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The close battle for control of the Virginia House of Delegates

Virginia gubernatorial races outside of the year have historically served as a temperature control for the party controlling the White House. In every election for governor since 1977 (with the exception of 2013), the state has elected a governor from the party opposite to that of the president.

The tight race for control of the Virginia House of Delegates could also give some idea of ​​where parties stand ahead of the 2022 congressional midterm elections.

In 2017, Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates had only two seats left to tip the chamber. They captured the majority two years later and mounted a wave of suburban animosity against President Trump to win 55 out of 100 seats.

Now, first-term president Eileen Filler-Corn is trying to retain her party’s slim majority in a post-Trump, post-pandemic election cycle.

Like the United States House of Representatives, the Democratic majority in the Virginia legislature is extremely thin. The Democratic majorities won over the past four years are one-digit back to Republican control.

The close battle for control of the Virginia House of Delegates
Speaker of the House Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn D-Fairfax hammers during the session of an empty chamber of the Virginia House of Delegates after a Zoom Legislative Session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., On Wednesday February 10, 2021.

Steve Helber / AP

But while House Democrats have yet more President Biden’s agenda to pass and execute for 2022, the Virginia House of Delegates has completed a full term since winning a majority – as one Democrat was governor.

With both houses and the government under Democratic control, the House of Delegates was able to fulfill most of the progressive goals the Democratic members campaigned on: expanding voting rights by repealing voter identification laws and expanding absentee voting, instituting wage gun control laws, abolishing the death penalty, and legalizing marijuana.

Part of their pitch this year is that the Republicans in Virginia were going to back down.

“I see Virginia as an indicator [for 2022]”Filler-Corn said in an interview.” We stood up for these issues, but until we got the votes and started ruling in the majority, we couldn’t pass half of these. law projects. The message we’re going to get across [is] that the Republicans are going to want to roll everything back. And that cannot happen. “

“It created a record that I am proud to run on,” Democratic delegate Nancy Guy said of the actions of the General Assembly. “A successful implementation by the Democrats helps everyone vote, whether it’s us doing it in Richmond or doing it in Washington.”

“The big challenge is to get this message out as we come out of a pandemic,” she added.

Guy represents the 83rd District of Virginia Beach, and she beat a final 10-year outgoing Republican cycle by just 40 votes, the tightest delegate race of 2019. Fifteen Democrats won their 2019 races with less than 55% of the vote .

Republican candidates in Virginia’s most competitive districts have made the state’s economic recovery and the reopening of schools part of their core message, pinning any fatigue from restrictions on Democrats. But a February survey by Christopher Newport University in Virginia showed a 55% approval rating for Gov. Ralph Northam’s handling of COVID-19.

“Pandemics are tough. But I think we’ve done a great job of managing our economy. We clearly see the rebound coming, and we’re losing as few people as possible,” Guy said.

Lawyer Tim Anderson, who represents several Republican lawmakers in Virginia, including state senator and gubernatorial candidate Amanda Chase, short to knock down Guy in the 83rd.

He said Democrats have created a “toxic environment” with their program – in particular by raising the minimum wage; he also highlighted an ongoing scandal over the state parole board, which is currently under investigation for violating state code.

Despite the partisan rhetoric, Anderson knows the tightrope that he and other Republican candidates have to march through districts like the 83rd, which he says “is probably as purple as you’re going to get in Virginia politics.”

The 83rd District of Virginia is completely contained in the 2nd congressional district of the state. Democratic MK Elaine Luria tilted the seat by 2.3 points in 2018 and widened her lead to 5.8 points in 2020.

“I’m almost afraid to even admit it, but she’s quite popular in this neighborhood. People don’t complain about her,” Anderson said of Luria’s reputation in the district while adding that the GOP State Senator Jen Kiggans, who declared her candidacy for the seat of Congress will make it “an interesting race.”

“I don’t think a lot of people attribute the pain we are feeling right now to the federal government – I think they attribute everything to the state government,” he added.

While Virginia has voted Democratic in the presidential election since 2008, Biden won it by 10 points in 2020, the shift from state to Democrats has mostly occurred under Trump’s watch. Democrats represented the majority of the state’s congressional delegation in 2018 and reversed both houses of the General Assembly in 2019.

Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington, said Democrats’ recent election success can be attributed to the northern suburban counties moving away from the GOP.

“The key national question for the midterm elections is whether the traditionally Republican areas of the suburbs will revert to being Republican now that Trump is no longer president?” he said.

President Filler-Corn said she was not concerned about the Republicans returning to the suburbs, saying Democrats have come forward and acted on the issues that brought voters to the party. Mary Margaret Kastelberg, a Republican candidate for a district in the western suburbs of Richmond, said she had already heard some voters backtrack.

“It remains to be seen how many. But a few people at the gates have said, now [that Trump] is not in power, I see Republicans differently, ”she said.

Kastelberg is running for the second time against Democrat Rodney Willett for the 73rd District of Virginia. Willett beat Kastelberg by less than 5% in 2019.

“I’m getting a much higher and more intense level of engagement from the people,” Kastelberg said of what looks different this election cycle. “Two years ago you asked, ‘What are your problems? “They say health care, education, factory management, standard kitchen table problems. But now, [the COVID restrictions] affect people every day, their family life has been turned upside down by these policies. “

The Willett neighborhood on the outskirts of Richmond is part of Congressman Abigail Spanberger’s sprawling 7th District, another competitive federal seat that Republicans have targeted.

After his run was one of the last to be called up in the state (Spanberger won by less than two points) and many of his fellow freshmen in competitive districts lost their re-election, Spanberger notably criticized the message from House Democrats in 2020.

“From what I saw in 2020, the most important thing we can do as elected officials is to reflect the priorities of the voters,” said Willett, adding that the GOP attacks linking Democrats to the “Defund the Police” movement does not match. what the Democratic-led government is doing in Virginia.

Willett, whose opposition to Mr. Trump was a catalyst in his decision to run for parliamentary election, said the former president still had supporters among local Republicans.

“I was hoping he’s gone and he’s got it all cleared up, and that we can move on. But unfortunately, he’s not. His thinking and his philosophies, his approach, carry on with d ‘. other people who are still there, ”said Willett.

A majority of Republicans, 61%, believe Mr Biden did not win legitimately, according to a February poll by Christopher Newport University. But overall, Mr Biden’s approval rating was 57% in that same poll.

“If in a year people are less supportive of Biden and people stay home, there may be a number of Democrats who will become former members of Congress,” Farnsworth said of 2022. “ Traditionally, midterm elections have been angry electoral elections. And angry voters are the ones without power right now. “

Still, Farnsworth says the redistribution and economic recovery in the state will be key factors that could decide the fate of vulnerable House Democrats like Luria and Spanberger.

“If you tell me what the lines are going to look like and what the unemployment rate in Virginia is in October 2022, I’ll tell you who wins the election,” he said.


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