Back in February, I was just a little bit panicked about a potential disaster awaiting Virginia Democrats. Hillary Clinton had just beat Donald Trump in 17 House of Delegates seats held by Republicans, and from where I stood, it looked like we might let a golden opportunity go to waste in 2017 by not running strong candidates in all of these districts.
So, I wrote this piece sounding the alarm on what I saw as a lack of visible efforts in getting our best and brightest to run for these competitive seats. It was not a well-informed piece, but I figured as a relatively plugged-in Virginia Democrat, if I wasn’t hearing the message, the vast majority of people weren’t either.
Well, rightfully panicked or not, the last nine months couldn’t have turned out any better.
I’m not that old, but thanks to Virginia’s once-every-year election system, I’ve been involved in over a dozen election cycles. And this is by far the most talented and committed class of Democratic challengers I’ve ever seen.
I don’t know what will happen on Tuesday, but I could not be prouder and more humbled by the group of Democrats who stepped up against great odds to bring some sanity and public morality back to our politics.
Win or lose, we need this much talent and energy every cycle. These Democrats have set a new bar for Virginia state legislative races. It’s vital and fantastic.
Our social media age is not without its downsides, but one positive has been being able to watch these brave individuals bloom into honest-to-goodness candidates with real platforms and real messages. And briefly, I want to salute some of the candidates out there doing the work that will ultimately bring us to a majority in Richmond—if not Tuesday—one day soon.
Danica Roem is running the smartest race in the country. She’s combined her compelling life story into a policy-driven, results-oriented platform that has overwhelmed her opponent. Seriously, they’ll be using Danica as the model of a modern campaign in candidate trainings in the future.
Elizabeth Guzman is running on a community resume a mile long and is enduring some of the most vile attacks of any candidate in the country. She is doing our entire ticket a big favor in taking the brunt of the Trump/Gillespie race-baiting strategy. Oh, and she can fundraise like there’s no tomorrow.
Hala Ayala too boasts an impressive community resume, including some much-needed perspective as a cyber security analyst. Her strong platform on women’s rights is a tonic to the “men’s power first” policies her opponent has pushed for years now.
Kellen Squire has run the most energetic race of anyone in the Commonwealth. I seriously have no idea how a full-time ER nurse has found the capacity to knock on over 40,000 doors. He does his fellow Central Virginia native Tom Perriello proud with the same limitless work ethic focused on meeting face-to-face with every voter of every background possible. He also wins for best voiceover talent in a campaign ad.
Schuyler VanValkenburg has impressed me from day one. He’s leveraged his passion as a government and civics teacher into a real-life platform focused on improving education, getting rid of partisan gerrymandering, and injecting some general common sense into our laws. What an addition he would be to our caucus.
Lee Jin Carter is running the kind of unapologetic, proudly progressive race that so many Democrats in Virginia have been hungering for. He is putting a thesis to test that unapologetic stances on universal healthcare and limiting corporate influence will mobilize untapped voters and get them to the polls. Did I mention he’s also walked-the-walk of service to Virginia as a former Marine?
Donte Tanner too is leveraging a life of service as a former member of the Air Force to take on an entrenched incumbent who hasn’t represented his constituents faithfully in years. Donte’s background as a small businessman and someone who knows the local economy inside and out has helped him seize the center against Tim “Title Max” Hugo.
And don’t even get me started on Chris Hurst. To turn that kind of personal tragedy into a force for positive change—our Commonwealth could do no better than that kind of motivation to serve in government.
I’ll stop there, but suffice to say I could literally name THREE DOZEN more challengers who have impressed me and have more than done their part to help make this a wave election. Kathy Tran, Jennifer Caroll Foy, Karrie Delaney, Kimberly Anne Tucker, Michael Wade, Josh Cole, Brent Finnegan, Djuna Osborne, Angela Lynn, Wendy Gooditis…the list goes on. It’s just awesome and humbling and tremendous.
None of this even touches on our incumbent House of Delegates leaders like David Toscano, Rip Sullivan, Sam Rasoul, Charniele Herring, Alfonso Lopez, and everyone else who have put us in a place to pick up a lot of seats on Tuesday. Executive Director of the VA House Democratic Caucus Trent Armitage did his lengthy moniker proud. Oh, and there’s a fellow named Tom Perriello at the helm of a group called WinVirginia who I hear has been going around the Commonwealth trying to flip the House of Delegates blue. That guy should run for office someday.
Again, I don’t know what will happen Tuesday. We live in a time where the politics of grievance and hatred are juicing the electorate in weird and scary ways. And partisan gerrymandering by Ed Gillepsie and the Virginia GOP has rigged the game preposterously in their favor.
But I do know this: we as Democrats can never enact true and lasting change unless we run hard in every district, every cycle, and with quality candidates willing to endure the insanity of fundraising, organizing, and inspiring people who need a reason to turn out on any given Tuesday.
These Democrats have fulfilled their end of the bargain. I pray that we the voters ratify their approach to a better politics for a better Commonwealth.