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With a critical filing deadline for General Assembly candidates closing in late Thursday, many House of Delegates and state Senate districts are facing an increasingly crowded field of fierce competition as the commonwealth enters primary season in an election year when all 140 legislative seats are on the ballot.
In the coverage area of Cardinal News in Southwest and Southside, a total of 17 Republicans, including six incumbents, are seeking their party’s nomination in eight House districts. Four of these contests will be decided in party-run conventions, and another four during the state-run primary on June 20.
Another eight GOP candidates, among them one incumbent, are running contested races in three state Senate districts, and eight Republicans – six of them incumbents – are headed into the general election without a nomination fight.
Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, the lone Democrat from west of the Blue Ridge in the House of Delegates, faces no primary challenge. However, a total of five Democrats – including one incumbent – are vying for their party’s nomination in two state Senate districts. Both contests will be decided in the June 20 primary election.
“All seats are up for election this year, and many of them are more contentious than normal because many lawmakers in the House and the Senate are running on newly drawn lines. Even incumbents are going to have some new voters this time around,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington.
What makes matters worse for some incumbents is that they were thrown into districts with other incumbents, Farnsworth said. “It’s a lot easier to beat a challenger who is running for the first time in a new district, and it’s much harder to beat a fellow incumbent who’s got greater name recognition and a greater ability to raise money.”
One of the most watched contests is the nomination fight in the newly created 47th House District where two Republican incumbents – Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County, and Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County – have been taking verbal swings at each other since last year, beginning with March swearing out an assault warrant against Williams after he had bumped into her at a GOP fundraiser in Wytheville in September.
While both candidates kept their home bases under the new maps, each lost their former districts’ biggest localities. For Williams, that was Franklin County, and for March, that was much of Montgomery County and part of Pulaski County. Meanwhile, Carroll County and Galax were added. Together, the latter two localities account for 42% of the voters in the newly configured district – Carroll County in particular has emerged as the district’s battleground.
Both March and Williams are freshman lawmakers who were first elected in November 2021, a little over a month before the Virginia Supreme Court approved the new maps.
March replaced former Del. Nick Rush, R-Montgomery County, who retired after serving five terms, in the 7th House District. Williams, an attorney from Stuart, succeeded seven-term incumbent Del. Charles Poindexter, whom he defeated in the Republican primary in the 9th House District earlier in 2021.
Both candidates are staunch supporters of former President Donald Trump. Williams was part of Trump’s legal team challenging the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin, and the two briefly met in Florida a little over one year ago. March last month on conservative commentator John Fredericks’ nationally syndicated radio show boasted her credentials as “the Trump Candidate in VA 47 House race.”
But while Williams has cast himself as a savvy lawmaker who despite his conservative convictions has often worked in unison with Democrats in Richmond to get legislation passed, March has lived up to her reputation as the anti-establishment candidate, alienating even many of her Republican colleagues, including Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, with whom she clashed over a policy disagreement in January.
The winner will face Democrat Patty Quesenberry.
But Republicans are not the only ones facing contentious nomination struggles. One of the marquee contests among Democrats this spring is playing out in the newly created 11th state Senate District, where Sen. Creigh Deeds, who currently represents the 25th Senate District, faces a primary challenge from Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville.
After being paired in the same Senate district with Sens. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County, and Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham County, Deeds decided to move from Bath County to Charlottesville and try his luck in a new district, which includes all of Charlottesville, ending at the city limits of Waynesboro to the west, stretching all the way to the outskirts of Buena Vista, and ending just outside of Lynchburg to the south.
Hudson, a progressive Democrat who grew up in Lincoln, Neb., has been a member of the House of Delegates since 2019, when she became the first woman to serve Charlottesville in the Virginia State House, succeeding Del. David Toscano, the former House Minority Leader.
After defeating fellow Democrat Kathleen Galvin in the primaries, Hudson ran unopposed in the general election, and she won with 96.1% of the vote.
Hudson’s nomination fight against Deeds pits “an inexperienced, vocal, aggressive delegate against an experienced state senator who was more effective than Democrats usually are in earning rural votes,” Farnsworth said. “There is a lot of overlap in the Charlottesville area in the delegate district and the Senate district, and of course an awful lot of votes in the Democratic primary will be cast in that area.”
The winner faces Republican Philip Hamilton and independent J’riah Guerrero.
Another highly contested Democratic face-off is happening in Roanoke, where three candidates are seeking their party’s nomination in the 4th Senate District to succeed Sen. John Edwards, who announced in February that he would retire by the end of the year after 28 years.
Edwards would have faced Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, in the general election in November after both senators were drawn into the same new district, which leans Republican and now covers Roanoke, Salem, most of Roanoke County and part of Montgomery County, including Christiansburg.
The Democratic candidates hoping to take on Suetterlein, who faces no primary challenge, are Roanoke City Council member Luke Priddy, an aide to Edwards for the past five years, Trish White-Boyd, also a city councilor and a former grassroots coordinator for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2007, and DeAnthony “DA” Pierce.
Political analysts expect the race to be an uphill battle for Democrats, who have held the seat for almost three decades.
“Democrats have been struggling in Southwest Virginia and Southside for quite some time, and at the same time that more rural Virginia is getting more Republican, urban Virginia is getting more Democratic,” Farnsworth said.
“As a result, the potential Democratic losses in the handful of dates that the Democrats now have in Southwest and Southside will likely be balanced out by Democratic gains in more urbanized parts of the commonwealth, such as Northern Virginia and the Richmond suburbs.
While all of the aforementioned candidates are on the ballot for the state-run primary on June 20, some of the Republican races will be decided at conventions – a decision that is almost always made by the individual district’s legislative committees of a particular party.
“It’s important to recognize that every nomination system is going to favor the more extreme wing of the party,” Farnsworth said. “If you have a primary, you’ll have about 10 to 12 percent turnout. But at a convention, it’s going to be less than 1 percent, and that is really going to be the true believers.”
Republicans sometimes choose primaries and sometimes conventions, and local officials try to “game the system to favor individual candidates,” Farnsworth said.
In very rare cases even the state’s highest officials attempt to influence a district’s nomination method, as alleged in a recent lawsuit filed by an election official in the newly created 17th state Senate District, which includes all of Isle of Wight, Southampton, Greenville and Brunswick counties, the cities of Suffolk, Franklin and Emporia, and parts of Portsmouth and Dinwiddie County.
As first reported by Cardinal News, Dawn Jones, the chairman of the district’s Republican Legislative Committee, asserts that Gov. Glenn Youngkin strong-armed state elections commissioner Susan Beals to change the district’s nomination method from a primary as certified by Jones to a party-run convention.
A Richmond Circuit Court judge last week granted a motion by Jones for an emergency injunction and ordered the Virginia Department of Elections to place the names of the two candidates seeking the GOP nomination on a primary ballot by Thursday’s deadline – an unprecedented move in Virginia electoral politics.
The two Republicans seeking their party’s nomination in the district are Hermie Sadler, a former NASCAR driver and entrepreneur from Emporia, and Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, who announced in early 2022 that she would retire from her House of Delegates seat to run for the state Senate.
The winner of the district’s primary election will face Del. Clint Jenkins, D-Suffolk, in November.
Here are other House of Delegates races to follow, listed by district:
House District 39
Franklin County, part of Roanoke County and two voters in Bedford County.
Will Davis, a fourth generation Rocky Mount attorney, is facing Ron Jefferson, who spent 43 years with Appalachian Power in various roles before retiring and returning to his native Franklin County. Voters in the district will choose the Republican nominee in a primary election on June 20. No Democratic candidate for the general election has filed yet.
House District 41
Parts of Montgomery County and Roanoke County.
Lowell Bowman, a former consultant and owner of Bowman-Griffin General Contractors in Christiansburg, and assistant Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Obenshain are seeking the GOP nomination in a May 4 convention at CrossPointe Conference Center in Christiansburg. The winner will face Democrat Lily Franklin in November.
House District 42
Giles County, Radford City and parts of Montgomery and Pulaski counties.
Del. Jason Ballard, R-Pearisburg, who was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2021, faces an intra-party challenge from part-time musician and contract employee Jody Piles, a former legislative aide for state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield. The feud will be settled at a June 3 GOP mass meeting. No Democrat has announced a general election challenge yet.
House District 50
Mecklenburg, Charlotte and Lunenburg counties, parts of Prince Edward and Halifax counties.
Republican John Marsden, a lifelong resident of Prince Edward County and a practicing attorney in Farmville, is challenging Del. Tommy Wright, R-Lunenburg, the incumbent, for his House seat in this Southside district on the June 20 primary. Wright, a Richmond native, has represented what currently is the 61st House District since 2001, succeeding Frank Ruff, who was elected to the state Senate. No Democrat has filed in this district yet.
House District 53
Amherst County, parts of Bedford and Nelson counties.
Tim Griffin, a former assistant commonwealth’s attorney, elections attorney and former chairman of the Bedford County Republican Committee, faces anti-abortion activist and Christian daycare owner Sarah Mays at a GOP convention on May 6. The winner will run against Democrat Sam Soghor.
House District 56
Appomattox, Buckingham and Cumberland counties, and parts of Fluvanna, Goochland, Prince Edward and Louisa counties.
Three Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination at a May 20 convention at Cumberland High School.
Kevin Bailey, an attorney from Appomattox, faces former Rep. Tom Garrett, who represented Virginia’s 5th Congressional District from 2017 until 2019, and Florida native and marketing consultant Jennie Wood. No Democrat has yet filed to run in the district’s general election.
Another Senate race to follow:
Senate District 10
Powhatan, Goochland, Fluvanna, Appomattox, Buckingham, Amelia and Cumberland counties, plus parts of Hanover, Louisa, Prince Edward and Henrico counties.
No less than four Republicans are seeking the nomination to represent this massive, newly created state Senate district, including a sitting member of the House of Delegates, Del. John McGuire, R-Goochland, who was first elected in 2017. On primary day, McGuire will be facing Duane Adams, a small business owner and a member of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors, Sandy Brindley, a former teacher and business marketing professional, and Jack Dyer, a general contractor and businessman. The winner of the district’s May 6 convention will run against Democrat Jacob Boykin in November.
Still unclear as the deadline approaches:
House District 44
Washington County, parts of Russell County and Bristol.
Two Republicans from Washington County who were drawn into the same district by the special masters in 2021 are currently expected to seek their party’s nomination at the June 20 primary election: Del. Israel O’Quinn, the current deputy majority leader who has served in the House of Delegates since 2012, and Del. Will Wampler, an attorney who was first elected in 2019. Wampler is still listed as a candidate by the Virginia Public Access Project, but he has not formally announced and did not respond to emails and phone calls Wednesday. No Democrat has filed yet to run in this heavily Republican district’s general election.
Update from Thursday, April 6, 8:37 a.m.: Wampler announced Thursday that he will not seek reelection in HD-44. O’Quinn becomes the district’s GOP nominee by default.
Senate District 3
Botetourt County, Rockbridge, Alleghany and Craig counties, parts of Roanoke, Augusta and Bedford counties, plus the cities of Staunton, Waynesboro, Buena Vista, Lexington and Covington.
Also unclear just hours before the filing deadline is if Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, will announce his bid for the Republican nomination in this newly created Senate district, where Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt County, currently is his party’s sole candidate. Hanger currently represents the 24th District, where he was paired with Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham County, in the new legislative maps approved by the Virginia Supreme Court in 2021. Hanger has since openly toyed with the idea of moving to another part of Augusta County that is located in the 3rd District, but he has yet to make a decision and on Wednesday did not respond to phone calls and text messages.
The Republican nominee will face Democrat Jade Harris.