Should first-term Del. Debra Rodman (D-HD73; Henrico County; 53% Northam district) run for reelection or step up and run for State Senate against incumbent Siobhan Dunnavant (R-SD12; Henrico County and a bit of Hanover County; 52% Northam district)? There’s been a bunch of chatter about that the past day or so, following this RTD article, which reports that Mark Bergman, the director of Ralph Northam’s PAC, apparently has been encouraging Rodman to run for State Senate.
“People had expressed concerns about some of the candidates,” Bergman said. “We’ve talked to a bunch of people about the candidates in the district, getting their thoughts and opinions.”
What exactly are those “concerns?” From what I can gather, they mostly center on $$$. Specifically, the concerns are among Senate Democrats, that in order to beat Dunnavant, they need a candidate with the ability to raise a ton of $$$, and that they don’t believe either current Democratic candidate – Veena Gupta Lothe or Marques Jones – can do that.
For the record, Jones had just $132 cash on hand as of 12/31/18, while Lothe had $21,618 and Dunnavant had $162,019. Meanwhile, Rodman had $75,760, while Rodman’s likely Republican opponent for House of Delegates – Mary Margaret Kastelberg – appears to have the potential to raise a lot of $$$. Other than that, I heard that there was polling done that showed Rodman would be the strongest Democratic candidate against Dunnavant. Also, HD73 heavily overlaps with SD12, meaning that Rodman starts off with a “base” and some name ID if she were to run.
Meanwhile, as Richmond2Day explains:
Party insiders have been speculating that the two Democratic candidates already campaigning in the district, Veena Lothe and Marques Jones – both minorities, could not beat Dunnavant. Several people have told me in recent months that Northam’s people have been scouring the district to find a candidate that can win like Abigail Spanberger did in 2018…Several activists on the ground have expressed frustration with Rodman and the party after the RTD article was posted. Contributors to Rodman in the past stated on social media that they planned to stop giving money to Rodman if she runs for senate.
Of course, from Rodman’s perspective, if it’s going to be about as difficult to win a State Senate seat as to win reelection to the House of Delegates, it’s understandable why she’d seriously think about running for State Senate. Among other advantages to the State Senate, you only have to run once every four years, instead of once every two years. And from the Senate Dems’ perspective, I totally get it why they want to recruit the strongest candidate for each competitive seat, particularly given that they need to pick up one seat to get to 20-20 and two seats to get to a clear, 21-19 majority.
By the way, note that SD12 is the third-“bluest” (56.5% Kaine) State Senate district currently held by a Republican, behind SD10 (60.4% Kaine; currently held by conservative Republican Glen Sturtevant) and SD13 (58.3% Kaine; currently held by far-right Republican Dick Black, who is retiring), and ahead of SD7 (55.6% Kaine; currently held by Dominion Republican Frank Wagner, who might retire…waiting to hear), SD17 (52.2% Kaine; currently held by right-wing Republican Bryce Reeves), SD8 (51.3% Kaine; currently held by Islamophobic Republican Bill DeSteph) and SD11 (49.6% Kaine; currently held by pistol-packing, anti-ERA, theocratic Republican Amanda Chase).
In sum, Senate Democrats would like to pick up SD12, but they don’t *have* to win it to take back control of the State Senate, if they simply win the heavily blue SD10 and the also-strongly blue SD13. On the other hand, if SD12 is seriously competitive, it would force Republicans to expend resources there that they might have spent on other priorities elsewhere. So I can certainly see why Senate Dems would be interested in this seat.
Looking at it from the House of Delegates Democrats’ perspective, I can likewise understand why they want Rodman to run for reelection and not bolt for the State Senate, as Rodman gives House Dems their best shot at holding HD73. Remember that House Dems need to pick up a net of one seat to get to 50-50 and some sort of power sharing arrangement, and two seats or more to get to 51-49 or greater and outright control of the House of Delegates. Of course, if House Dems lose any of their incumbents/freshmen, such as HD73, then they’ll have to pick up TWO other seats to get to 50-50 and THREE other seats to get to 51-49. The problem is that there could be several other potentially vulnerable freshmen House Democrats, and if we’re going to take back the House, we can’t afford to lose more than one or two of them, while picking up seats elsewhere (e.g., in the new, racially “unpacked” districts thanks to the Bethune-Hill case).
By the way, I think it’s relevant to point out that, prior to the…uh, “unfortunate events” of February here in Virginia, many (most?) Virginia Democratic politicos were *very* optimistic about taking back both the State Senate and House of Delegates. Given what went down in February, and the indefinite loss of – or at least serious “injuries” to – our “starting QB” (Ralph Northam), “backup QB” (Justin Fairfax) and “other backup QB” (Mark Herring) for the foreseeable future, it’s much more of a mixed bag now, with some Dem politicos still optimistic, while others are not sure and still others have swung at least a bit towards pessimism. Of course, the chatter is about how Trump’s still in the White House, we still have the anti-Trump backlash going, god knows what Trump will do by November, etc., etc. But personally, it doesn’t comfort me to put all our eggs in the anti-Trump backlash “basket.” Adding to my concerns is that, historically, the “odd-off” election year in Virginia sees a massive dropoff in voter turnout, even worse among Dems than among Republicans. Now, maybe that won’t happen thanks to anti-Trump backlash, but I really worry that some of that urgency might not translate to these much more local races, also that people are taking their eyes off the ball, for instance focusing too much on 2020 presidential jockeying, and too little on the November 2019 Virginia legislative elections…
So where does that leave Del. Debra Rodman? If I were her, I’d seriously consider whether to run for the State Senate seat instead of reelection to the House of Delegates. But, in the final analysis, I hope that Rodman runs for reelection, given that we really need to hold that House of Delegate seat, and we really don’t need Dunnavant’s State Senate seat. Also, I’m not convinced that with sufficient support, we can’t beat Dunnavant with one of the two candidates – and I lean strongly towards us nominating a female candidate to take on Dunnavant – currently in the race. And finally, I really would prefer not to see anger among activists supporting Lothe or Jones potentially hurting Democratic unity…just when it’s been vulnerable due to what went down in February. What do you think?