In a highly contested election in the newly created state Senate District 4, Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, the incumbent, on Tuesday easily defeated his Democratic challenger, Roanoke City Council member Trish White-Boyd.
Both candidates were vying to succeed Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, who announced in February that he would retire at the end of the year after he and Suetterlein were drawn into the same new 4th Senate District, which covers Roanoke, Salem, most of Roanoke County and part of Montgomery County.
Suetterlein’s victory means that beginning in January, Democrats will no longer have a state senator from west of the Blue Ridge in the new General Assembly.
The mapmakers who drew the lines approved by the Virginia Supreme Court two years ago rated the new district 52% to 54% Republican based on election returns from 2017. The nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project says Democrat Tim Kaine took 51.4% of the vote in the district in the 2018 U.S. Senate race but Republican Glenn Youngkin took 54.7% in the 2021 governor’s race.
Because of the district’s competitive nature, Tuesday’s election was all about turnout. By 10:30 p.m., Suetterlein had won the district with 53% of the votes to White-Boyd’s 46.5% — a comfortable lead over White-Boyd, who by that time had received a little over 26,332 votes, compared to Suetterlein, with 30,153.
Suetterlein won in Salem and Montgomery and Roanoke counties, while White-Boyd carried the city of Roanoke, with 65 of a total of 68 precincts reporting.
Stephen Farnsworth, a political analyst at the University of Mary Washington, said that Suetterlein’s victory is an example of how incumbency is a huge advantage.
“Even though the new district is less favorable to Republicans than the old one, it is a steep hill for any challenger to climb running against the kind of well-known incumbent senator who has been in the news for years even if not representing the entire current district,” Farnsworth said.
“For Democrats this may be one of those districts that got away from them, and there aren’t a lot of opportunities for Democrats to be competitive in Southside and Southwest Virginia. But this is one of those districts to watch going forward.”
Suetterlein, 38, was first elected to the state Senate in 2015, succeeding Sen. Ralph Smith, a former mayor of Roanoke who retired after serving two terms and for whom he had worked as legislative director.
During his time in office, Suetterlein has gotten more than 50 bills passed with bipartisan support. He currently serves on the Transportation, Education and Health, and Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources committees.
At a candidate forum hosted by Cardinal News in Roanoke last month, Suetterlein said that he was most proud of his record of focusing on legislation that helps working families, such as his successful tax relief legislation and his attempts to curtail the electric monopolies in Virginia.
White-Boyd, 60, moved to Roanoke from Florida in 1984. For 18 years, she worked for the city’s Division of Child Support Enforcement as a liaison between the court and the agency, before starting her own home care business.
As a runner-up in a previous election, White-Boyd was appointed to Roanoke’s city council in January 2019, filling the seat of former councilman John Garland, who had stepped down that month. She was formally elected in 2020 and served as the vice mayor until the end of last year.
During her state Senate campaign, White-Boyd made news by pushing for an overhaul of the state’s income tax system and a full repeal of the car tax — a proposal which has been embraced mostly by Republicans since 1997, when Republican Jim Gilmore made repealing the unpopular tax a staple of his successful gubernatorial campaign.