RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Control of Virginia’s House of Delegates is at stake this election season. All one hundred seats are on the ballot as Democrats try to defend their majority and the slew of policy changes it enabled.
The balance of power in the chamber could be an asset or a barrier to the future governor as they try to execute their agenda. Members of the Senate–where Democrats hold a razor thin majority–are not up for re-election this year.
Democrats flipped the House and Senate in 2019, giving the party total control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than two decades.
But the political dynamics are different this time around.
The nation is watching Virginia ahead of next year’s midterms to see if Democratic enthusiasm will hold now that President Donald Trump is out of office.
House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert believes a shift is underway.
“We certainly feel the enthusiasm on our side. We feel momentum,” Gilbert said.
While fundraising totals for House of Delegates races suggest Democrats still have an edge, there are some signs of trouble.
Democrats are in charge in D.C. and President Joe Biden’s approval rating is sinking in Virginia as his agenda stalls in Congress.
Meanwhile, the race for governor between the former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, a former business executive, is far closer than many analysts initially expected. The two were dead even in our latest Nexstar/Emerson College poll released on Monday.
“I believe we will be successful and it won’t be as close as people think on Election Day,” said Democratic House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, who said she’s still seeing widespread enthusiasm on the campaign trail.
Ninety one of the one hundred seats in the House of Delegates are contested this year, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
However, party operatives have zoomed in on a handful–largely in the suburbs of Richmond, Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia–as being the most competitive based on close margins in 2019.
Democrats currently have a five vote edge in the chamber and Republicans believe they have a shot at flipping ten seats. Those include:
- 10th: Wendy Gooditis (D) vs. Nick Clemente (R)
- 12th: Chris Hurst (D) vs. Jason Ballard (R)
- 21st: Kelly Fowler (D) vs. Tanya Gould (R)
- 28th: Joshua Cole (D) vs. Tara Durant (R)
- 40th: Dan Helmer (D) vs. Harold Pyon (R)
- 63rd: Lashrecse Aird (D) vs. Kim Taylor (R)
- 73rd: Rodney Willett (D) vs. Mary Margaret Kastelberg (R)
- 75th: Roslyn Tyler (D) vs. Otto Wachsmann (R)
- 83rd: Nancy Guy (D) vs. Tim Anderson (R)
- 85th: Alex Askew (D) vs. Karen Greenhalgh (R)
Meanwhile, Democrats think they have a chance at swiping four seats currently controlled by the GOP.
- 27th: Roxann Robinson (R) vs. Debra Gardener (D)
- 84th: Glenn Davis (R) vs. Kim Melnyk (D)
- 66th: Mike Cherry (R) vs. Katie Sponsler (D)
- 100th: Rob Bloxom (R) vs. Finale Norton (D)
As the staying power of the blue wave is put to the test, Filler-Corn pointed out that hard-fought victories for Democrats are at stake.
In the last two years–in addition to managing the COVID-19 response–Democrats passed gun control, increased the minimum wage, legalized limited marijuana possession, ended the death penalty, reformed policing, made voting easier, rolled back abortion restrictions and raised teacher pay.
Virginia was named the “best state to do business” and ended the fiscal year with a $2.6 billion surplus, even as other states struggled with their finances.
With a jam-packed agenda, a lot of things didn’t make the cut. Moving forward, some members of the caucus are hoping to pass widespread paid family medical leave and paid sick leave. Others are pushing to end qualified immunity for police and the vast majority of mandatory minimum sentences, as well as follow through with a framework to legalize recreational marijuana sales. Democrats may also revisit efforts to ban ghost guns and restrict the new sale of so-called assault weapons.
“It’s not just a matter of us being able to move forward on the progress that we made. All these bills and all of these accomplishments that have impacted so many Virginians’ lives would be rolled back like that. There’s no doubt about it,” Filler-Corn said. “Republicans want us to be the next Texas, the next Georgia, the next Florida. We are not going there.”
Despite the national attention on reproductive rights, Gilbert said they haven’t been a focus on the campaign trail for Republicans. Asked if his caucus would support a Texas-style abortion ban, Gilbert said he hadn’t read the bill.
“You don’t see our caucus putting forward an agenda there,” Gilbert said. “We’re focused on the things that voters are very intently concerned about right now, which is rising prices and educating their children and crime being out of control.”
Gilbert said Republicans have been drawing a lot of attention to the most recent gas tax increase and Youngkin’s proposal to eliminate the grocery tax. They have been vocal in their opposition of Democratic commitments to address climate change that are expected to raise energy bills overtime.
Amid controversy over two alleged sexual assaults in Loudoun County schools, Gilbert said they are also emphasizing the need to restore a law requiring principals to report misdemeanors to law enforcement.
“A lot of things that they did we think are proving to be very dangerous for our society and very costly for our families and so we’re looking to move the ball in the other direction,” Gilbert said.
Democrats have pointed out that the student at the center of the Loudoun controversy was charged with felonies, which are still mandatory for schools to report.
Virginians have until Saturday, Oct. 30 to vote early in-person. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2.
Voters can find out who their current representative is by visiting this website.