Dems look to gain ground in Va. House of Delegates

Dems look to gain ground in Va. House of Delegates
© Greg Nash

Virginia Democrats are hoping to gain ground in the Commonwealth's House of Delegates on Tuesday, hoping that young, first-time candidates will successfully challenge local Republicans in blue-tinged districts that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE carried in 2016.

Republicans currently hold a 17-seat advantage in the House, though Clinton won 17 Republican-held districts as she captured Virginia’s electoral votes.

Democrats have fielded candidates in 88 districts, well more than the 57 districts where they competed in 2015. All 100 delegate seats are up for grabs Tuesday. 

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“We start recruiting soon after our elections in 2015, and I think it’s also the election of President Trump that got more people interested in running for office,” House Democratic caucus chairwoman Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) said. “And we’ve also been working with other groups like Emerge Virginia, where they train women to run for office. So I believe that more people were interested in stepping up, and we were fortunate that 17 millennials [under the age of 35] have decided to run and are part of the group that is running this year.”

Experts say Democrats can expect to win some ground back. Elections tend to favor the party out of power in the White House a year after the presidential race.

“If they win over four-and-a-half seats, they probably had a decent, pretty good night in the House of Delegates race, by net gain, I should say. If it’s just four, chalk it up as a ‘C’ night for them,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“Under [four seats] is failure,” Skelley added, noting that four Republican seats are particularly vulnerable. 

Clinton landslides in the 2nd and 42nd districts chased incumbent Dels. Mark Dudenhefer (R-Stafford) and Dave Albo (R-Springfield) into retirement, and Dels. Jim LeMunyon (R-Oak Hill) and Tag Greason (R-Potomac Falls) are hanging on in districts that went for Clinton by 20-plus points. 

Announcing his retirement on the House floor in April, Albo said he “doesn’t have a monopoly on all the good ideas.” Upon his retirement in January, he will have served the 42nd district, encompassing parts of Fairfax County, for 24 years. 

“It’s not ‘my seat,’ it is the people of our neighborhoods’ seat, and I am sure there is someone out there who would like to serve,” Albo said. Clinton won his district by 23 percentage points. 

Lolita Mancheno-Smoak (R), a member of former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina’s Virginia leadership team, and Democrat Kathy Tran, who worked on the National Immigration Forum, are running to replace Albo. Both are first-time candidates.

Dudenhefer held the 2nd district seat, representing northern Stafford County and Woodbridge, for two nonconsecutive terms and announced his retirement on Jan. 6. Clinton carried the 2nd by 20 points.

Conservative activist Mike Makee and public defender Jennifer Carroll Foy are squaring off for Dudenhefer’s open seat. Foy, one of 17 Democratic candidates under 35, boasts the endorsement of former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenOvernight Tech: FCC won't delay net neutrality vote | Google pulls YouTube from Amazon devices | Biden scolds social media firms over transparency Medicaid funds shouldn't be used to subsidize state taxes on health care Biden hits social media firms over lack of transparency MORE. Makee became the GOP nominee when primary winner Laquan Austion dropped from the race after reports that he lied about his educational history. 

LeMunyon and Greason are perhaps the most vulnerable GOP incumbents. Clinton took the Oak Hill Republican’s 67th by 26 points and Greason’s 32nd by 20 points.

Democrat Karrie Delaney is gunning for LeMunyon’s seat, which represents parts of South Riding and Chantilly. Delaney, who hasn’t run for office in Virginia but served on a city council in Florida, is taking fire for being registered as a Republican in her former home state. She’s the fifth-highest raiser in the state, pulling in $947,994, including a $197,750 boost from the House Democratic Caucus.

First-timer David Reid is Greason’s challenger in the 32nd district, which makes up parts of eastern Loudoun County. Clinton’s 20-point landslide in the district prompted the Flippable Va. PAC to pour $40,000 into Reid’s campaign. 

Democrats are looking to pick up an open seat in the 72nd district as well. 

Clinton’s 5-point win in suburban Richmond, along with Del. Jimmy Massie’s (R-Richmond) retirement, brought out the first Democratic challenger in the district in 10 years. Schuyler VanValkenburg is squaring off with lawyer and local leader Eddie Whitlock to replace Massie. 

VanValkenburg, a high school government and history teacher, told a local news affiliate that the 2016 election pushed him to run for office.

"Over the course of that campaign, watching constitutional norms get trashed, really, kind of got me going," the first-time candidate said. He told NPR that his day job teaching civics to high school students affected his decision as well. 

"I literally teach them democratic citizenship and how to be a democratic citizen, that's my day to day life," VanValkenburg said. "And so I never thought I'd run, but after November it just seemed like the right thing to do."

A pair of former journalists, Chris Hurst and Danica Roem, are looking to unseat Republicans in the 12th and 13th districts. Both are under 35 years old and are running their first campaigns. 

Roem, 33, would be the first openly transgender state legislator in the country. She’s squaring off with veteran conservative Del. Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) in the 13th, which covers parts of Prince William County. Roem has more than doubled Marshall’s fundraising, clocking in at $806,825 to the Republican’s  $349,360. 

The matchup between Roem and Marshall is particularly ironic. Marshall introduced a “bathroom bill” to the House in January, drawing criticism from LGBTQ advocates. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said he would veto the bill, which would have required transgender individuals to use the public restroom assigned to their birth gender. The bill did not survive committee hearings.

Hurst, a former local news anchor, is taking on incumbent Joseph Yost in the 12th district, which narrowly went for Clinton last year. 

He’s a national media darling due to personal tragedy; his girlfriend, a local news reporter, was killed on live television in 2015. On his campaign website, Hurst cites the attack as his impetus for running.

Dems hoping to ride the wave of media attention have poured $325,250 into Hurst’s campaign, prompting Republican groups to boost Yost in response — the candidates are the first- and third-highest raisers, respectively.  

Yost, 31, was elected in 2011 and is well-regarded for a young legislator, receiving multiple recognitions from education and mental health groups. He’s the director of the Giles County Historical Society and a former jail diversion coordinator at the Mental Health Association of the New River Valley. 

Democrats aren’t just pushing young candidates; 43 women are on the ballots this year, out of the 88 candidates. 

In the 51st, Hala Ayala is challenging Del. Rich Anderson (R-Woodbridge), who she says is losing touch with a diversifying district. 

Ayala was a cybersecurity specialist at the Department of Homeland Security and a founder of Prince William County’s chapter of the National Organization for Women. She served on McAuliffe’s Advisory Council on Women and is running for office for the first time.

Another first-time candidate, Elizabeth Guzman, is chasing a seat in the 31st district, which represents parts of Fauquier and Prince William counties. Clinton carried the 31st by 10 points in 2016. 

Guzman is the number-two fundraiser in the state, pulling in $104,150 from the House Democratic Caucus and more than $1 million total.

Her opponent, incumbent Del. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Woodbridge), is harping on Guzman’s financial record: She’s filed for personal bankruptcy twice in eight years. Lingamfelter was elected in 2001 after a lengthy Army career and serves on the Appropriations Committee. 

Guzman would be the first Latina elected to the House of Delegates. But she’d have to fend off Lingamfelter as well as a left-field candidate: Nathan Larson, a libertarian who was disowned by his own party. Larson recently served 16 months in federal prison for threatening to kill the president.

David Yancey (R-Newport News) will have to fight off Shelly Simonds, a Democratic school board member and former teacher, to retain his seat representing the 94th district. He’s seen Simonds before; she ran against him in 2015, and entered the 2017 race when Zack Wittkamp withdrew.

Simonds told the Daily Press that she’s “really excited to have another shot” at Yancey. Michael Bartley, the Libertarian Party candidate, hopes to make a splash in the 94th as well. 

Newport News is represented by Democrat Rep. Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottOvernight Tech: Facebook vows to stop letting advertisers exclude by race | Watchdog study finds lack of diversity in tech | Agencies sued over tattoo recognition software Government study shows lack of diversity in tech Overnight Regulation: House passes bill to overturn joint-employer rule | Trump officials to allow work requirements for Medicaid | Lawmakers 'alarmed' by EPA's science board changes MORE in the U.S. House of Representatives, and went for Clinton by just over 5 percent.

While Democrats could pick up a few seats Tuesday night, they may bleed others right back to the GOP. 

Del. John Bell (D-Chantilly) is battling Subba Kolla for the 87th district, which represents parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties. Kolla would be the first Indian-American to serve in the House; the district is 26 percent Asian. Kolla is a strong fundraiser and has the support of the National Rifle Association, among other Republican groups. 

Clinton carried the 87th by 25 points.  

Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) is pitted against Heather Cordasco, a Williamsburg-James City County School Board member. Mullin was elected to the 93rd seat narrowly in 2016 via special election. The candidates are locked in a tight fundraising race. 

The 93rd district represents parts of Newport News and went to Clinton by 19 percentage points. 

Though some voters may recall Jon Ossoff’s loss in Georgia’s special election to replace former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceOvernight Health Care: Funding bill could provide help for children's health program | Questions for CVS-Aetna deal | Collins doubles funding ask for ObamaCare bill Warren questions Conway's role in curbing opioid epidemic Trump promised ‘best people’ would run government — they upended it MORE, law professor at Richmond University Carl Tobias says the influx of young candidates should be encouraging to Democrats.

“It’s great to have fresh faces. Democrats have had problems in the past finding viable, strong candidates to run,” Tobias said. “It hasn’t been that way for a while.”