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Democrats Optimistic About Chances in Virginia State Races

The prospects of “flipping” the Virginia State Legislature, currently operating on a hair thin advantage for the Republicans, in the upcoming Nov. 5 statewide elections have Democratic activists all over the commonwealth energized and mobilized. So says Del. Marcus Simon, who represents Falls Church, who along with his colleagues has been a careful observer of what’s going on.

The election will be watched very closely nationwide as a bellwether for how the 2020 presidential and congressional elections may go as it is one of only three state elections next month (the others being Louisiana and Kentucky), and the only one where the margins are as narrow as they are here.

Del. Marcus Simon. (Photo: News-Press)

Del. Simon, in an exclusive interview with the News-Press this week, says that paying attention to what the Republicans are doing has helped establish that they’re on the defensive and fearful of losing control of their current narrow majorities in both the State Senate (a 20-19 margin) and House of Delegates (a 51-48 margin). Court-ordered redrawing in June of many districts deemed unfairly drawn to favor the GOP and a spate of Republican retirements (three in the Senate to no Democrats and seven in the House to five Democrats) are also seen as indicators that will translate into additional Democratic gains.

Simon told the News-Press he’s seen absolutely no letdown in the energy and enthusiasm levels of Democratic candidates and volunteers all over the state, motivated among other things by their highly-negative perception of the on-going performance of President Trump in the White House.

In Trump’s first year, in 2017, he played a big part (in a negative way) in the effort by Democrats to pick up a whopping 17 seats in Virginia House of Delegates to come within a razor thin edge of taking over then.

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Still, Democrats were leery at that time of their ability to hold onto such gains in the 2019 election and winning enough new seats to take the majority control.

The last two years, however, has found them losing no momentum, whatsoever, Simon says, and highly motivated to win over still more seats in next month’s election.

Neither Del. Simon nor his State Senate counterpart, Dick Saslaw, as the City of Falls Church’s two elected representatives in Richmond, face a serious challenge in the election next month, but that hasn’t stopped enthusiasm from being an almost fever pitch here.

The local F.C. City Council and School Board elections will bring people out to the polls, nonetheless (see story, page 1), and local activists are spending time and money supporting races elsewhere in the commonwealth where chances for both holding onto and gaining new seats have been identified.

Two big Republican incumbents are being targeted for defeat next month. Del. Kirk Cox, the current Speaker of the House in the 66th District, is being challenged by Sheila Bynum Coleman in the Colonial Beach area, and Del. Chris Jones, the chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee, being challenged by Clinton Jenkins in the 76th District in the Tidewater area.

In both of these cases, the court-ordered redistricting of legislative districts last June have improved the chances for the Democratic challengers.

A race closer to home where the Democrats are targeting resources to challenge a long-time Republican incumbent is the 40th District in Clifton, where challenger Dan Helmer is running against Republican incumbent Del. Tim Hugo.

“If local constituents want to get involved, they can easily do so by heading down to the Virginia Beach area to do some door-knocking, where the weather is still warm,” Simon quipped. He said that Clifton and Prince William County are also just down the road.

Also, four races in nearby Prince William County are expected to be close for first-term Democratic incumbents, including the races involving Del. Hala Ayala, being challenged by the GOP’s Richatd Anderson, and Del. Danica Roem, the first transgender person ever elected to the legislature, challenged by the GOP’s Kelly McGinn. Also, Del. Lee Carter is being challenged by Republican Ian Lovejoy, and Del. Elizabeth Guzman is being challenged by Republican Darrell Jordan Jr.

According to Del. Guzman, her opponent has taken pains to campaign as a moderate, using blue in his logo and not identifying himself as a Republican in his campaign literature.

Democrats believe their chances are good to pick up State Senate seats in the Tidewater area, including where Del. Cheryl Turpin (D) is running against GOP incumbent Jen Kiggans for an open seat vacated by Republican Frank Wagner and where Missy Cotter Smasal (D) is challenging incumbent GOP Sen. Bill DeSteph.

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Other chances for the Democrats to gain seats in the House of Delegates include Shelly Simonds in a rematch with Del. David Yancey in Newport News, in a race that was a dead heat last time (and decided by a coin toss). That district has since been redistricted by the court order to be more favorable for Democrats. On the eastern shore, Democrat Phil Hernandez has a good shot at unseating GOP incumbent Rob Bloxom.

In addition to the unpopularity of Trump in Virginia (Hillary Clinton carried the state in the 2016 presidential election) extends from the heavily pro-Democratic Northern Virginia, with all its federal employees, and the Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Tidewater area with its strong military component not in love with Trump’s policies impacting them, Simon said.

Plus, gun control is another issue that is proving a liability for the GOP, which now may be regretting its decision to cut short Gov. Ralph Northam’s specially-called legislative session last summer in response to a mass shooting in Tidewater. The GOP, led by Del. Cox, cut the session short after only 90 minutes in an effort to underscore support for existing gun laws.

Meanwhile, the impact of last February’s scandals involving Gov. Northam, Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, all Democrats, seems to have faded substantially.

If successful in gaining a majority in the legislature in next month’s election, one of the Democrats’ first moves will be to vote for the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Simon said, adding the one additional state required to officially ratify it as a constitutional amendment after a half-century of delay.

Del. Simon said that if the GOP loses control in next month’s election, it might move to a special session to stack some judgeships and make other moves before actually being replaced the first week in January 2020.

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