Virginia House of Delegates Races: Part I

Kicking off DDHQ’s detailed look at competitive Virginia House of Delegates seats up next month, here are districts 72, 10, 12, 84 and 87. This will be the first of five installments, as we review a total of twenty-five seats. For each installment in this series, we’ve tried to maintain some geographic and partisan diversity.

72nd District TOSS-UP

District Description: HD72 arcs around the northern Richmond area, and is entirely contained within suburban Henrico County. In the east, it begins in Dumbarton, the most Democratic area of the district. It then moves northwest to include precincts near Glen Allen and Innsbrook, which are light-red. Republicans do best in it’s western part, Lorraine.

Race Summary:

We start off District Week with what we think is the closest thing to a tossup there is in  House of Delegates races this year. In an open seat that has seen competitive results for statewide races, Schuyler VanValkenburg (D) is the first Democrat to run in this seat since its incumbent, Jimmie Massie (R), was first elected in 2007.

VanValkenburg, a high school social studies teacher, is running against Massie’s chosen successor, Eddie Whitlock (R), a lawyer and former Chairman of the Henrico County Republican Committee. Whitlock unsuccessfully ran for an open seat in the State Senate in 2015, only garnering 9.41% of the vote in the Republican Primary.

Both campaigns are about even in strength, with VanValkenburg having a slight advantage in volunteers, and a slight disadvantage in fundraising, since half of Whitlock’s campaign contributions are loans from himself.

This district also has a mixed history of voting: it voted for Ken Cuccinelli (R) for Governor in 2013 by 6 points over Terry McAullife (D), but voted for Ralph Northam (D) for Lieutenant Governor by a whopping 14 points. It voted for Ed Gillespie (R) by 6 points in the 2014 U.S. Senate race, but voted for Hillary Clinton (D) by 4 points in the 2016 Presidential election.

Both candidates are very capable of victory. The precinct to watch for this district is Glen Allen. VanValkenburg has taught at Glen Allen High School for 10 years, but the precinct is known to be suburban Republican (barely voting for Trump in 2016). This is one of Whitlock’s primary targets; if VanValkenburg wins this precinct on election night, he’ll likely win. If he doesn’t, he’ll still have a 50/50 shot at carrying the seat.

 

10th District TILT REPUBLICAN

District Description: Both geographically and politically, HD10 is almost a mini version of, well, VA’s 10th Congressional District. The Democratic strength is generally concentrated in the city of Leesburg, which is the seat of Loudoun County. It then moves south and west to take in some redder parts of the county. In the west, it nearly reaches to Winchester, taking in parts of heavily Republican Clarke and Frederick Counties on the way. Loudoun County casts roughly 80% of the seat’s votes.

Race Summary:

This race could end up a toss-up in the end. But in a district that takes an hour and a half to drive from one end to the other, you wouldn’t really guess it.

When you look at the last election for this seat in 2015, the Republican incumbent won 62.1%, so you would guess that it’d be safe. But this seat is one of the “Hillary ‘17,” and Virginia Democrats are running full-throttle to flip it.

Wendy Gooditis (D) decided to run after her disappointment in the incumbent, Randy Minchew (R), during a town hall. Minchew, who has held the seat since his election in 2011, has won greater margins than statewide candidates have won in this district. In 2013, it voted for Mark Obenshain (R) for Attorney General by less than 1%, Northam for Lieutenant Governor by 2%, and Cuccinelli for Governor by 3%. Meanwhile, Minchew was re-elected by 17%.

However, down-ballot ticket-splitting may not be able to save Minchew: for the first time, he is facing a very competent candidate, one who is currently out-raising him and has a much larger volunteer team.

It is more likely-than-not that Minchew will win re-election, albeit by a much smaller margin than in 2015, perhaps within 5%. Don’t count Gooditis out on pulling an upset, though: <5% is basically a toss-up, and her campaign is currently stronger than Minchew’s by most metrics. Gooditis’ largest obstacle is overcoming the district’s down-ballot preference for Republicans. 

 

12th District TILT DEMOCRAT

District Description:  HD-12 is located in southwestern VA. While, from a visual perspective, Giles County takes up most of the district’s area, it only accounts for about 1/4 of the votes cast there. Roughly 50% of the seat comes from Montgomery County, home to Blacksburg, which includes Virginia Tech. At the other end of the district, it reaches down to grab the city of Radford. Politically, it’s something of a tug-of-war seat. Giles County is Republican, and provides Republicans with a base – the rest of the district is mildly, but not overwhelmingly, blue.

Race Summary:

Mostly thanks to Blacksburg and Radford (and Virginia Tech and Radford University), this district votes Democratic for statewide races by a decent margin. In 2013, the statewide average favored Democrats by 8%. Senator Mark Warner (D) also managed to win this district by a slightly lower margin in 2014, even when turnout dropped that year. The 2016 election was the best recent one for Republicans in this district, with Trump only losing it by 3 points (you can thank Giles County for that increase).

Even with that Presidential Trump bump though, the Democrats are still favored in this district. In 2013, Joseph Yost (R) only won re-election by 5%, after narrowly winning the open seat in 2011. Since Yost is considered a moderate Republican in Trump country, he’ll probably have a slight challenge getting people to turn out for him.

Chris Hurst (D), the Democratic nominee for this district, is one of the most recognizable of the Democratic challengers this year. He previously served as a news anchor, and has been given plenty of media attention. He is certainly the strongest candidate to face Yost yet: Hurst’s campaign has a very large number of young volunteers from the college campuses.

Yost, not turning a blind eye to the strength of his opponent, has sent out attack mailers against Hurst, indicating he and the Virgina Republican Party are worried about losing this seat. Yost’s campaign has been handled mostly by the VA GOP & a few political PACs. Hurst’s campaign fundraising has been robust, so party aid isn’t really giving Yost much of an edge. We favor Hurst to win the seat by a small margin, under 5%.

 

84th District LIKELY REPUBLICAN

District Description: HD84 is located in the heart of Virginia Beach City. The focal point of the seat is the Princess Anne community. Generally, the northern precincts are Democratic, with GOP strength increasing as one moves south.

Race Summary:

After coming in dead last in a 3-way Republican Primary for Lieutenant Governor, barely winning any precincts, Delegate Davis climbed back down the ladder a step to defend his seat.

The 84th district is only vulnerable in the event of a blue wave in the House of Delegates. In 2016, the district actually swung four points to the right compared to its razor-thin 2012 margin, being one of the few competitive districts listed that swung against the left. Veronica Coleman (D), the Democratic nominee who is currently a pastor, has a daunting uphill battle, compared to her colleagues in other competitive districts.

While Glenn Davis (R) isn’t raising as much as he usually does (he’s spending time campaigning for the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor), he is still drastically out-raising his opponent. It is unknown who has the advantage in volunteers, but we’d bet on Davis, seeing as how the VA Beach Republicans are the strongest regional VA GOP party in the battleground areas of the Commonwealth.

When Davis was first elected in 2013, he won by 15 points, a margin that is considered right on the borderline of “likely” and “safe.” In 2015 he didn’t face a challenger (like many GOP incumbents). It’s not likely that Davis will win by a larger margin than he did in 2013, but it’s still probable that he will win by double digits.

Coleman may be able to pull off a major upset if the Virginia Democrats see a blue tsunami on election night. But that’s just not probable enough to move this rating anywhere closer to the toss-up column. 

 

87th District LIKELY DEMOCRAT

District Description: The vast majority (almost 90%) of HD87 is in eastern Loudoun County, and its two westernmost precincts hail from Prince William County. It begins in the city of Sterling, one of the more Democratic cities in Loudoun County, runs south to include Dulles airport, then reaches still further south.

Race Summary:

Had it not been for Subba Kolla (R), the Republican nominee for this district, this would’ve been a safe seat. But Republicans are trying to go on the offensive in at least one seat this year. In 2015, John Bell (D) flipped this seat from red to blue with a 2% victory margin after losing it by 1% in 2013.

There are many advantages Bell has over Kolla. Being able to flip a district in an election year where only 29% of the electorate showed up is one of them, seeing as Republicans usually have an advantage in a lower turnout. Clinton winning this district by 25 points is also a huge plus.

But Subba Kolla is the Virginia GOP’s #1 non-incumbent candidate this year. He read Virginia’s Delegate totals at the 2016 Republican National Convention, so he’s pretty tight with the state party establishment and donor class. In fact, Kolla currently has more cash on hand than Bell, but not a strong enough advantage to make this seat closer than we’ve rated it.

Don’t count Kolla out: while he may only have a small chance at victory, he just needs to climb the margin mountain and motivate enough moderate Republicans in NoVA who have been turned off by Trump to actually turn out.

In the end, it’s very likely Bell will win re-election. Kolla simply doesn’t seem to have the campaign strength necessary to flip this district back to GOP control.

 

We appreciate the contributions of our volunteer Chaz Nuttycombe – his work has been invaluable to this series. You can follow him on Twitter at @chawliecharles.