Republicans have a good chance to retake the majority in Virginia’s House of Delegates, powered by historically-Republican voters in swing districts who were alienated by former President Donald Trump. To win the majority, Republicans need to protect what they have and take six seats. They see opportunities in Northern Virginia, metro Richmond, Virginia Beach, and downstate Virginia.
“We feel that with the environment that’s going on right now, we’ve got great opportunities to pick up five to nine seats to take over,” Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Wise) told The Virginia Star. “That’s one thing you don’t have any control of, but the environment, you know, of Biden and just the overreach by a lot of the Democrats’ bills last year has really focused the independents back our way.”
Hoping to win back anti-Trump moderates while retaining the base, Republicans are campaigning on a combination of issues all linked to perceived Democratic failures: opposition to defunding the police, education after virtual learning, Afghanistan, inflation, and the border crisis. Virginia-specific issues include a focus on protecting right-to-work laws and outrage over left-leaning educational policies. Winning voters who were irritated by Trump is critical for Republicans to regain control, since those demographics are well-represented in Virginia, including minorities and high-income voters.
Because Virginia holds gubernatorial elections the year after presidential elections, the party that loses the White House has an advantage. That also applies to local elections. 2009 was the last time a Democratic president was in office in his first year, and Republicans gained five seats in the House while Republican Bob McDonnell beat Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) in the gubernatorial race by a significant 58.6 percent to 41.3 percent.
Democrats continued to lose seats in successive races until 2017, the year after Trump was elected, when they gained 15 seats. In 2021, House Republicans have an additional advantage: because U.S. Census data was delayed, candidates are running in old districts that may favor Republicans.
Currently, GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin is running just behind Democrat Terry McAuliffe, but at the House level, Republicans are expected to out-perform state-wide candidates. Candidates at local levels are insulated from some of the campaign errors made by statewide candidates.
“You will never see Glenn Youngkin win with a Democratic House. You could see Terry McAuliffe win with a Republican House, that is possible, because it happened in 2013,” Democratic consultant Ben Tribbett said. “If Glenn Youngkin wins, Republicans are very likely to take over the House.”
CNalysis Director Chaz Nuttycombe rates the House a toss-up.
“If I were to eliminate all toss-ups today and choose final ratings, I think Republicans pick up three or four seats, whereas maybe a week or two ago, it would have been two or three. I think they’re in a slightly better position now, and that’s mainly because Biden’s approval continues to flag down,” he said. “But regardless I think Democrats hold on to the House.”
Nuttycombe said, “I still think our ratings will still be favoring Democrats for statewide stuff. So if you’re kind of wondering, well, why is the Virginia House a toss-up but the statewides are leaning or tilting Democratic in the final rating, well, that’s because you have three-fourths of the House of Delegates as a Republican gerrymander.”
To win a majority in the House, Republicans need wins spread across the four major regions, and need to protect several seats facing serious attack from Democratic candidates. Both parties have fielded huge numbers of candidates, giving them better odds of flipping seats. Only eight of 100 House seats are uncontested.
According to the Virginia Public Access Project, many of the top donors for House races are Democratic leaning: about $1.5 million from the Clean Virginia Fund, $1.4 million from Democratic donor Sonjia Smith, and $1.1 million from the House Democratic Caucus top the list. Dominion Energy has spent $703,400 on Democratic House candidates and $278,250 on Republican candidates.
Top Republican contributions are $502,342 from former Stafford Supervisor Paul Milde and $332,668 from the Republican Party of Virginia.
“There are six keys for Republicans to take control of the House,” said prominent Virginia radio talk show host and chairman of Trump’s Virginia 2016 and 2020 campaigns John Fredericks.
He said, “They have to win the three Virginia Beach seats, Mike Cherry has to hold on to Cox’s seat, they have to win back Fredericksburg, Ballard is a must win over Chris Hurst, and Otto Wachsmann beats Roslyn Tyler. Mary Margaret Kastleberg is a chronic under-performer so their pathway narrows after that. The Virginia Trump base is holding together by a thread so far, and our enthusiasm edge is exceeding expectations. I believe they’ll win exactly six seats and take control.”
The Star interviewed various Republicans and consultants who listed a dozen total districts with opportunities for Republican candidates, but they also listed five currently-Republican seats that are vulnerable.
To win here, candidates have to pick up the significant numbers of historically-Republican voters who didn’t vote during Trump’s presidency. Battles over schools are drawing attention in Loudoun County.
House District 10: Republican Nick Clemente challenges incumbent Wendy Gooditis (D-Clarke.)
House District 28: Republican Tara Durant challenges incumbent Joshua Cole (D-Stafford.)
House District 31: Republican Ben Baldwin challenges incumbent Elizabeth Guzman (D-Prince William.) Guzman failed in her run for the 2021 Democratic lieutenant governor nomination.
House District 40: Republican Harold Pyon challenges incumbent Dan Helmer (D-Fairfax.)
This region has a strong military voting population that didn’t always vote for Trump. Republicans’ think their messaging on public safety and education will resonate with those voters.
House District 21: Republican Tanya Gould challenges incumbent Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach.)
House District 81: Democrat Jeffrey Feld challenges incumbent Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach.)
House District 83: Republican Tim Anderson challenges incumbent Nancy Guy (D-Virginia Beach.)
House District 84: Democrat Kimberly Melnyk challenges incumbent Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach.) Davis failed in his run for the 2021 Republican lieutenant governor nomination.
House District 85: Republican Karen Greenhalgh challenges incumbent Alex Askew (D-Virginia Beach.)
Greater Richmond Area
Richmond’s suburbs are perennially competitive. Republican control of Districts 27 and 66 survived the Democratic waves in 2017 and 2019, but Democrats see opportunity in 2021 for those seats.
House District 27: Democrat Debra Gardner challenges incumbent Roxann Robinson (R-Chesterfield.)
House District 66: Republican Mike Cherry and Democrat Katie Sponsler are fighting for this seat, currently held by Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights.) Cox is retiring after failing in his run for the 2021 Republican governor nomination.
House District 68: Republican Mark Earley, Jr. challenges incumbent Dawn Adams (D-Chesterfield.)
House District 72: Republican Christopher Holmes challenges incumbent Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico.)
House District 73: Republican Mary Margaret Kastleberg challenges incumbent Rodney Willett (D-Henrico.)
House District 12: Republican Jason Ballard challenges incumbent Chris Hurst (D-Montgomery.) This western Virginia seat represents parts of Montgomery, Giles, Radford, and Pulaski Counties.
House District 75: Republican Otto Wachsmann challenges incumbent Roslyn Tyler (D-Sussex.) This Southside seat represents parts of Southampton, Brunswick, Sussex, Greensville, and Lunenberg Counties, along with parts of Franklin and Emporia Cities.
House District 100: Democrat Finale Norton challenges incumbent Rob Bloxom (R-Accomack.) This Eastern Shore seat represents parts of Accomack and Northampton Counties, along with part of Norfolk City.
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Speaker Bill Howell Opens Session at Virginia House of Delegates” by Germanna CC. CC BY 2.0.