This is the first in a three-part series covering the most hotly contested House of Delegates races across the Commonwealth of Virginia. This first installment covers Northern Virginia, home to the greatest number of competitive races this year.
HD10 – Leans Republican
The seat which perhaps most closely resembles Virginia’s 10th Congressional District has had a rather sleepy history since redistricting in 2011 drove the district from the North Carolina border to being centered in Loudoun County. Republican Delegate Randy Minchew easily won re-election in 2015, dispatching Democratic challenger Peter Rush 62-38 while only losing three precincts in the entire district. During Virginia’s last gubernatorial election in 2013, Minchew had a similar performance, crushing Democrat Monte Johnson by a 57-43 margin.
Minchew’s strength can largely be attributed to his strong crossover appeal. In an era of increasingly polarized down-ballot voting, Minchew has for many cycles over-preformed his fellow Republicans in the district by very respectable margins. Take the last gubernatorial election in 2013 for example. It voted for Mark Obenshain for Attorney General by less than 1%, Northam for Lieutenant Governor by 2%, and Cuccinelli for Governor by 3%. Meanwhile, Minchew was re-elected by whopping 17% margin. Clearly he’s been doing something right.
However, Minchew has a much tougher race on his hands this year. His challenger, Wendy Gooditis, is running a very competent campaign. Gooditis has outraised Minchew and has a larger volunteer base than the Republican incumbent. With deep connections with local Democrats, Gooditis is very likely to minimize the number of split ticket voters for Minchew, which is essential for any Democrat to flip this district. Looking at the overall state of the race, two powerful forces in Virginia politics are facing off against each other in this district. Minchew’s incumbency and the 10th district’s history of electing Republicans are running up against Gooditis’ fundraising and volunteer advantage. At this point I still favor Minchew to win re-election, though by a margin of 5% or less.
HD87 – Leans Democrat
The 87th district is the best pickup opportunity for Republicans this year. Democratic Incumbent John J. Bell is facing off against Republican challenger Subba Kolla. Bell was first elected by a plurality in 2015, and has since struggled to pass a single bill during his tenure in the House of Delegates, an issue the Kolla campaign has worked to highlight as much as possible. Bell however is not as weak an incumbent as one may assume however. He’s raised over $430,000 this cycle, and had over $130,000 in the bank at the beginning of September.
Kolla, who read Virginia’s delegate count at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, has the connections and support among Republican circles to turn out moderate and low-propensity GOP voters in a race where their participation could certainly make the difference. He’s also been able to match Bell’s fundraising numbers and had almost $200,000 in the bank as of September 1, suggesting he may outspend Bell in the final stretch before election day. Being able to match your opponent’s fundraising numbers is certainly the first sign of being able to flip a seat, though there are many other hurdles Kolla must first surpass. Foremost of these is the fact that the 87th district last year went to Hillary Clinton by a stunning 25-point margin. Clinton carried every precinct in the district except two, and after Bell’s success in 2015 – despite a turnout of less than 30% – suggests the Democratic strength in this district may be a bridge too far for the Kolla campaign.
Nevertheless, I expect this race to be decided by a margin similar to 2015, with a margin of less than 7%. While I would not be surprised should Kolla pull out the win, it appears Bell is on track to return to the statehouse next January.
HD13 – Likely Democrat
Republican incumbent Bob Marshall has been regularly used for years on Virginia House Democratic fundraising emails for his controversial remarks, though after November their favorite fundraising tool may no longer be available.
Democratic challenger Danica Roem is perhaps the best-known challenger of any incumbent in Virginia this year, and it’s not hard to see why. Roem is running to be the first transgender woman to be elected to any statehouse in the country, and has seen campaign money flood in from out of state donors eager to knock off Marshall, who is known far and wide for his history of controversial, and sometimes inflammatory remarks. During last session for example, Marshall introduce legislation similar to North Carolina’s (in)famous “bathroom bill”, which died in subcommittee almost immediately without a recorded vote. For Democrats, Marshall’s defeat at the hands of a transgender candidate would be poetic justice of the kind which only presents itself on rare occasions.
Democrats in this district have not just run on LGBT issues however. Far from it, the Roem campaign has made transportation issues the centerpiece of the race. While this may not be as exciting an issue to state or national observers, the “Fix Rt. 28!” campaign does seem to be resonating. Another strength Democrats have in this race is the partisan lean of the 13th district. The Manassass Park portion of the district, combined with the immediate surrounding precincts in Prince William County, are overwhelmingly Democratic. Their effect on the district as a whole have been pronounced. Clinton won this district by 14 points in 2016, and McAuliffe edged out Cuccinelli here in 2013.
Roem’s massive cash advantage, army of volunteers, the district’s partisan lean, and Marshall high negatives among Democrats all point to this seat being a Democratic pickup on election night. As such, I rate it Likely Democrat. Should Marshall manage to hold on, expect a good night for the RPV.
HD40 – Likely Republican
The 40th district is the most Republican-leaning district in Fairfax County, which is certainly saying something considering Hillary Clinton carried the district by 8 points in 2016. Nevertheless, Republican incumbent Tim Hugo is well-positioned to win re-election this year.
Hugo has raised a stunning amount of money, and knocking off the House Republican Caucus Chair will be no small feat for Democratic challenger Donte Tanner. Tanner’s campaign has certainly raised a respectable amount of money thus far, but compared to the nearly $600,000 Hugo has amassed for this legislative cycle, Tanner is going to finish this election cycle outraised and outspent, a rarity for Northern Virginia Democrats this year.
While Hugo seems unlikely to win re-election by the 20-point margin he did in 2015, this district is simply too Republican-leaning at the state level and Hugo is too well-known and respected by his constituents for me to believe the Republican incumbent will lose. That said, Tanner’s campaign has been very well-disciplined and organized. Democrats also seem to be making a genuine effort to flip this district. The race is Hugo’s to lose at this point, but keep an eye out on election night should things tighten up.
HD51 – Leans Republican
The 51st district has received far less attention this cycle than other Northern Virginia seats, which is surprising since this is a classic swing state and exactly the sort of target Democrats need to flip in order to have any shot at retaking control of the House of Delegates. That’s not to say that they don’t have a good shot at doing just that, and indeed I’ve been forced to move this race from Likely Republican to Leans Republican in the past few weeks because of a number of factors.
Straddling both ends of Prince William County, the 51st district is usually a battle between the Democratic-dominated portions of the district centered around Lake Ridge, and the Republican bastions of Nokesville and Brentsville. The precincts in the center of the district transition from deep blue, to light blue, purple, pink, and finally crimson red as one travels from east to west. Anderson was unchallenged in 2015, though in 2013 he edged out his Democratic opponent Reed Heddleston by an 8-point margin. During past races, the 51st voted for Republican Attorney General nominee Mark Obenshain by less than 1-point in 2013, while backing Democrat Ralph Northan by a 4-point margin for Lt. Governor (which is surprising, given Northam’s 10-point blowout statewide in 2013). For Governor, the could not have been closer, voting for Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli by razor-thin 47.96% to Terry McAuliffe’s 47.24%. In 2014, the district voted to send no GOP gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie to the US Senate by a relatively solid 52-45 margin over Democratic Senator Mark Warner. Gillespie’s showing in 2014 bodes well for the Anderson campaign, and demonstrates that this is not a district with deep Democratic roots.
Democratic challenger Hala Ayala hopes thus rely on Hillary Clinton’s 7-point victory in the district in 2016, and her campaign has worked to translate that support down to the state-level in an attempt to overcome the district’s traditionally mild Republican lean. Looking at finance reports, she’s certainly got the money to pull it off, having actually outraised and out-spent Anderson. Anderson however has not been sitting idly by. His campaign has patiently been waiting by to unleash nearly $150,000 which they’ve kept in reserve until the final months before election day. Despite being outraised by Ayala thus far, Anderon’s team is poised to bury her with nearly twice as much cash on hand as of the last filing report. This combined with the structural advantages of incumbency and the district’s slight Republican lean at the state-level suggest Anderson will be returning to Richmond next year, albeit with a slightly more reduced margin than in 2013, likely to the tune of less than 5%.
HD50 – Likely Republican
The 50th district has long been in the cross-hairs of Democratic operatives in Virginia. With a rapidly growing Hispanic population and a partisan lean that makes this district one of the most competitive in the entire Commonwealth, it’s no wonder that Democratic challenger Lee Carter was one of the first candidates to announce for the 2017 cycle. In an election where the vast majority of Democrats running for the House this year were motivated by the election of Donald Trump, Carter announced his intentions of running against Republican incumbent Jackson Miller in early 2016.
Miller looks vulnerable on paper too. He recently just lost an election for Clerk of the Court in Prince William County by 8-points, a race many expected him to win. This, combined with the fact that Clinton carried the district by a 14-point margin last November has Democrats salivating at the prospect of knocking off the House Republican Majority Whip. I think they’ll have to wait a little longer, as Miller looks poised to win re-election.
Miller’s advantages simply outweigh Carter’s. For starters, he has crushed Carter in fundraising numbers. Carter spent more than he took in during the last filing report, while Miller is sitting on over $200,000 as of September 1, a massive figure he’s sure to tap into as the race enters the home stretch. The simple fact is Carter’s fundraising can’t match the House Majority Whip. That would be OK, but unfortunately the Carter appears to be placing more emphasis on ideological purity than winning in a swing district. Carter has run unabashedly as one of the most leftist candidates running this election cycle, announcing plans to implement a single-payer system at the state level should he get elected. This Bernie Sanders style platform is more suited to Charlottesville than Manassass, where Democrats and moderates tend to be far more liberal and thus open to Carter’s proposals. In a bid to capture media attention, boost his name ID, and increase Democratic enthusiasm, Carter has given Republicans more than enough ammunition to bury him with the war chest Miller’s campaign has built up. To add to Miller’s strengths, he’s got a long record in the area as a former member of the Manassass City Council, and has built a solid reputation in the district, vanquishing past challengers with 55% of the vote or more. While Miller is not likely to win re-election this year by such a large margin as in 2015, I expect him to be re-elected by roughly 5-points.
HD67 – Leans Democrat
What do you do as a Republican incumbent when you’re sitting in a district that voted for Hillary Clinton with 58% of the vote over Donald Trump’s 36%? Republican Delegate Jim LeMunyon holds a seat that is the most Democratic-leaning of any Republican-held seat in either house of the Virginia General Assembly. To give an idea about how much of an uphill climb it is for LeMunyon or any Republican to win a seat like this, the 67th district is about as Democratic-leaning as the Hanover/Spotsylvania-based 55th District is Republican-leaning. The 55th district voted for Donald Trump by almost as similar a margin as the 67th voted for Clinton, and no one is under any illusions that Democrat neophyte Morgan Goodman stands a chance at beating Republican Buddy Fowler (save perhaps Goodman herself), yet that’s precisely what LeMunyon is attempting to accomplish in reverse.
The good news? He certainly stands a better chance of winning his district than Goodman has of winning hers. That is unfortunately where the good news ends. LeMunyon has been outraised and outspent by 6-digit figures by Democratic challenger and former Florida Republican-turned-Democrat Karrie Delaney. Delaney has also out-organized LeMunyon, and her campaign has boasted more volunteers than a regional field operation in Virginia.
LeMunyon can look forward to the fact that he has roughly the same amount of cash on hand as Delaney does as of the latest filling reports, which may help him even the score in the final weeks of the campaign. At this point however, LeMunyon’s best hopes may rely on a solid Gillespie performance in Fairfax County, where in 2014 he came within 6 points of besting Mark Warner in the district, the best numbers any Republican running statewide has put up in the 67th since Bob McDonnells’ crushing 58% margin in 2009. If Gillespie manages to replicate his 2014 numbers in Northern Virginia, LeMunyon has a decent shot at holding this seat. At this point however, the race is Delaney’s to lose.
HD32 – Leans Democrat
Unlike many other seats in the region, the 32nd district has a long history of being a tug of war between Republicans and Democrats. After defeating long-time Republican Delegate (and now State Senator) Dick Black in 2005 by 6%, Democratic Delegate David Poisson was himself defeated in the Republican wave of 2009 by Republican challenger Tag Greason. Greason has held the seat to this day and even avoided a challenge in 2011, though he only won re-election in 2013 and 2015 by 3 and 6 points respectively.
Greason may be facing the strongest opponent of his career, perhaps even moreso than his race against Poisson. Democratic challenger David Reid is aided by the rapid collapse of Republican support in the 32nd over the past few years. Having voted 52-47 for Obama in 2012, the 32nd was an almost mirror of the Commonwealth’s political landscape as a whole. That swiftly changed with now-Governor Terry McAuliffe over-preforming his statewide average in the district in 2013 after besting Ken Cuccinelli by 7-points in 2013, and Mark Warner defeating Ed Gillespie in the district by 2 points in 2014 in a county that ultimately backed Gillespie (albeit by a plurality). The 32nd would likely have been classified as a purple district with a slight blue tint had it not been for Hillary Clinton’s crushing 57-38 defeat of Donald Trump in the district last Fall. As with many other NOVA districts, Reid is working hard to capitalize on the upwelling of Democratic support during last year’s Presidential election, hoping to translate those numbers to the state level. While it’s incredibly unlikely for Reid to march Clinton’s support in the district even in the event of a Northam landslide(which looks increasingly off the books anyway), his campaign appears to be positioned for a razor-thin victory.
If Greason pulls out a win, it would not be surprising in the slightest. He’s had hard-fought races before, and his cash advantage over Reid is very respectable, especially in an environment where Democrats are outraising and outspending Republicans across the board. When looking at this race on paper, it appears like an open-shut case of Democrats peeling off a seat by something along a 3-point margin, and while that is my current assessment of the race I increasingly sense Democrats are taking this race for granted, having already picked up shop and begun to look at juicier targets they feel have yet to be locked down. The problem is, it looks like they’ve hauled up a pickup here when they’ve yet to truly seal the deal. This arrogance provides an opening to Greason, and if the race continues with Greason’s structural advantages intact, I feel this race will revert back to a tossup by election day.
HD31 – Tossup
The 31st district is a land of contrasts, with a heavily rural west and an increasingly suburban and urban east. Politically, the solid Democratic Prince William precincts in the district usually compete with the overwhelmingly Republican Fauquier precincts for control. As a whole, the 31st has a slight but durable Democratic lean, voting for Obama by 7-points in 2012, Herring by 2-points, Northam by 8, and McAuliffe by 3 in 2013. While Ed Gillespie did manage to win this district by a 50-48 margin in 2014, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump here by 7-points last November. All of this tells us that if there’s ever a seat Democrats have been kicking themselves for losing over the past several cycles, it’s this one, especially after coming within 228 votes of defeating Republican Delegate Scott Lingamfelter in 2013 with now-State Senator Jeremy McPike.
Lingamfelter has had a long tenure in the district, holding the seat since 2001. Having survived a near defeat in 2013, Lingamfelter took notice and managed to raise over $200,000 when he was challenged again in 2015. The work clearly paid off and he managed to defeat Democrat Sara Townsend by a relatively comfortable 8-point margin. Townsend ran for the opportunity to challenge Lingamfelter again this year, losing to current Democratic nominee Elizabeth Guzman, in part because of her poor showing last time around.
Guzman is no Townsend however, and she may be putting up an even tougher fight than McPike did in 2013. Her campaign operation is extensive, and her war chest is greater than any of Lingamfelter’s past opponents. She’s also managed to outraise and outspend her Republican opponent. While Lingamfelter hasn’t been able to raise as much money as he did in 2015, that’s not to say he’s not keeping pace with Guzman. The two are still very close in fundraising numbers that Guzman’s edge may be a bit over-pronounced among Democratic circles. Republicans and Democrats alike are also split over the direction of this race. Talk to any Democrat in the 31st and they’ll tell you victory is at hand. Republicans insist the race is a pure tossup. I’m inclined to believe them (and not just because of my own partisan preferences).
For starters, Lingamfelter’s campaign has treated this race like a repeat of 2013, recruiting volunteers and donors from across the region. Prince William Republicans are also heavily invested in keeping this seat red. Lingamfelter also naturally has a significant edge in name ID over Guzman, who has resorted to solving this problem by illegally placing her campaign signs on properties which didn’t give her campaign permission. The fundamentals of this campaign seem to narrow benefit Lingamfelter, while the nature of the district gives Guzman the edge (though this is tempered by the fact that Lingamfelter is a 16-year incumbent). At present, I rate this district a tossup.
Conclusion for Northern Virginia:
It’s time to be blunt as Republicans. Things are beginning to fall apart in Northern Virginia. There’s simply more Democratic volunteers, more Democratic donors, greater Democratic energy, and most of all – more Democratic voters – than anywhere else in the Commonwealth. We’re seeing far too many Republican incumbents who are having to face an environment more akin to 2016 as opposed to 2013 or 2015. Trump’s election has awakened the sleeping giant of statists up in Northern Virginia, and unlike every other past House election for the past decade, they’re playing to win this time. Speaking of the 45th President, I honestly can’t think of a worse person to have in the White House right now for our party in Northern Virginia, from a purely electoral standpoint. While Virginia has a long history of voting against the party which controls the White House, House of Delegates races have traditionally been decided on local issues, state concerns, and the quality of each individual candidate. However, it’s increasingly looking like each one of these races has taken a decidedly national tone, which only spells trouble for the Party which currently holds all three branches of government at the Federal level. What can someone like Lingamfelter, Greason, or LeMunyon do when Congress fails to repeal Obamacare or enact any of the sweeping reforms promised by Republicans who were elected in 2016?
In some regard, this isn’t really all that surprising. True, Trump has certainly accelerated the decline of the Republican brand in Northern Virginia, but the region has been tilting away from the GOP for quite literally decades. The President’s winning campaign coalition elsewhere in the country last year resulted in a miserably 28% showing in Fairfax County. While Trump was able to finally crack the blue wall in Midwestern states like Wisconsin and Michigan, he oversaw the worst showing of any Republican in Northern Virginia since the days of the Solid South. I suppose the old saying, “You can’t win them all” holds true.
Woe is the Northern Virginia GOP.
But not all hope is lost. We have an opportunity to hold many of these seats and even flip one back into Republican hands. So much of politics is just showing up, and the best way to turn the tide in NOVA is to simply out-work the Democrats. Volunteer at your local Republican headquarters. Make calls, knock doors, and donate to our candidates and Delegates running in tough districts. Most of all, encourage those of us who made our voices heard last year to do so again this Fall. After all, the Republican Party is the party of the individual, not government. It’s time to put that philosophy into action and drive up turnout among Republican-leaning voters who too often stay home during off-year elections. Together, we can and will Make Virginia Red Again.