Spotlight on Va. in fight for control of the U.S. House
Democrats hope to flip some GOP seats; Republicans see turnout as key
Led by six female nominees and assisted by the big money of Sen. Tim Kaine at the top of their party’s ticket, Democrats are hoping to flip Virginia congressional seats in Tuesday’s election. With a handful of seats in play, Virginia is in the middle of a national effort by Democrats to take over the House.
In 2017, a year after the surprise election to the presidency of Donald Trump, Democrats picked up an unexpected 15 seats in a wave election for the state House of Delegates while Democrat Ralph Northam beat Republican Ed Gillespie by 9 points for governor, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring was re-elected and Democrat Justin Fairfax won election as lieutenant governor.
If another wave materializes on Tuesday it could mean trouble for some Republican incumbents, who currently hold seven of the 11 seats in Virginia’s U.S. House delegation.
“I think we are going to have a good election night, yes,” said Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. “But I’m not in the predicting business. I’ll leave that to the pundits.”
Jack Wilson, the new chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said: “If Republicans get out and vote en masse the way they did for the president, we’ll be OK in those districts.” Learn about local contests, Election Day details. Amendments have tax implications. Both parties bring out big names to woo voters. Learn more about contests affecting area localities.
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The Kaine Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that allows a candidate to solicit large donations that are then distributed to candidates and PACs, has raised a Virginia record $8.9 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. In addition to campaigning with every Democrat on the House ballots, Kaine can use that committee to help other Democrats and the party.
Most Republican House candidates have avoided campaigning with the party’s U.S. Senate nominee, Corey Stewart.
As for the Democrats, “There’s no daylight between any of us,” Swecker said. “Tim Kaine is happy to run with everybody on the ticket.”
Wilson took over as state GOP chairman in September following the resignation of John Whitbeck, who announced he was stepping down not long after Stewart won the Senate nomination.
Wilson acknowledged the Democratic energy fueling this Tuesday’s midterm election began on the night Trump was elected. Add to that the fact that the president’s party generally doesn’t do well in midterm elections, he said.
When he took over as chairman, he said, he sensed “a general apathy around the Republican base as opposed to the energy level the Democrats were experiencing.”
But he said Republicans in Virginia have bridged the enthusiasm gap because of the confirmation hearings for the newest Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh. He said Republicans watching the hearings realized that if Democrats take control of the House, they’d start investigations, create gridlock and move to impeach the president.
“It all comes down to turnout and what happens between now and Tuesday, and do we get folks to stay motivated and turn them out,” Wilson said.
Here’s a look at Virginia’s 11 congressional seats.
Rep. Dave Brat, R-7th, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, easily won two years ago against Democrat Eileen Bedell with a 15point spread.
Times have changed in a district that Republicans have held since 1971. Trump ally Brat is now in “a dead heat race” according to a fundraising email this week from campaign manager Katey Price.
Democratic growth in suburban Richmond has boosted Democrat Abigail Spanberger, who has a significant edge over Brat among likely women voters, according to polling.
Spanberger, a former CIA officer, just finished a campaign tour of all 10 counties in the district.
Brat has not publicized a campaign schedule. House Speaker Paul Ryan came to Henrico on Monday for a fundraiser and reception for Brat. The congressman publicized the event on Facebook four days later with a video clip of Ryan, who praised Brat’s demeanor and said they had bonded over free-market economics shortly after Brat arrived in Washington.
Brat has attacked Spanberger over immigration and her opposition to the tax cut Congress passed and Trump signed last year. Brat has also repeatedly tried to tie Spanberger to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, whom Spanberger says she won’t support if elected.
Spanberger talks about working across party lines to solve problems. She generally has not criticized Trump since her primary win.
Democrats are confident their base will turn out, and hope Spanberger can draw Republicans and independents disaffected by Trump. She had a slight lead in polling conducted by Monmouth University and the contest was a statistical tie in a poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.
Libertarian Joe Walton also is on the ballot.
The sprawling 5th U.S. House District stretches from Fauquier County down to the North Carolina line and includes swaths of rural Southside Virginia. Republicans have held the district since 2002, except for the twoyear term Democrat Tom Perriello won in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president.
This year, Republican Rep. Tom Garrett opted not to run for re-election, saying he needed to address alcoholism. Former investigative journalist Leslie Cockburn easily won a caucus process to decide the Democratic nomination.
Republicans chose Denver Riggleman, a former military intelligence officer whose family owns Silverback Distillery in Nelson County and who briefly ran for governor in 2017.
The district leans Republican, but includes Democratic votes in Charlottesville, Albemarle County and Danville. Riggleman has focused on tax cuts and jobs; Cockburn has campaigned against natural gas pipelines, as a proponent of the environment. Cockburn also routinely attacks Trump.
In an apparent sign of concern about a potential upset, the Congressional Leadership Fund, the Super
PAC affiliated with Ryan, launched TV attack ads on Cockburn and a spokesman for the Republican National Committee has issued news releases for weeks focusing on Cockburn. “Will Leslie Cockburn be able to discuss any question without immediately pivoting back to her intense dislike for President Trump?” one news release said.
Trump has endorsed Riggleman, but erroneously referred to him as “congressman” in a tweet and said he was a “Really big help with Tax Cuts.”
Democrats expect to flip Northern Virginia’s 10th U.S. House District, where Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Republican, is seeking a third term. Comstock faces state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun. The district includes Loudoun, Clarke and Frederick counties, parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties, and the cities of Winchester and Manassas.
Wexton had an 11-point lead over Comstock, in a Washington PostSchar School poll.
Times were looking tough earlier this year for Rep. Scott Taylor, R-2nd, a former state lawmaker seeking a second term in the Virginia Beach-based 2nd District.
Campaign staffers for Taylor signed forms helping get an independent candidate, Shaun Brown, on the ballot in an apparent attempt to draw votes from Democratic nominee Elaine Luria. A Richmond judge in September ordered Brown removed from the ballot after finding “out and out fraud” in ballot petitions she presented to get on the ballot — including in signatures gathered by Taylor’s staff. Taylor had already fired a campaign consultant.
The Democrats have touted Luria’s résumé as a former naval commander and attacked Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, for voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But Taylor, a Republican who supports gay rights, touts his connection to his district.
Taylor led 50 percent to 43 percent in a poll last month from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, didn’t face the national Democratic attention that GOP incumbents Taylor, Brat and Comstock attracted. Wittman faces Democratic challenger Vangie Williams, a strategic planner for a federal contractor.
Following congressional redistricting in 2015, the district includes Hanover and New Kent counties, two conservative strongholds in the Richmond suburbs that previously were in the 7th District.
The sprawling 1st District stretches from Prince William and Stafford counties down to the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula and part of the Peninsula.
Wittman, of Westmoreland County, has held the seat since 2007. He is chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. He has aired a TV ad emphasizing the time he spends listening to constituents in his district. Democrats hope a large wave election could generate an upset for Williams, a King George County resident.
Former state Sen. Donald McEachin, a Democrat, easily won election in the newly drawn 4th U.S. House District in 2016 over Henrico Sheriff Mike Wade, a Republican. After the 2015 redistricting, the 4th includes the cities of Richmond and Petersburg, as well as parts of Chesterfield and Henrico counties. The district stretches down to Chesapeake and Suffolk in Hampton Roads.
Democrats expect McEachin to win re-election against GOP challenger Ryan McAdams, an evangelical pastor who lives in Charles City County. Northam carried the district in 2017 with 62 percent of the vote.
Republicans expect victories for Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th, and state Del. Ben Cline, who is running to succeed retiring Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th. The 9th is in Southwest Virginia and the 6th stretches from Harrisonburg down the Shenandoah Valley and includes the cities of Lynchburg and Roanoke.
Democrat Anthony Flaccavento is challenging Griffith, who first won the seat in 2010 by beating Democratic incumbent Rick Boucher. In the 6th, Democrat Jennifer Lewis is running against Cline.
The three other Democratic incumbents appear to hold safe seats.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd, has no Republican challenger in his district, now in Hampton Roads. In Northern Virginia, Rep. Don Beyer, D-8th, is running for re-election against Republican challenger Thomas Oh and Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-11th, faces Republican Jeff Dove.