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Virginia House, Senate Races to Keep Your Eye On This Fall


With the primaries over, it’s now time to turn our attention to the general election campaigns for Virginia State Senate and House of Delegates. I’ve been talking to knowledgeable Virginia Democrats, and have come up with lists of top races to watch (because they’ll be competitive, entertaining, or both) for each chamber of the General Assembly. Keep in mind that Republicans currently hold a 59-39 (plus 2 Republican-leaning independents) in the House, while Democrats hold a 22-18 edge in the Senate.

Also, per the Virginia Public Access Project, note that: 1) “Only 26 of 100 [House] districts have a nominee from each of the two major parties. This [is] the lowest level in a decade and fewer than half the number of competitive contests just two years ago.” and 2) “At least 24 of 40 [Senate] districts have a nominee from each of the two major parties. This is the highest level in the last three cycles and 50% higher than the last cycle in 2007.” In other words, Republicans are challenging incumbent Senate Democrats like crazy, while Democrats are NOT running many candidates against House Republicans. Heckuva job by Brian Moran!

State Senate Races to Watch

District 1: Sen. John Miller vs. Mickey Chohany (Gov. McDonnell has donated $50,000+ to Chohany so far. In the end, Miller should be ok in this race, in part because Chohany is not from the populous Newport News part of the district. Also, this district was made 9 points more Democratic in redistricting, which should help Miller significantly in November.)

District 13: Shawn Mitchell vs. Dick “Plastic Fetuses” Black (One of the most interesting races of this cycle, Black was exactly who Democrats wanted to run against in this new district, as he’s a frothing-at-the-mouth right-wing extremist. Mitchell certainly has a shot in this district, even though Bob McDonnell won it with 65% of the vote in 2009.)

District 17: Sen. Edd Houck vs. Bryce Reeves (Gov. McDonnell has already put $50,000+ into this race, and will likely continue to play hard in this district, where he won 61% of the vote in 2009…should be interesting)

District 20: Sen. Roscoe Reynolds vs. Bill Stanley and Jeff Evans (Evans should pull from Stanley, helping Reynolds hold on here, although Gov. McDonnell has been funneling large sums of money to Stanley. This Southside district was made 7 points more Democratic in redistricting, but even so, McDonnell carried it with 60% of the vote in 2009)

District 21: Sen. John Edwards vs. Dave Nutter (Edwards is a popular, long-time incumbent, but Gov. McDonnell has donated over $40,000 to Nutter so far in a district he carried with 52% of the vote in 2009. How much more will McDonnell pour in?)

District 31: Barbara Favola vs. Caren Merrick (Merrick could pour in large sums of money to her campaign, but will she? If she does, it could make it interesting. This remains a strong Democratic district, although 10 points less so than prior to redistricting. Finally, one question hanging out there is how united is the Democratic Party after a particularly nasty primary? We’re going to find out shortly.)

District 36: Sen. Toddy Puller vs. Jeff Frederick (Frederick’s an energetic campaigner, but is the Republican Party united around him? Also, this is an approximately 56% DPI district, and Puller is popular, so she should be ok, but this won’t be a cakewalk by any means.)

District 37: Sen. Dave Marsden vs. Jason Flanery (This is Marsden’s first reelection race, which means he’s potentially vulnerable, but in the end he should be ok. This district was made 3 points more Democratic, but was won by McDonnell with 54% of the vote in 2009.)

District 38: Sen. Phil Puckett vs. Adam Light (Gov. McDonnell has put $50,000 into Light’s coffers. This is also a mid-40s DPI district. However, Puckett is well liked and should be ok in the end. We’ll see…)

District 39: Sen. George Barker vs. Miller Baker (This is Barker’s first reelection campaign, but Teapublican Baker is very right wing, and the old 39th went 11 points for Obama in 2008. Will Gov. McDonnell play hard in this district, which he won with 53% of the vote in 2009? Stay tuned.)

State House of Delegates Races to Watch

District 9: Del. Ward Armstrong vs. Del. Charles Poindexter (A dogfight between House Minority Leader Armstrong, who was redistricted out of his seat, and incumbent Poindexter in a strongly Republican district. If anyone can win this one for the Democrats, it’s probably Armstrong, but I think it will be tough in a 68% McDonnell district.)

District 21: Adrianne Bennett vs. Del. Ron Villanueva (The district was drawn 1 point more Republican, but supposedly Republicans are concerned about this one, as Villanueva’s not seen as a hard worker and as the old district went for Obama by about 7 points in 2008.)

District 34: Pam Danner vs. Del. Barbara Comstock (Comstock is seen as the most vulnerable incumbent House Republican, and people seem impressed with Danner, who has a lot of community connections in a district that used to be held by Democrat Margi Vanderhye and that went for Obama in 2008, but also that was made 3 points more Republican in redistricting. Let’s hope!)

District 64: Del. Bill Barlow vs. Richard Morris (Morris is the guy who was arrested for public urination and who flunked the bar exam twice. Given Morris’ sordid past,Barlow should be ok here. On the other hand, this is a district McDonnell won with 66% of the vote in 2009, so who knows?)

District 67: Eric Clingan vs. Del. Jim Lemunyon (This was a strong Obama district in 2008, but also a district McDonnell won with 58% of the vote in 2009. Lemunyon was first elected in 2009, so perhaps he’s vulnerable in his first “reelect,” but Clingan’s still got to be seen as the underdog.)

District 87: Mike Kondratick vs. David Ramadan (Kondratick gets excellent reviews as a first-time candidate; Ramadan’s pretty extreme and just came through a divisive Republican primary. The newly-drawn district, in parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties, went 59.4% for McDonnell in 2009.)

District 93: Robin Abbott vs. Michael Watson (This one could be a dogfight in a swingy district covering Newport News, James City, Williamsburg and York County)

Finally, I’d say the 42nd House district is possibly winnable, but a longshot, against Del. Dave Albo. The Democratic candidate is Jack Dobbyn, who is smart, energetic, articulate, and with deep ties to the community. Having said that, we had a strong candidate with Greg Werkheiser in 2005, which was a much better year for Democrats than 2011, and we lost. What I’d say with this race is that Dobbyn absolutely can NOT win if he runs a cookie-cutter campaign, or attempts to do the “same thing people have done in the past and expect different results.” However, if he runs an innovative, hard-hitting campaign that really fires up the grassroots, I think it’s possible. We’ll see, but given how reluctant the establishment is to try anything new, or go outside the Official Campaign Consultant Handbook, I’m skeptical. I hope I’m proven wrong on this one.

P.S. So, who did I leave out that should have been on this list? Who was on this list but shouldn’t have been? Where was the analysis flawed? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks.

UPDATE: Two House races to watch that I should have included are 1) HD-02 (Esteban Garces vs. L Mark Dudenhefer), which is an open seat and a 59% Obama district; and 2) HD-12 (Don Langrehr vs. Joseph Ryan Yost), also an open seat and an Obama district in 2008).

UPDATE #2: Two more from the comments section. First, “SD-19, the fight between Sen. Ralph Smith and the man he ousted in a primary four years ago, Brandon Bell, who is running as an Independent. I think Smith has a big advantage, but any fight that features two Republicans and bitter feelings I thought would interest your readers here.”

Second, “SD-6 (Northam vs Loyola) promises to be interesting.” As I noted, this one was kind of “on the bubble,” I thought about including it but in the end, I feel like Northam will pull it out. Still, it should be “interesting” in the sense of hard-fought and competitive.

UPDATE #3: I’m adding SD-22 to this list for the following reasons. First, Democrat Bert Dodson had significantly more cash on hand ($120,407) as of August 10 than his Republican opponent, Thomas Garrett Jr. ($16,630) did. Second, the Garrett just went through a nasty, divisive 5-way primary which Garrett barely won with 25.96% of the vote. Third, Garrett is a total right wingnut, definitely NOT a moderate Republican by any stretch of the imagination. Fourth, Dodson is a well-known business owner in populous Lynchburg, and also served on the Lynchburg City Council for 12 years, six as Vice Mayor. Fifth, Garrett is from Louisa County, which makes up just 5% of the district (compared to 21% for Lynchburg City). Bottom line: this one clearly looks like an interesting one to watch. Add this one to the list, big time!


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