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Virginia Politics 2019: A “Baker’s Dozen” Things to Keep a Close Eye On

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The last time I did actual predictions for the new year was back in late 2012, and I did pretty well (8 correct, 3 partly correct and 2 wrong out of 13 predictions). So why haven’t I made predictions since then? In short, I’ve decided that discretion is the better part of valor, and am opting not to press my luck after that one. With that in mind, for 2019, I’m not making predictions, but I *am* going to list a “baker’s dozen” things (in no particular order; also note that I could have easily listed two dozen) to keep an eye on next year in Virginia politics, with at least a few kinda/sorta predictions (I know, I know…wimpy!) included. What are you focused on for 2019 when it comes to Virginia politics? Let us know in the comments section. Thanks.

  1. Will Democrats take back the General Assembly? A few weeks ago, Del. Patrick Hope said he thought that Dems had a 50/50 shot of taking back the House of Delegates, while Ben “Not Larry Sabato” pegged those chances at only 15%. Personally, I’m closer to 60/40 (as is Virginia political analyst Chaz Nuttycombe) or even higher (70/30?). Regarding the State Senate, Ben estimated an 80% chance that Democrats will take back that chamber; I tend to agree with that one. Put 60%-70% and 80% together, and Dems are even money or favorites to take control of the General Assembly this coming November, but we’ll see…lots can – and will – happen between now and then that could cause things to look very different by then!
  2. Will Democrats oust both remaining Republican members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and both remaining Republican members of the Fairfax County School Board? Given the announcement by Braddock District Supervisor John Cook (R) that he will not be running for reelection, and a strong likely Democratic nominee (James Walkinshaw), AND the fact that Braddock appears strongly “blue” at this point, I’d say that’s an almost certain pickup for Dems, leaving Pat Herrity as the only other Republican on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Will Herrity run for reelection from increasingly “blue” Springfield District or go for the “Hail Mary” pass by running for Chair (a long shot in solidly Democratic Fairfax County)? Either way, I’d say that Herrity is in deep, deep trouble, meaning that Democrats are likely to win full control of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. As for the School Board, it’s not looking good for either Thomas Wilson (deep-blue Sully district) or Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield district), which could also mean full Democratic control of the Fairfax County School Board starting in January 2020. Stay tuned…
  3. Will Democrats take control of the Prince William and/or Loudoun County Boards? Republican U.S. Senate nominee Corey Stewart was annihilated in both Prince William and Loudoun Counties on November 6, but of course that was in a “federal” election (U.S. Senate, U.S. House) year, with very high turnout. The big questions for 2019 are: a) will “federal voter” Democrats show up for local elections in large numbers, or will they stay home as they’ve done in previous cycles; b) will Democrats nominate strong candidates for these two counties’ Boards; and c) what will incumbent Republicans, like Corey Stewart, decide to do, particularly in Loudoun and PW districts that went for Ralph Northam and Tim Kaine? The bottom line is that if Democratic voters show up next year, we’ve got a good shot at major gains in both those large, suburban/exurban northern Virginia counties…
  4. Will any primary challengers to incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorneys – in Arlington, Fairfax, etc. – prove successful? I’ll be very interested to hear the cases/critiques made by challengers, and to see whether they resonate. I’m skeptical for now, in part because I haven’t sensed any groundswell of frustration or anger against incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorneys in Northern Virginia, but we’ll see soon enough whether there is any for challengers to tap into…and IF there is, whether they can do so effectively.
  5. How many incumbent Democratic State Senators and Delegates will be primaried, and how many of those challenges will succeed? I’ve heard a ton of rumors about potential challenges to Democratic Delegates and State Senators, as well as several candidates who have officially announced (e.g., Yasmine Taeb vs. Dick Saslaw in SD35; Sally Hudson vs. David Toscano in HD57). I’m very curious to see how many of the rumors turn into actual primary challenges, how many others who I haven’t heard rumors about pop up, and how many of these (if any) succeed.
  6. Who will win Democratic primaries for key Senate and House of Delegates districts? A few districts I’m really keeping my eye on are SD10 (a strongly Northam/Kaine district that is currently held by conservative Republican Glen Sturtevant; at least three Democrats vying for that nomination), SD12 (a Northam/Kaine district that is currently held by Republican Siobhan Dunnavant; at least two Democrats competing to take her on in November), and SD13 (another Northam/Kaine district; three Democrats running to take on crazy/faaaaaar-right Republican Dick Black). Remember that Democrats only need to pick up two seats in the Senate and House to clearly take them back next year, and part of that will depend on getting the strongest possible candidates to run in the general election.
  7. Who will win upcoming special elections for State Senate and House of Delegates? The first special election will take place on January 8, between Democratic nominee Del. Jennifer Boysko and Republican nominee Joe May for SD33, which was held by Congresswoman-elect Jennifer Wexton. This is a district won by Ralph Northam in 2017 by 35 points, so I’m not particularly worried about this one, as long as Democratic voters turn out. The next special election, assuming Boysko wins (which I’d put at over a 90% likelihood), will take place at some point after that for Boysko’s deep-“blue” House of Delegates seat. Democratic candidates for that seat are Kofi Annan, Ibraheem Samirah, Chad Thompson and and former Herndon Mayor Mike O’Reilly have announced so far – Democratic caucus on January 12.
  8. Will Democratic women continue to win in 2019? Clearly, 2017 and 2018 were years in which Democratic women here in Virginia – and across the country – did extraordinarily well, including in both primaries and general elections. Will those trends continue in 2019? A few races to keep an eye on include the State Senate Democratic primaries in SD10 (two women – Eileen Bedell and Ghazal Hasmhi – and one man – Connor Wood – running so far), SD12 (one woman – Veena Lothe – and one man – Marques Jones – running so far), SD13 (one man – John Bell – and two women – Lucero Wiley and Jasmine Moawad-Barrientos – running so far), HD18 (one man – Tristan Shields – and one woman – Laura Galante – running so far), HD26 (one woman – Cathy Copeland – and one man – Brent Finnegan – running so far), HD57 (one woman – Sally Hudson – and one man – Del. David Toscano – running so far), etc. My money’s on the women in Democratic primaries, but we’ll see. Also, of course, keep any eye on SD35, where a woman (Yasmine Taeb) is running against a man (Sen. Dick Saslaw).
  9. Will the Bethune-Hill “racial packing” case be resolved, and if so when and how exactly? A few weeks ago (December 7), the “Special Master” issued his report, including possible new maps, in this case. Not surprisingly, Virginia House Republicans are trying to get the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and stop racially UNpacked districts from coming into effect in time for the 2019 elections. Assuming Republicans fail, it’s quite possible that Democrats could pick up 3-5 seats in the new, fairer districts. That alone would go a long way towards Democrats taking back the House of Delegates next November.
  10. Will the Virginia General Assembly do anything good – ERA ratification? non-partisan redistricting? clean energy legislation? gun violence prevention? –  in 2019? I think we’ve got a shot at some good stuff happening, mostly because much of this stuff is SO popular among voters, and because Republicans have to face those very voters next November. Will Republicans do what they did last year with Medicaid expansion and vote for the overwhelmingly popular choice, even if it goes against their hard-right base’s preferences? Stay tuned.
  11. How many Republican incumbents who voted for Medicaid expansion end up drawing primaries – or maybe even independent challengers in the general election – from their hard right? I haven’t seen a lot so far, but there’s still plenty of time. I’m particularly keeping an eye on folks like Sen. Jill Vogel – who was denounced by Culpeper Republicans and Sen. Frank Wagner (I’ve heard he might retire, regardless), as well as Republican Delegates who voted for Medicaid expansion (e.g., Chris Jones, Terry Kilgore, David Yancey). My attitude is that the more hard-right challengers win primaries, particularly in districts won by Northam and/or Kaine, the better for Democrats. Also, of course, it’s always fun to watch Republican right-wingers and far-right-wingers tearing themselves apart…
  12. What will happen with regards to the political power of Dominion Energy in 2019? Will Attorney General Mark Herring’s recent announcement, in an exclusive Blue Virginia interview, that he will no longer “accept contributions from state-regulated monopolies or their registered lobbyists or key executives,” open the floodgates for Virginia Democrats to tell Dominion where to shove their dirty money? On another front, how will Dominion fare in 2019 vis-a-vis its preccccious fracked-gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline? Will Dominion lose more court cases? Will the Air Pollution Control Board approve or reject its proposed compressor station in Union Hill? More broadly, will the climate crisis plus massive changes in the utility business model (“Electric utilities increasingly find themselves at war with their own customers. Homeowners and commercial building owners have all sorts of new choices for how to generate, store, and manage their own electricity — solar panels, home batteries, electric vehicles, smart thermostats and appliances, and more gizmos coming along every day.”) lead to Dominion deciding to shift gears, along the lines of Xcel Energy, or will it dig in its heels and make its last stand on the old, dying, top-down, command-and-control, fossil-fuel-heavy utility model of the 20th century? And more to the point, how long will Virginia legislators put up with this crap?
  13. Will Virginia Democratic activists’ attention start to shift away from local/state politics and towards the Democratic contest for president in 2020, and will this become acrimonious/divisive? Personally, I’d argue strongly for staying focused on Virginia, at least through November 2019. With regard to who we nominate for president in 2020, I’d argue strongly against focusing on ideological “purity tests” and towards an intense focus on the overwhelming, even existential, imperative for Democrats to focus to take back the White House. In the end, there is a LOT more that unites us against Trump and Trumpism than divides us…let’s focus on that – and also on taking back the Virginia General Assembly next November!