For more election coverage:
Senate primaries: Sen. Deeds holds small lead over Hudson; Sadler and White-Boyd win
House primaries: Del. Williams crushes Del. March; Davis cruises past Jefferson
Election night analysis: Five incumbents lose, including Senate Finance co-chair Barker
We are repeatedly told that we live in a politically polarized age, with each party pulled further and further from the center. I’ve certainly done my share of that telling.
Someone may have forgotten to tell Virginia voters that, though. Especially Republican voters.
Across Virginia on Tuesday, Republican voters generally rewarded candidates who weren’t the furthest right, or at least were seen as the more establishment candidate available.
Republicans rid themselves of three legislators most closely identified with Donald Trump’s “MAGA” movement: state Sen. Amanda Chase of Chesterfield County, Del. Marie March of Floyd County and Del. David LaRock, who moved from Loudoun County into the northern Shenandoah Valley to seek a state Senate nomination.
I hesitate to say the most moderate candidates won because some of the winning candidates weren’t moderate at all, but neither were they seen as extreme or as controversial as their opponents. Case in point: Del. Wren Williams of Patrick County. He was a lawyer for Trump in the Wisconsin recount in 2020 and has proudly embraced Trump, but he didn’t lash out at the Republican leadership in the House the way that March did. On the contrary, Republican leaders lined up behind him for the primary; Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, even helped him work the polls in Carroll County on Tuesday.
In other key Republican primaries, candidates seen as further to the right or as generally more disruptive anti-establishment candidates lost.
Del. Emily Brewer of Suffolk won her state Senate primary against former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler, taking almost 59% of the vote.
Del. Tara Durant of Fredericksburg won her state Senate primary against Matt Strickland, with 57% of the vote.
Christie New Craig won a three-way Senate nomination in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach with just under 38% of the vote, defeating former Del. Tim Anderson in the process.
In an eight-candidate field for a state Senate seat in the northern Shenandoah Valley, there were six candidates who vied to be the most conservative candidate in the race and two who were more content simply to talk up their conservative credentials. One of those candidates appears to have won: Tim French is listed at 32.6% of the vote, to LaRock’s 25.9%. The candidate who called for abolishing the mandate for a public school system took just 2.5%.
When Democrats see these candidates in action, I’m sure they won’t consider them centrists at all; they’ll probably call them dangerous extremists. The reality, though, is that a primary night that sees Williams, Sturtevant, Brewer, Durant, Craig and French win paints a very different picture than one where March, Chase, Sadler, Strickland, Anderson and LaRock might have won.
Couple these with some of the nominating mass meetings and conventions held — I’m thinking of the one where Del. Jason Ballard of Giles County took more than 91% of the vote against a former Chase aide, the one where Chris Obenshain of Blacksburg turned back Lowell Bowman, the one where state Sen. Bryce Reeves of Spotsylvania County defeated a candidate billed as “MAGA Mike” — and for a moment you might think the old Republican Party was back.
We even saw this in at least one local race, too. In Botetourt County, two incumbent Republican supervisors faced challenges from the right. I thought for sure that Valley District Supervisor Mac Scothorn was a goner; his opponent plastered the county with signs vowing to “Keep Botetourt ‘Botetourt’,” whatever that means. But Scothorn won in a landslide. Blue Ridge District Supervisor Billy Martin lost, but his defeat may have been because he was charged with misdemeanor assault after an incident with a protester.
Those who have been hoping that Republicans will pull themselves back from the Trumpist brink — and I’m counting a lot of Republicans I’ve heard from as part of that — might find a lot to like about Tuesday’s primary results.
The message on the Democratic side seemed just the opposite. In many primaries, the party opted for candidates further to the left than the incumbents they had.
Just as Republicans booted out their most controversial members, so did Democrats. Sen. Joe Morrissey of Richmond lost in a landslide to former Del. Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg — she took 69% of the vote. However, while the Republican lightning rods were on the far right, Morrissey was more of a centrist. Many Democrats didn’t like his positions, especially on abortion, but they were more concerned with his personal scandals. Nonetheless, in replacing Morrissey with Aird, the party does move further left.
In Northern Virginia, two incumbents fell victim to challenges from their left — and one came very close to falling. State Sen. George Barker of Fairfax County — co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee — lost to Stella Pekarsky. State Sen. Chap Petersen of Fairfax city lost to Saddam Salim. Meanwhile, at night’s end, State Sen. Jeremy McPike of Prince William County clung to a 46-vote lead over Del. Elizabeth Guzman with provisional ballots yet to be counted.
In an open seat contest between two former legislators from Prince William County, Jennifer Carroll Foy had positioned herself to the left of Hala Ayala — and won, with almost 63% of the vote.
And then there was the Hampton Roads matchup between two incumbent senators. Lionel Spruill of Chesapeake pitched himself as a pragmatist who could get things done in a way that the more confrontational Louise Lucas of Portsmouth could not. Lucas won, though.
It’s far too early to say which party will control the state Senate after November’s elections (right now, it’s a 22-18 Democratic split) but we can fairly say that the Democrats sitting in the chamber next January will tend further to the left than the ones there now, while the Republicans won’t be as far to the right as they could have been.
The one exception to this leftward drift among Democrats was in the district that runs from Albemarle County to Amherst County: State Sen. Creigh Deeds of Charlottesville appears to have turned back a more liberal challenger, Del. Sally Hudson.
Another clear bottom line from Tuesday’s primaries concerns turnover. Going into the primary, the 100-member House had already registered a record 32 departures, a combination of retirements and delegates leaving to seek other offices. With March’s defeat, that adds up to 33 departures.
Meanwhile, the 40-member Senate was already set for 11 departures. On Tuesday, five Senate incumbents lost: Barker, Morrissey, Petersen and Spruill for the Democrats, Chase for the Republicans . (We’ll wait to see if McPike becomes a sixth, but for now he’s got a lead.) That adds up to 16 departures, even before we get to November’s elections. Put another way, at least 40% of the Senate next January will be new. Well, sort of. Sturvevant has been there before, so if he wins, he won’t really be a true freshman. And we have multiple House members trying to move into the Senate, including Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt County, who is the Republican nominee in a strongly Republican district. Still, that’s a lot of people in new roles.
Next year’s General Assembly could be, well, wild. It just won’t be as wild as it might have been if a different set of Republican candidates had won Tuesday.