then went on to lose by an agonizingly close 73 votes. And that was in an election where 384 voters in HD-82 were accidentally given a ballot with a different race on it. Cole is a young progressive and president of his local NAACP who is running on platform ranging from healthcare to environmental justice to social inclusion, while the incumbent Republican is so thoroughly an anonymous party hack that there’s no point learning his name
HD-40 is the one that got away. Previously, Republican strength in Northern Virginia was built on getting crossover votes from moderates, a strength which vanished in 2017 as Republican activities had a spotlight shined on them. Democrats nearly swept all eleven Clinton-won districts in the DC area. The sole exception was HD-40, even as it was voting Democrat for governor by 10 percent. This year, the Democrat running to flip the last bit of red from Northern Virginia is Dan Helmer, a combat veteran and descendent of Holocaust survivors. The Republican is Tim Hugo, who’s been in office since 2002 and is giving off the impression of a man who’s going all in while he can, taking the most in gifts of anyone in the legislature and opposing even popular bipartisan measures for including minor taxes. He seems to recognize his time is running out, and we can help make that happen sooner rather than later.
When Republicans drew the house of delegates districts in 2011, they did so by illegally packing black voters into just a few districts, an injustice which was finally rectified in 2019 by a federal court. A whopping eleven districts were struck down for this, and the final remedy affected fourteen more, one of which is HD-66. Unwinnable by Democrats before, the new HD-66 voted for Clinton and statewide Democrats in 2017, all by single digits. The race for HD-66 this year carried huge symbolic significance. The election will be between Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, part of the leadership who drew the discriminatory maps in the first place, and black business owner and activist Sheila Bynum-Coleman. People like Cox drew districts so people like Bynum-Coleman couldn’t win against people like him. Now we have a chance to send an advocate for Medicaid and decarceration to the House of Delegates, but it won’t be as simple as the new, bluer district might suggest. As Speaker, Cox will have access to obscene amounts of money, far more than any other Republican running this year.
In 2017, HD-73 was the second closest Democratic win, with Debra Rodman prevailing by a narrow 3 percent. Rodman is now running for senate, and the newly open HD-73 promises to be a close battle once again. Republicans have pulled in a good candidate for the depleted bench they have to work with: a well off local mother active in the community. She also has the funniest issues page you’ll see all day. It has typos and three bullet points, two of which are are civility and “transparency and simplicity”. The Democratic candidate is Rodney Willett, a lawyer by training who has spent his career advising local governments on cleaner, more transparent operation. A self-described progressive, he has also created a program to provide legal assistance to the homeless.
The Stolle siblings are Virginia Beach’s own little political dynasty. While sister Siobhan is a state senator from the Richmond area, the brothers all stayed local. Ken is the city’s sheriff, Colin is its prosecutor, and Chris represents one of its state house seats. But Virginia Beach, the state’s largest city, has been drifting left, and it looks like Democrats will finally have a chance to break the family’s stranglehold. Chris’s district was affected in the racial gerrymandering lawsuit, and now voted for Hillary Clinton by about 5 percent. This makes it fertile ground for Democrat Nancy Guy, a longtime Virginia Beach resident and education activist who also served on the city’s school board for two terms.
Glenn Davis Jr is just another Republican in the House with clear statewide ambitions, spending the 2017 primary literally living out of the van he was campaigning for lt. governor in. So we can assume he’s definitely focused on his district, which voted for Trump by 4 percent, statewide Democrats in 2017, and Davis by a close 3.5 percent against an opponent who barely raised any money. His opponent this year is Karen Mallard. If you’re on the left, you might know her for her 2018 campaign for VA-02, where she ran a full throated progressive primary campaign and finished respectably well against nominee and now Congressmember Elaine Luria. To the right, however, she will always be the woman who was mean to a gun and they cried so hard about it they reported her the ATF. Mallard didn’t let that deter her and in her delegate campaign hasn’t backed down from her progressive vision for the state.
HD-85 is the twin of HD-73 in a lot of ways. While HD-73 was the second closest Democratic win in 2017, HD-85 was the closest, with Cheryl Turpin only managing a one percent victory. And like Rodman, Turpin is now running for senate, creating an open seat race that could go either way, and Republicans have landed a tough nominee: ex delegate Rocky Holcomb, the incumbent that Turpin defeated in 2017 in a rematch. Holcomb (who before 2017 had a job from his brother’s police department) is a real piece of work, who meets with hate group members and has run race-baiting ads. Our candidate is Alex Askew, a seasoned campaign veteran and and legislative aid to Del. Jay Jones.
The 100th is the most distinctive district in the state. It contains the rural, isolated, and sparsely populated Eastern Shore peninsula, combined with a chunk of the city of Norfolk. The Eastern Peninsula is an incumbent friendly area, which in 2015 simultaneously voted in landslides for Democratic state senator Lynwood Lewis and Republican delegate, Robert Bloxom. Despite it being a Obama-Clinton district, Democrats thought their candidate didn’t have much of a chance until the very end of the campaign, right before Bloxom had an unexpectedly narrow 4 percent reelection. This time around, Phil Hernandez is attempting to hit the ground running as the Democratic nominee. Hernandez was a Senior Policy Analyst in the Obama Whitehouse and has spent his career advocating for the homeless, even managing to write a bill in Virginia that was meaningfully helpful them and still got the bipartisan support needed to pass the Republican legislature and get signed into law in 2016.