Virginia’s Weird Politics
The Commonwealth is much more diverse than national election returns might indicate.
Virginia, where I was born and have, after a several decade absence, lived for the past nineteen years, is a particularly odd state politically. We have our elections for state offices on off-off years—odd-numbered years in which there are no regularly scheduled elections for federal office. We were a Red state, voting for every Republican Presidential candidate but one (Barry Goldwater) in the half-century-plus spanning Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush but have voted Democrat in the four races since; Biden beat Trump by more than 10 points.
We’re the only remaining state that prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms, so Democrat Ralph Northam was ineligible to run for re-election. As widely expected—but unusually—his predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, rather easily won yesterday’s Democratic primary. He’ll likely win handily over the Republican, of whom I had never heard and whose name I don’t remember even after just having looked it up, who was chosen in an unprecedented-in-modern-times state convention a month earlier.
While Democrats now dominate statewide, with two of McAuliffe’s Democratic predecessors filling the state’s US Senate seats, mostly as a function of the massive population growth in the Northern Virginia (“NoVa”) suburbs and exurbs of DC where I live, much of the state is still quite Republican. Which means that the down-ballot races in yesterday’s primaries were really weird. Thus, the WaPo report (“Four Democratic incumbents, one Republican ousted in Virginia House primaries“) that inspired this post:
In a night full of upsets, five challengers ousted incumbent Virginia lawmakers in Tuesday’s primary election, including a Trump-allied lawyer who unseated seven-term Del. Charles D. Poindexter (R-Franklin) and a left-leaning newcomer who bested centrist Del. Stephen E. Heretick (D-Portsmouth).
Del. Ibraheem Samirah (D-Fairfax) narrowly lost to Irene Shin, according to results from the Virginia Public Access Project, although the Associated Press said there were still votes to be counted. Shin declared victory, and Samirah conceded.
And Dels. Lee J. Carter (D-Manassas) and Mark H. Levine (D-Alexandria) both lost their runs for reelection while simultaneously pursuing unsuccessful bids for statewide office — an unusual dynamic created by a delay in Census Bureau population data that affected the timing of redistricting and the House primaries.
Considering that I live here and barely paid attention to the races I don’t expect that non-Virginia readers will care about the particular outcomes. But the sheer oddity of it all both fascinates me and serves as a reminder of the diversity within states that we think of as Red and Blue because of Presidential and Senatorial results.
In Fairfax, which is adjacent to me and where my girls go to school, we see the remarkable diversity of Northern Virginia. Samirah, the incumbent who lost, is a Chicago-born Afro-Arab son of Palestinian refugees who was briefly exiled in Jordan during the height of the global war on terror and graduated dental school at Boston University. He apparently “rankled party leaders with his rejection of the ‘Virginia way,’ the rules of decorum that have governed Virginia politics for generations.” He was narrowly defeated by a “daughter of Korean immigrants” who is “director of a nonprofit voter advocacy group” and who has “focused much of her campaign on health care access and affordable housing.”
Carter, is a self-described socialist who was running for governor (he came in 5th, with 2.8% of the votes) and lost both races. Ditto Levine, who was seeking the nomination for lieutenant governor (he came in 3rd with 11.7%). I don’t know much else about those races but find it amusing that they misgauged their popularity but that magnitude.
But, while some incumbents lost races because they were seen too extreme, others lost because they were seen as too moderate.
In the 79th district, Nadarius Clark, 26, framed himself as a progressive alternative to Heretick, 61, whom he attacked for accepting money from Dominion Energy and voting against bills to ban assault weapons, end qualified immunity for police and empower localities to make decisions about Confederate statues.
Poindexter lost by roughly 25 percentage points to Wren Williams, who counseled President Donald Trump’s campaign during the Wisconsin recount — a sign of Trump’s firm hold on the GOP in parts of the state where he, and his false claims of a stolen election, remain deeply popular.
Williams, former chairman of the Patrick County Republican Committee in Southwestern Virginia, emphasized his support of Trump’s challenges to the 2020 election and said Poindexter had not sufficiently backed the former president’s efforts.
In Virginia Beach’s 83rd district, the race was too close to call between Republican Chris Stolle and Trump-allied lawyer Tim Anderson, both of whom were far ahead of newcomer Philip M. Kazmierczak, according to preliminary results. Stolle, who held the seat before narrowly losing to Democrat Nancy D. Guy in 2019, is more aligned with the GOP’s traditional conservative wing. Anderson, meanwhile, has slung lawsuits at Democratic lawmakers and emphasized election security — which some voters found appealing.
But, again, not so much in NoVa:
Jennifer Adeli insisted the formerly red 34th district, in parts of Fairfax and Loudon counties, was trending to the left of Del. Kathleen J. Murphy — but Murphy easily came out on top, according to unofficial returns.
Overall, it just shows how messy the picture is below the surface. We’re a Democratic-leaning state on the strength of folks like me, educated professionals who came to NoVa to work. Fairfax County, where I live, alone has 1.15 million residents, roughly 13% of the state’s entire population. But huge swaths are deep Red and just as enthralled with Donald Trump as folks in my erstwhile home state of Alabama.