Home 2017 Races We Need Democratic Recruits in Virginia. And We Need Them Now.

We Need Democratic Recruits in Virginia. And We Need Them Now.


Author’s Note: This is a major revision of an earlier post about how Virginia Democrats are in desperate need of recruits to run for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017. After a long weekend talking to a lot of Democrats from across the Commonwealth, I can confirm I was off about how much of this work is going on and who is ultimately responsible. I still think it was near impossible to come to any other conclusion given the public evidence, but having now talked to the people in charge, I can state that Virginia Democrats probably don’t need to panic. That said, there is certainly a very limited window for Virginians who do want to run to throw their hats in the ring. –DJ

If you live in Virginia, and you have any inkling of running for office, now is your time to shine. And time is running out.

You can find a list of who is currently running and in which seats right here.

In the next few weeks, Democrats need to have their candidates lined up and ready to run. Why so soon? Formally, Democrats have until June 13th to hold a primary or convention, and worse comes to worst, they can hand-select a candidate by June 18th. However, it looks that we have only until March 30th to decide whether to hold a primary for each race, and state law seems to back that up in one part, but I’m equally confused about this part that seems to indicate that the date to decide a primary is actually the end of February.

So, while I’m not sure what the actual deadline is, I do know this: whatever the deadline, nominees should (in an ideal world) be selected through competitive primaries and not by the party unilaterally. That means candidates need to declare right now in order to have their campaigns up and running in time for June. Trust me, four months is absolutely nothing in campaign time.

The good news is that the Virginia House Democratic Caucus seems to be on the case in terms of recruitment. They say they have candidates for all 17 of the Virginia delegate districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. That’s an impressive feat and speaks to the energy among the folks doing the recruiting (led by Delegate Rip Sullivan and Trent Armitage, Executive Director of the Virginia House Democratic Caucus) as well as rank-and-file Dems who are heeding the call. That’s a ton of recruits in a very short period of time.

All that said, there’s still reason for concern. Because there has been almost no public and highly visible effort to recruit candidates, there’s now a patchwork of groups like Indivisible and Run for Something scrambling to publicize the need for recruits. I’ve spent weeks trying to assess how those recruitment efforts are going (and how people like me can help), and only after writing a viral blog post with a lot of uninformed assertions in it did I get the information I needed. This is suboptimal to say the least. Even worse, it calls into question whether party Democrats really want a flood of everyday people stepping up to run. Lord knows I do.

I get why a party might not want to scream from the rooftops about their strategy involving recruiting, but the very major downside of that is that rank-and-file Democrats don’t have any freaking clue these efforts are happening.

Again, my worry is that even if there’s a lot of good work being done out there, the message of needing recruits isn’t really coming out of the formal party apparatus. I get a lot of e-mails from the Democratic Party of Virginia asking for money, which is fine, but what would really get me to donate is the party showing what donors are getting for that investment. I received a blanket e-mail from the party asking me to sign a birthday card for our Governor Terry McAuliffe, when a much more productive (and lucrative) e-mail would have read “WE NEED YOUR HELP GETTING RECRUITS IN THESE DISTRICTS TO BEAT TRUMP AND TAKE BACK THE VIRGINIA HOUSE.” Again, Democrats should ideally run multiple candidates in these primaries to get the best possible nominees, and I don’t see how you get there with a recruitment effort operating largely in secrecy. It’s also downright counterproductive when so many groups like Emerge Virginia, the Sorensen Institute, and Democratic Road Forward PAC offer candidate trainings.

I also worry that a quiet recruiting effort hampers the goal of having all 100 Virginia Delegate races contested by Democrats. Even if you think the vast majority of these are “unwinnable”, we have a Governor’s race in 2017 that’s going to be very close. Having 100 full-time campaigns (as opposed to say just 60 or so) with candidates knocking doors and raising money means that Democrats will be playing offense in the redder parts of Virginia. We can’t spare a single vote. And for those of you worried about not having enough resources to support all these candidates, I give you two words: Terry McAuliffe. The man will make sure our candidates have the resources. I promise you that.

Again, I know these kinds of critiques can sound harsh to those running the recruitment efforts, especially when they’ve put in so much time and sweat. I cannot imagine how hard they must be working to pull this off.

But there’s no more time. I wish I could be more diplomatic about this, but we are not getting the word out enough that these races need candidates, and that we need Democrats from all walks of life to step up. This might be our only opportunity in a decade to take back an insanely gerrymandered statehouse back. There could a complete and utter revolt against Trumpism where Democrats treat this off, off-year election like it was 2020. If there’s a wave, we have to have candidates to catch it.

Those are the stakes. We are running out of time to field a full and complete team. Virginia Democrats deserve a lot of credit for lining up candidates in these races. But we need more.

For those of you looking for next steps, here’s what I recommend (and will be doing myself):

· If you live in Virginia, please reach out to your Delegate in Richmond and ask what he or she is doing (and what you can do) to recruit candidates in Hillary-won districts. You can find your Representative here: http://whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov

· Contact our awesome campaign chair for the Virginia House Democratic Caucus, Delegate Rip Sullivan at Rip@RipSullivan.com and ask him what you can you do to help candidate recruitment. You can also try Executive Director Trent Armitage at Trent@vahousedems.org

· Put the word out on Facebook and other social media and try to figure out if you know anyone in these areas who might be interested in running.

· If you feel so inclined, try to find civic and business leaders in these areas and try contacting them, asking them to run. A lot of people are just waiting for someone to ask them to run.

I’m going to be doing my all to get candidates running in these seats. I can’t think of anything more vital we can be doing to win back Virginia.


  • Hey, have you checked with Del. Rip Sullivan? He’s campaign chair for the Democratic Caucus in the House of Delegates, so he would know the latest/greatest.

    • David TSJ

      I will check in with him! Heard nothing but good things about him.

  • A few comments on the House districts the Indivisible folks are citing. In sum, I wouldn’t worry too much about these districts, as none of them are particularly promising for Dems for the following reasons:

    District 100 (Accomack County, Norfolk, Northampton County) – Potentially winnable but very tough, with an incumbent Republican and Mark Obenshain winning here by 2 points in 2013.
    District 10 (Loudoun, Frederick and Clarke Counties) – This one’s a 53% Gillespie district where EW Jackson won 49% of the vote, plus it’s got a long-time incumbent (Minchew), so VERY unlikely for Dems to win this one.
    District 94 (Newport News) – Obenshain won this district by 2 points and it’s another Republican long-time incumbent (Yancey), so…very tough one.
    District 68 (Chesterfield and Henrico Counties; Richmond City) – a Gillespie/Cooch/Obenshain/Romney/Allen district with an entrenched incumbent. No chance here, realistically speaking…
    District 40 (Fairfax and Prince William Counties) – Ed Gillespie won this district by 11 points over Mark Warner and it’s got an entrenched incumbent (Hugo), so VERY unlikely (bordering on impossible) that Dems could win here.
    District 42 (Fairfax County) – Now THIS is a district we theoretically should have a shot in, as it was won by Warner, McAuliffe, Northam, Herring, Obama and Kaine. The big problem is that the incumbent, Dave Albo, is very popular there. For more on that, ask Greg Werkheiser, who spent a TON of money, was a very strong Democratic candidate and still lost to Albo (although Werkheiser came the closest anyone has in…well, forever.

    • lowtechcyclist

      But here’s the thing: your chances are ZERO if you don’t show up. In a potential Dem wave year, if I lived in one of these districts, I’d pay the filing fee even if I couldn’t do any more than just be a name on the ballot, with a D after my name. (I’ve lived in both Fairfax County and in Newport News, but am now north of the Potomac, or I’d volunteer.)

      This year, Dems should want to have candidates in as close to every district as possible, whether there’s a chance to win or not. Since all I can do is contribute money, I’d be happy to contribute to a fund that finances Dems challenging incumbent R’s, if such a fund exists.

      • Sure, it would be great to have Dems running in EVERY district, I’m mostly just saying there’s no need to panic because we don’t at the moment have candidates listed on VPAP in some tough districts. Keep in mind that we still have plenty of time to recruit candidates, really a few more months, and I’m hearing there has been increased interest in recent weeks…

    • David TSJ

      Sure, I have no doubts of what past election results will tell you. But this isn’t a zero sum game. Democrats are on fire right now. They want candidates to run, to donate to, to knock doors from. I can’t think of a single good reason not to run Democrats everywhere. Lord knows I’m going to be opening my wallet and knocking doors for people who step forward!

      • “I can’t think of a single good reason not to run Democrats everywhere” The main issue is that Dems don’t have unlimited financial resources, so sure, run (strong) Dems everywhere, but focus resources strategically on the top races deemed most winnable this year.

        • David TSJ

          There’s an elasticity to the financial resources. You run 40 candidates, you raise $20 million. You run 60 candidates, you raise $30 million. The money and the resources are out there. There’s a very wide range to play with. People will invest in campaigns only if they exist. I cannot say this enough: this is not a zero sum game.

          • Sure hope you’re right; I’d note that currently, Virginia House Republicans have a HUGE financial advantage over Virginia House Dems, so we have a lot of ground to make up to even pull even with the “red team.”

          • Also, I don’t recall previously seeing that elasticity in Virginia when it comes to House of Delegates races, but maybe this year is different, given the tremendous anger out there against Trump?

        • God b watching U

          Yes, but even if there is not enough money to support CANDIDATES in every district, must not Democrats still CAMPAIGN everywhere? The shockingly small number of ‘competitive’ districts predict continuing FAILURE in the Legislature! Democrats must invest in a culturally competent LISTENING plan – to listen and learn from predominantly rural districts – that lays a capable foundation for a COMMUNICATIONS plan that campaigns in every district on the VALUES of Democrats, even if not putting up a candidate in every district. Ain’t it?

  • former player

    There are so many good reasons for a major party to put up candidates at every opportunity –
    1. It rallies the party faithful – there are some in every constituency.
    2. It encourages supporters who are not party members: they have a reason to turn out and vote.
    3. It enables the party to keep an eye on local demographics: nothing is set in stone and the party needs to get in on the ground floor of any change in their direction and encourage it, or on the ground floor of any change in the opposite direction and find out the reasons for it so that they can be countered.
    4. When the demographics do change, it means the party can’t be accused of opportunism or carpetbagging.
    5. It gives new party candidates a proving ground: they can hone their message and delivery at little expense, and a candidate that makes a strong showing in a hopeless seat is in a good position to fight a better seat the next time around.
    6. It is good for democracy: unopposed politicians can become more extreme in order to appeal to their party and can become arrogant and careless about the place and people they represent.
    7. It makes the statement that “ours is a party for everyone” believable again.

    • Agreed, just be smart and strategic about resource allocation. The first goal here is to win the 17 districts currently held by Republicans but won by Clinton and Obama. Let’s focus on those, in descending order of Clinton/Obama percentages…

      • former player

        Agreed: put up candidates everywhere and then allocate resources strategically. But even a candidate without financial resources can make an impact through gathering supporters, through local activism and through local and social media. That kind of grass-roots campaigning pays dividends in the medium and long term. And you never know to what extent a long term incumbent has lost support over the years until you put someone up against them.

  • Elizabeth Lower-Basch
  • FYI, I just posted a listing of all the Virginia House districts with their Democratic candidates, where they’re located, who the incumbent is, “Democratic Performance” (Mark Warner percentages), etc. See here and note that I’m going to be adding links and other stuff, as well as any more candidates I hear about.

  • God b watching U

    SHOCKING! THESE FEW districts are ‘competitive’?! ????????? THAT PREDICTS continuing FAILURE in the Legislature. We have asked to know if the state Party or district Parties have effective communications plans for a majority districts, particularly districts that are predominantly rural? We haven’t seen a response and haven’t found a plan(s) even to begin culturally competent LISTENING – before TALKING – to these districts that Democrats must CHANGE before they can WIN them before they have a faint chance to win the Legislature! WHERE is the LISTENING plan(s) to build the COMMUNICATIONS plan(s)?

  • AB in DC

    What about the State Senate? That’s a much more realistic target to flip.

    • The State Senate’s not up for election until 2019.

  • J

    The Democratic Party HQ in my county has been dormant for 5+ years, and I contacted the VA Democrats to re-establish it. I even agreed to chair it and have about 15 people willing to serve as officers. It’s been a month now and the state office isn’t offering any guidance. Disappointing.

    Time to form a Democratic Socialist party I reckon.

    • Jason Rylander

      Just start meeting. They’ll have to recognize you eventually.

      • Agree with Jason, just start meeting and don’t worry about the state party or whatever…

    • old_redneck

      Your experience mirrors mine. We have a small — 15 – 20 member — Democratic Party in our county. For years we have tried to be recognized by the DPVA — emails, phone calls, letters, speak to DPVA reps at district meetings (when they show up). They’ll promise the moon but we NEVER hear back from them.

      The problem with “just meet, they’ll show up” is MONEY. We 15 – 20 folks cannot support a candidate. We can raise a few hundred $$ for a school board or supervisor candidate here and there but there is no way we can raise the $$ needed for a Congressional or General Assembly candidate.

      • susan swecker

        I would be glad to come to your locality or have one of our staff attend an event or function. Please let us know. We think that the local races are the best way to build the bench. 15-20 member Committee is a lot of rural areas is a great foundation. Please contact me at susan@vademocrats.org and we will get the ball rolling.

        • Michael Chorost

          Great to hear this, Susan. Here in DC I’ve been talking to candidates in VA and to people in the DPVA, assessing what DC people can do to help. Fundraising is obviously key, but in itself that’s not sufficient. Thanks for saying that the DPVA is going to be more responsive. I sure hope so. A lot of people I know have been looking at races that were uncontested and feeling very concerned about the DPVA’s ability to compete. For example, in district 51, the GOP ran uncontested in 2011, then won a contested race in 2013 by only 54%, then ran uncontested again in 2015. Where were the Democrats in that district in 2015? How could they have let that district go? This must change in 2017 and Dems here in DC are eager to help.

    • susan swecker

      I am sorry if you reached out to me or someone on my staff the last 2 years and we never responded. We would love to work with you. Please contact me at: susan@vademocrats.org and we would be glad to partner with you.

  • old_redneck

    I’ve been re-reading the classic handbook for grassroots organizers and activists “Politics the Wellstone Way: How to Elect Progressive Candidates and Win on Issues.” Based on the teachings and practices of the late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, it’s a playbook for grassroots organizing and winning.

    Up front, Wellstone recognized three critical ingredients to success:
    1. Good public policy
    2. Grassroots organizing
    3. Electoral politics

    Here’s a quote: “Wellstoen believed that citizens want politicians to address their concerns and recognize the circumstances of their lives . . . People yearn for politics that speaks to and includes them . . . ”

    Which leads me to this question: What are Democrats across Virginia doing to develop a consistent, statewide message that speaks to and includes voters?

    AS The Big Dawg told us: It’s the economy. It’s the economy, jobs, healthcare, schools, and responsive officials. At the risk of being flamed and invited to leave the discussion, it is NOT: BLM, LGBT politics, and save the whales. And before anyone rages at me for that last comment, I’ll show you may arrest record from the summers of 1964, 65, and 66 in Montgomery and Birmingham.

    A second failure of Virginia Democrats that I see in my district — 99TH House of Delegates, VA-01 Congressional — is that we do not have a consistent candidate. Unless the incumbent drops out, dies, or is “caught with a live boy or a dead woman,” we are not going to knock off an incumbent the first time around. This means we need candidates with TIME and MONEY and ENERGY to run, lose, then spend the next two years working the district and preparing to run again and again. I’ve never run for office but it seems to me even a blind person can see it takes time to make yourself and your ideas so well-known that you can knock off an incumbent. Yet, there is no mechanism in place — at least, none that I have seen — to encourage and SUPPORT a candidate through the long slog required to knock off an incumbent.

    I have lived in VA-01 for eight years. Every two years a new Democratic candidate shows up, loses 60-40, and vanishes. Why? Because candidates are people who have families and jobs. Our last candidate, Matt Rowe, campaigned by saving up his vacation and sick leave time. That’s not the prescription for a winning campaign.

    Now, here in VA-01, we are doing it again. Our incumbent, Rob )Do Nothing” Wittman is being challenged by Edwin Santana — a young fellow from Stafford County — with a job, a wife, a 2-year old, and a baby due in May.

    As much as I’d like to see Santana win, at this point I can conclude “Here we go again.”

  • frankoanderson

    February 28 is the deadline to decide whether or not there will be a primary (the primary filing deadline is March 30). In districts with no Democratic incumbent, this decision is made by the legislative nominating committee, a small group designated in each House district. If not a primary, they can choose a caucus or convention — and then the filing deadline can be as late as June. The House Democratic Caucus or the county/city Democratic Committee in which the delegate district is located will be able to connect you with the legislative district chair. They are the ones with whom the candidates file their papers to run.

    • David TSJ

      Thank you! Been hoping for a clear explanation like this. Gold star for you!

      • Agreed, what Frank wrote was very helpful!