by Adam Short, a student at John Tyler Community College in Midlothian
Let’s get one thing straight from the jump – the statewide race between insurgent Democrats and old-guard Republicans for the tightly-divided Virginia legislature is not over. But Republicans made a move Monday, ousting Amanda Chase from the Chesterfield County Republican Party committee, that concedes a reality that has been clear to political insiders for a long time. Namely, that the embattled 11th district State Senator could very well end up losing her seat to polished, well-funded (the Democrat had more “cash on hand” than Chase as of August 31) Democratic upstart Amanda Pohl, in part because of Chase’s ugly and inexplicable personal feud with Capitol Police.
The magnitude of this catastrophe for the Virginia GOP can hardly be overstated. Virginia’s state legislative districts have been a hotly contested matter in recent years, due to gerrymandering that created safe seats in unexpected places and allowed the GOP to barely hold its majority in the House of Delegates, despite a historic Democratic “wave” election in 2017. But the State Senate districts are fairer and more competitive than those in the House, and those red-leaning seats, like the 11th (won by Ed Gillespie 53%-46% and by Tim Kaine 50%-49%), that do exist for Republicans are absolutely crucial holds for them.
Enter Senator Chase, whose poor-person’s-Trump routine has grated on voters in the 11th since she teamed up with who-dat spoiler Barry Moore in the 2015 GOP primary to sucker-punch then-Sen. Steve Martin and take over Central Virginia’s only safe Republican State Senate seat. After a preposterous stunt last January, where Chase strapped a loaded revolver to her hip while presenting at a Senate Committee meeting, Chase took to right-wing media (including One America News Network, a Russian propaganda mill) to give statements suggesting she needed the gun for protection from her “over-exuberant” constituents and pro-ERA activists.
Then in April, the Senator got into a screaming match – complete with nonsensical Trumpisms like “you don’t know the equality of women’s rights!” – with a Capitol police officer, prompting her caucus to issue a statement in support of the police and throwing shade at the Senator. Since then, Chase has continued her descent into madness, frequently getting into social media wars with citizens, and finally reaching her nadir with the release of an unhinged television ad where she said she was going to “shoot down gun groups.”
All that, along with Chase’s opposition to the Republican nominee for Sheriff, was finally too much for the Chesterfield GOP, which handed Chase her walking papers on Monday, kicking her out of the party for good. It’s a move they likely wouldn’t have made without the tacit approval of the state GOP, and one that the state party likely only agreed to because they know that Chase, who is now completely reliant on far-right bomb-throwers like Philip Van Cleave of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, has seriously reduced her chances of winning enough votes in the moderate Chesterfield suburbs to retain her seat.
Of course, the Virginia GOP will certainly not give up the State Senate without a fight, and even now reports are that the Republican establishment is doing its best to make lemons into lemonade, redirecting the resources that might have gone to Chase towards races like the 10th (Democrat Ghazala Hashmi vs. Republican Glen Sturtevant) and 12th (Democrat Debra Rodman vs. Republican Siobhan Dunnavant), where incumbent Republicans could very well lose, but where holding the seat is certainly still possible. Note that almost no conceivable map of a GOP majority in the Virginia Senate includes a loss in the 11th. This is a district, after all, that was drawn specifically to be a safe Republican seat. So losing it, in an election where the GOP is expected to struggle, makes it very close to impossible that Republicans can hold the State Senate majority. If that happens, then Amanda Chase will have played a major role in losing the Virginia GOP’s Senate majority. There are still almost five weeks until November 5th, and a lot can happen between now and then, so stay tuned…
Assuming Republicans are almost a lock to lose the State Senate, that means the focus is on the House of Delegates, where Republicans will look to offset inevitable Democratic gains in several districts by attacking vulnerable Democratic seats in districts like the 73rd (Democrat Rodney Willett vs. Republican Mary Margaret Kastelberg) and the 85th (Democrat Alex Askew vs. Republican Rocky Holcomb). Redirected resources from Chase’s race could shift the balance in those races, potentially forcing Democrats to redouble their efforts to hold those open seats.
In the end, if Democrats wind up celebrating victories in both chambers on November 5th, which is certainly possible if not likely, don’t be surprised if a few Democratic campaign workers raise a glass to toast one of the unlikely heroes who made that victory possible: outgoing Republican Senator Amanda Freeman Chase.