Discover more from This Week in Statehouse Action
This Week in Statehouse Action: Commonwealth Sense edition
…but more importantly, happy Virginia general election season!
Thanks for reading This Week in Statehouse Action! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
This week finally put the Old Dominion’s primary contests in the rear view mirror, which is a landmark event in and of itself, but this year’s nomination battles produced some pretty spicy results in some places.
But more importantly, it’s officially general election season! Stay tuned after the primary roundup for a list of which House and Senate seats are competitive this fall and why.
Mama Said Knock You Out: Let’s start with Virginia’s highest-profile primary: Senate District 13, where former Del. Lashrecse Aird – who served three terms and then lost reelection in the Youngkin-led red burp (if you think it was a wave, I’ve got some data for you, hon) of 2021 – took on one-term state senator, former delegate, and general shitmonster Joe Morrissey, who also happens to be the last anti-abortion Democrat in the General Assembly.
Longtime readers of this missive are well-acquainted with Morrissey’s laundry list of misdeeds, but the last thing I want to do here is leave newer folks feeling adrift, so here’s an abridged version of the Many Misdeeds of “Fightin’ Joe” Morrissey, plus a little general context.
An attorney by trade (never mind that his law license has been repeatedly revoked and he remains disbarred, as detailed below), Morrissey began making a notorious name for himself in the 1990s, and he really hasn’t let off the gas since.
His notable misadventures include:
Going to jail for writing a threatening letter to a judge in 1991.
Getting into a fist fight with opposing counsel inside the courthouse, also in 1991.
Having his law license suspended for six months in 1993.
Having his law license suspended for three years in 1999.
Violating a three-year probation in 2000 by attempting to lie about his community service hours (with Habitat for Humanity!) and then lying to his probation officer about trying to lie.
Losing his Virginia law license entirely in 2003 (he'd already lost his license to practice in federal court in 2001).
Teaching trial advocacy and becoming a valued mentor to over 100 Crown prosecutors in Australia between 2003 and 2006—until the Australians realized he'd been deemed unfit to practice law in his home country.
Returning to the United States, getting elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2007, getting his Virginia law license back in 2012, and brandishing an AK-47 on the House floor in 2013 (hey at least it was unloaded).
Getting indicted for allegedly having sex with a minor, taking an Alford plea, going to jail, resigning his House seat, winning re-election to his House seat in the special election to replace himself, and attending the legislative session under a work-release program accommodated by his jail sentence.
Running for Richmond mayor in a seven-way race that a leading candidate (and son of a former governor) dropped out of for the express purpose of preventing Morrissey from winning by splitting the vote.
Getting banned from a Henrico County jail after leaving his children unattended there while he met with a client.
Facing allegations of physical and emotional abuse brought by his estranged wife (who also happens to be the 17-year-old he allegedly had a sexual relationship with before later marrying) in her divorce filing.
Allegedly fathering twins with another woman while married to said estranged wife, with whom he has three children.
Fun fact! On top of these five kids, Morrissey has four other children by four other women.
So, yeah, Morrissey clearly doesn’t think that the rules that govern normal human behavior apply to him.
But the rules that govern elections do apply to him, so barring a last-minute filing as an independent candidate or a wildly successful write-in campaign, Morrissey is meaningfully out of politics.
Anyway, enough about the loser.
Aird didn’t just win the Senate District 13 primary on Tuesday; she annihilated Morrissey by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
This is remarkable not because Morrissey is human trash, but because of the issue Aird focused on in the primary: reproductive freedom.
Aird focused on Morrissey’s own past statements about his opposition to abortion and made “Roe Not Joe” the centerpiece of her campaign, demonstrating once again that reproductive freedom motivates Democratic voters.
SD13 is heavily Democratic, so Aird is virtually guaranteed to represent it in the Senate next year.
I’m Still Standing: Charlottesville-area Senate District 11 was home to another high-profile Democratic contest. Del. Sally Hudson challenged Sen. Creigh Deeds for the nomination here, although there’s frankly not much daylight between the two on actual issues.
Deeds has served in the General Assembly for more than three decades (I met him as a college-age intern when he was still in the House of Delegates, and NO I WILL NOT TELL YOU HOW LONG AGO THAT WAS), while Hudson, who’s also an economics professor at UVA, was first elected to the House in 2019.
Hudson attempted to turn Deeds’ long career into a liability, dragging up past pro-gun votes (he used to represent a far more rural House district) and a 2009 A rating from the NRA.
Deeds freely admits that his position on gun safety issues has evolved, particularly since the tragic 2013 death of his son by suicide (Deeds nearly died after his son stabbed him more than 10 times before shooting himself with a rifle).
He’s been a staunchly pro-gun safety lawmaker for many years now – and sufficiently so that he won the endorsement of Gabby Giffords’ gun safety organization in this primary and has been designated a “Gun Sense Candidate” by Moms Demand Action.
Deeds won the primary 51-49%, and SD 11 is sufficiently blue that Deeds has a fairly open path to victory in November.
Eye of the Tiger: Hampton Roads-area Senate District 18 saw a primary matchup between two Democratic heavyweights. Redistricting drew Sens. Louise Lucas and Lionell Spruill into the same seat, and both longtime lawmakers fought hard to win the nomination.
Both Black legislators overcame profound systemic disadvantages in segregated southeastern Virginia to reach the state Capitol in the 1990s, and both are political powerhouses in their own rights.
The tenor of their campaign, it could be said, reflected their political passion and strong personalities, as billboards, mailers, and brutal TV ads blanketed the district.
Lucas prevailed 52-47%, and she’ll no doubt return to the Senate in this deeply Democratic district.
Virginia’s Democratic Senate primaries also saw a couple of interesting upsets.
How You Like Me Now? In Senate District 36, Sen. George Barker was challenged by Fairfax County school board member Stella Pekarsky..
Barker, who’s served in the state Senate since 2008, ran on his record of bringing resources and economic development home to Northern Virginia, while Pekarsky leaned hard into her experience with education, community ties, and progressive stances on issues like gun safety and reproductive rights.
The biggest Democratic upset of the night was also in Northern Virginia – in Senate District 37, specifically, where first-time candidate Saddam Salim scored a solid victory over Sen. Chap Petersen.
Petersen’s 20ish years in the General Assembly span both the state House and Senate, and he appeared to relish becoming something of a thorn in progressives’ sides, most recently by publicly rebuking then-Gov. Ralph Northam’s COVID-related executive orders intended to keep Virginians safe, voting against a high-profile gun safety measure in the legislature, and advocating for a notoriously predatory towing company that operates in Northern Virginia.
Salim is the first Bangladeshi-American ever nominated by Democrats for a Virginia Senate seat. His campaign was described as “long-shot” and “underfunded,” but Virginia Democrats appear increasingly hostile to candidates that don’t share their progressive values – as reflected by the 54-46% drubbing Salim delivered to Petersen this week.
Salim will likely prevail in November in this solidly blue seat.
Don’t Stop Believin’: While Virginia’s Democratic Senate primaries resulted in nominees – especially in Northern Virginia – that are more in tune with the party’s (and, by and large – 2021’s red burp notwithstanding – Virginia’s overall) increasing progressivism, the most contentious Republican Senate primary appeared to steer that party somewhat away from the Trump-inspired, culture war extremism that’s come to define GOP on the national level.
But I’m using the term “appeared” here extremely intentionally, and I’ll get to that in a moment.
The most-watched GOP Senate primary was in Senate District 12, which includes suburbs to the south of Richmond, where self-described “Trump in heels” Sen. Amanda Chase lost in a hotly contested three-way race.
Chase has made news over the past several years for all the wrong reasons, finally culminating in a full divorce from the Republican Senate Caucus.
Tina Ramirez is a single mom, nonprofit leader, and failed congressional candidate who “can be as outspoken as Chase” in her support of Trump.
Both candidates lost to Glen Sturtevant, a former one-term state senator, who defeated Chase just 39-38%.
Virginia Republicans rushed to paint this outcome as evidence that GOPers in the commonwealth are moving “to the middle” while Democrats lurch to the left, but … well, this primary doesn’t actually provide evidence of that.
To scrape out his slim win in this three-way race, Sturtevant had to tack HARD to the right.
His past votes supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and a “red flag” gun safety bill became fodder for attacks from his opponents; he actually fully flip-flopped on his vote to keep firearms out of the hands of people who pose a danger to themselves or others, calling it a “mistake.”
When he lost reelection to his Senate seat in 2019, his support for the red flag bill was believed to have cost him support among Republican voters in his district.
Sturtevant also benefited from the endorsement of several of Chase’s fellow Senate Republicans, who have not been shy about their distaste for her tactics and demeanor.
In 2021, her Senate colleagues formally censured her via a resolution that criticized Chase for praising the insurrectionists who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; noted that she had cursed at a state Capitol Police officer in Richmond over a parking space; accused Democrats of “treason” for their role in a “stolen” presidential election; dismissed the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic; and said then-Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (who’s now a member of Congress) could not represent all Virginians because she helps lead the legislature’s Black Caucus.
But no General Assembly Republican has indicated any fundamental disagreement with Chase’s policy positions, and Sturtevant essentially had to adopt her far-right stances to (barely) win the primary.
What Virginia Republicans did this week was rid themselves of a noisome, MAGA-loving grandstander; what they did not do was move anywhere closer to the political “center.”
The fact that Sturtevant had to remake himself as an extremist conservative indicates that the Old Dominion GOP is actually moving ever further to the right – and away from the majority of Virginians, particularly on issues like reproductive rights.
Survivor: Virginia’s House primaries didn’t bring as much drama or as many upsets as their Senate counterparts. These contests saw just one incumbent-on-incumbent race: Wren Williams vs. Marie March in House District 47.
These two first-term Republicans ended up vying to represent the same seat after the redistricting dust settled, resulting in a race pitting Virginia’s two most right-wing, MAGA-tastic lawmakers against each other.
Williams attained extremist credibility by becoming part of the Trump legal team that challenged Biden’s victory in Wisconsin; March earned her extremist bona fides by being in Washington, DC, on Jan. 6, 2021 (although she denies actually assaulting and invading the U.S. Capitol building).
Although they arrived in the General Assembly with similar political philosophies, Williams adapted to the GOP’s boys club far more successfully than March, who dedicated herself to living up to her reputation as an anti-establishment candidate; meanwhile, Williams began to occasionally set aside his “conservative convictions” to get legislation passed. Williams also garnered the extremely establishment endorsement of Republican House Speaker Todd Gilbert, and he swamped March in fundraising.
While his policy stances are no less extreme than March’s, Williams is the lawmaker who will be returning to the House of Delegates this fall. He trounced March 67-33% in a contest tantamount to a general election in this heavily Republican district.
I Just Want To Celebrate: For a few primary candidates, though, the race isn’t over quite yet.
Final calls have yet to be made in two Democratic House primaries, one Democratic Senate primary, and one Republican Senate primary.
Interestingly, the uncalled Senate primaries are for the same seat: Senate District 29.
Both races will likely be decided by about 700 outstanding mail-in ballots and 250 or so provisional ballots, which won’t be counted until Saturday, June 24.
This Northern Virginia-area district leans fairly blue, so the outcome of the contest between Democratic Sen. Jeremy McPike and former Del. Elizabeth Guzman is the one to keep a closer eye on.
The outstanding Democratic House primaries are in HDs 19 and 96.
U Can’t Touch This: You may have noticed that there were more Democratic primary elections than Republican, and you were correct to do so!
Many GOP nominating contests have already been decided through other, markedly less-democratic means: specifically, firehouse primaries and conventions.
These types of contests typically draw a fraction of the electorate that state-run primaries turn out; conventions require voters to congregate at a single location for hours, and voters in firehouse primaries must cast ballots within a limited time window (as opposed to the 13 hours polls are open on election day) and are required to do so at only a few locations across a district.
When selecting a candidate becomes difficult, fewer people will participate in the process.
Republicans held local conventions in four House seats and one Senate seat, and they opted for firehouse primaries (sometimes also referred to as a “mass canvass” or “unassembled caucus”) in two House districts and two Senate districts.
Democrats across Virginia fully eschewed these less democratic nominating methods and instead had their voters select the party’s nominees in seats with more than one Dem candidate in this week’s primaries.
As I mentioned above, Republicans are attempting to spin the primaries as evidence of the GOP moving to the middle while Democrats veer to the left; these discussions conveniently omit mention of the right-wing GOPers party activists had already selected.
But not to worry – I’ll mention a few of them for you right now.
Chris Obenshain, a member of a powerful Virginia political family who describes himself as “unashamedly pro-life,” won the nominating convention in HD-41.
Del. John McGuire, who was in Washington, DC, on Jan. 6, 2021 – but claims he didn’t riot or enter the Capitol – won a four-way convention in SD-10 in May.
In HD-89, Republicans selected N. Baxter Ennis, who has said he wants to “help Governor Youngkin with his conservative agenda.,” in a firehouse primary in May.
Takin’ Care of Business: Okay, enough with the primaries. It’s officially general election season, and everyone’s focus is turning to flipping and protecting the handful of competitive state House and Senate seats.
As ever, Daily Kos Elections is here with the data (checking them out is always a worthwhile pursuit, by the by — bookmark it if you haven’t!) behind what’s competitive where any why.
But here are the sexy bits.
First, the existing landscape:
Republicans currently have majority control of the House of Delegates after winning it back from Democrats in 2021.
It’s not a big majority, though – the GOP holds just a 52-48 edge in the 100-seat chamber.
So Democrats need to flip just three seats to take back the majority.
In the 40-seat state Senate, Democrats have a 22-18 majority.
Flipping just two seats here will give Republicans effective majority Senate control, as GOP Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears will hold the tiebreaking vote on everything except for budget bills.
So, first up: The House of Delegates.
Of the 100 House seats, 48 were won by both Joe Biden in 2020 and Terry McAuliffe in 2021.
Another 11 were won by Biden in 2020 and by Glenn Youngkin in 2021.
Just 41 seats were won by both Trump and Youngkin.
Of those 11 seats with, ah, split personalities, so to speak, only a handful (okay, six) are top targets – although a bad night for Republicans could very well send all of them into the Democratic column.
Let’s start with top targets for R-to-D flips.
HD97: This Hampton Roads-area district went for Biden 55-42 and for Youngkin 51-48.
Neither GOP incumbent Del. Karen Greenhalgh nor Democratic challenger Michale Feggans faced a primary, so both have been able to focus their campaigns and fundraising efforts on the general election. Greenhalgh barely outraised Feggans through the most recent reporting period (which ended June 8, by the by).
HD82: GOP incumbent Del. Kim Taylor is, like Greenhalgh, a vulnerable first-termer in this Petersburg-area district that went for Biden 55-44 and Youngkin 51-48.
She’s being challenged by Kimberly Pope Adams, who just bested a better-funded opponent in her primary. Consequently, though, Adams is entering the general election at a financial disadvantage.
HD71: On paper, Republican Del. Amanda Batten’s seat is more GOP-friendly than HDs 97 or 82; Biden won it by just 51-47, while Youngkin carried it 53-46.
Additionally, while challenger Jessica Anderson has raised a respectable $167,000, the incumbent ended the last fundraising period with almost twice that amount.
Will this translate into money or votes? I guess we’ll see!
And now, let’s take a look at the sexiest open seats.
HD21: This seat in the northern Virginia sub/exurbs went for Democratic U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton 51-49 in 2022, and Youngkin won it 51-49 in 2021. (The presidential data available for this seat is a little iffy, for reasons DKE explains here.)
Marine veteran Josh Thomas has outraised his GOP opponent, former county supervisor John Stirrup, who was also forced to use resources in his ugly Republican primary.
HD57: This seat in the Richmond suburbs swung from 52-46 Biden in 2020 to 52-48 Youngkin a year later.
Nurse practitioner Susanna Gibson won her Democratic primary 55-45%, while Republican businessman David Owen had no primary opposition. Gibson had the fundraising edge through June 8, though the primary left her with way less in the bank than Owen.
HD65: Former Democratic Del. Joshua Cole is looking to return to the legislature via this Fredericksburg-area seat that went for Biden 55-43 to Youngkin 51-48.
And now, the state Senate.
Four districts were carried by Biden in 2020 and Youngkin in 2021.
SD16: Incumbent GOP Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant faces Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg in this district that went 57-41 Biden and 52-47 McAuliffe.
SD24: Incumbent Democratic Sen. Monty Mason faces former sheriff Danny Diggs in this Hampton Roads-area seat. The district swung from 53-45 Biden to 51-48 Youngkin.
The other two Biden/Youngkin Senate districts are open seats.
SD17: Republican Del. Emily Brewer faces Democratic Del. Clint Jenkins for this seat that went for Biden 53-46 and Youngkin 52-47.
SD31: Last but not least, Democratic prosecutor Russet Perry faces Republican Juan Pablo Segura in this NoVA exurban seat that went 57-42 Biden and 50-49 Youngkin.
With Virginia’s incredibly permissive campaign finance laws, family money could very well tip the balance in this race if Democrats don’t get off their butts.
So the upshot of all that rad data (again, big ups to DKE and VPAP) is that both chambers are winnable/flippable by either party, although I think I’d rather be a Democrat in a competitive seat this fall than a Republican.
Also, the next round of campaign finance data drops on July 17 (for reports through June 30), so the viability of some of these seats may shift between now and then – and some new ones might even make the list.
Not to worry – I’ll break it all down for you again in a month, I promise!
So yeah, it’s been quite a week in Virginia politics, and I beg your forbearance regarding non-Old Dominion statehouse action – it very much has not stopped, and I very much look forward to updating y’all on it in this space very soon.
And now you know everything you need to know about this week’s primaries and the current lay of the election land in the Old Dominion.
And bless you if you made it this far – the least I can do is go ahead and wrap it up.
So thank you!
And take good care of yourself.
Remember: you’re important.
We need you.
Thanks for reading This Week in Statehouse Action! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.