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Virginia Primary: Stewart gets GOP Senate nod; Comstock will face Wexton in D.C. suburbs

Republicans pick Confederacy defender Corey Stewart to face Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Democrats picked nominees for four targeted Republican-held U.S. House seats in the June 12 primary election, including a high-stakes race in the Washington, D.C. suburbs that will pit GOP U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock against Democratic State Senator Jennifer Wexton.

Also in the primary, Republicans picked Corey Stewart, Donald Trump’s onetime Virginia campaign chair, as their nominee to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine in November.

Stewart’s win was greeted with dismay by GOP leaders in Virginia, who will now have a candidate at the top of their ticket who has defended preservation of Confederate symbols and once made a public appearance alongside one of the organizers of last summer’s neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.

Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, took 45 percent to edge out State Delegate Nick Freitas from Culpeper at 43 percent and E.W. Jackson, an African-American Baptist pastor and social conservative activist from Chesapeake at 12 percent.

In U.S. House contests, Democrats are making a play for four Republican-held seats in Virginia in their quest to gain the 24 seats they need nationally to capture control.

Targets include the 2nd District in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads; the 5th District, which includes Charlottesville and much of central Virginia; the 7th District, which takes in Richmond’s eastern suburbs and areas to the north; and the 10th District, which stretches from the western Washington suburbs toward West Virginia.

Jennifer Wexton

Barbara Comstock

The most money and attention have been lavished on the 10th District, where Comstock is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in a district that Hillary Clinton carried by 10 points in 2016.

The six Democrats running raised $6.5 million in the primary; Comstock has raised $3.3 million.

Wexton, a state lawmaker from Leesburg who was the choice of  Governor Ralph Northam and other party leaders, took 42 percent of the primary vote, followed by Alison Friedman at 23 percent and Lindsey Davis Stover at 16 percent.

Meanwhile, Comstock easily batted down a Republican primary challenge from Shak Hill, who attacked her as insufficiently conservative. She took 61 percent to Hill’s 39 percent.

In the 2nd District, Democrats picked Elaine Luria, a businesswoman and former Navy officer, to face freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor in a district Trump carried by just 3 points in 2016. Luria took 62 percent to 38 percent for Karen Mallard, a public school teacher.

In the GOP primary, Taylor defeated Mary Jones, a former county supervisor in James City County, with 76 percent of the vote to 24 percent for Jones.

In the 7th District, Democrat Abigail Spanberger a retired CIA operative from Glen Allen, won the right to take on U.S. Rep. Dave Brat in November, winning 72 percent to defeat Daniel Ward, who took 23 percent.

Spanberger has raised more than $900,000 for the race, nearly catching Brat, who is best known nationally for knocking off former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary. Trump carried the district by 7 points.

The one Democrat-targeted seat where there wasn’t any suspense on primary night was the 5th District, where Democrat Leslie Cockburn won the nomination at a Democratic convention and Republican party leaders picked Denver Riggleman to run when the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett, pulled out in May after disclosing his alcoholism.

Cockburn, from Rappahannock County, is a former network television producer and correspondent who has raised $715,000 for the race. Riggleman, who owns a distillery near Charlottesville and made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2017, will start the race in a significant financial hole.

Corey Stewart

Tim Kaine

In the Senate race, polls have shown Kaine with a substantial lead over Stewart, in a state where Republicans haven’t won a Senate election in 10 years. Kaine, a former Richmond mayor and two-term governor seeking his second term, is not considered a top-tier GOP target this year.

Stewart was Trump’s Virginia campaign co-chair in 2016 until late in the campaign, when he was fired after leading a protest in front of Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington.

The incident happened shortly after the Access Hollywood videotape surfaced of Trump bragging about groping women. Stewart, upset about reports that GOP leaders might distance themselves from Trump, organized the protest, saying he wanted to start a “rebellion against GOP establishment pukes who betrayed Trump.”

Stewart nearly won the GOP nomination for governor in 2017 after a campaign in which the Minnesota native championed the preservation of Confederate monuments. In announcing his Senate bid, Stewart vowed to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” against Kaine, the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president.

During the primary, Freitas had criticized Stewart for making an appearance alongside one of the organizers of last-year’s neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, calling on voters to reject Stewart’s “dog-whistling of white supremacists, anti-Semites and racists.”

Stewart responded by calling Freitas an “establishment Republican” using “leftist tactics of CNN.”

After Stewart’s win, Virginia’s former Republican lieutenant governor unleashed a blistering tweet: “This is clearly not the Republican Party I once knew, loved and proudly served. Every time I think things can’t get worse they do, and there is no end in sight.”

Virginia Primary: Democrats pick nominees in GOP-held U.S. House targets

Republicans will pick candidate to face Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine in November

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Democrats will pick nominees for four targeted Republican-held U.S. House seats in Tuesday’s primary election, including a race in the Washington, D.C. suburbs where a large gaggle of Democrats have already raised $6.5 million to try to unseat U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock.

Republicans will decide on a nominee for an uphill battle to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, with Corey Stewart, the controversial chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, leading the pack.

Polls are open across the commonwealth Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In U.S. House contests, Democrats are making a play for four Republican-held seats in Virginia in their quest to gain the 24 seats they need nationally to capture control.

Targets include the 2nd District in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads; the 5th District, which includes Charlottesville and much of central Virginia; the 7th District, which takes in Richmond’s eastern suburbs and areas to the north; and the 10th District, which stretches from the western Washington suburbs toward West Virginia.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Virginia

The most money and attention have been lavished on the 10th District, where Comstock is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in a district that Hillary Clinton carried by 10 points in 2016.

Six Democrats are running and, because Virginia does not have primary runoffs, whichever candidate can cobble together the most votes Tuesday will win the nomination.

The most recent Federal Elections Commission filings show three Democrats — State Senator Jennifer Wexton, Alison Friedman, and Dan Helmer — have raised more than $1 million, while a fourth, Lindsey Davis Stover, has approached the $1 million mark.

Wexton, from Leesburg, has gotten endorsements from Governor Ralph Northam and other elected Democrats. Both Friedman and Stover served in the Obama administration. Helmer, from Fairfax, is a business strategist and former Army officer.

In all, the six Democrats have raised nearly $6.5 million for the 10th District race, a testament to Democratic enthusiasm in the wake of the party’s strong showing in state elections last year.

However, Comstock — who has turned back stiff Democratic challenges in the last three election cycles — still has far and away the biggest fundraising haul at $3.3 million.

Comstock also has a Republican challenger, Shak Hill, a primary that turned contentious in the closing days. Hill has attacked Comstock as insufficiently conservative, branding her “Beltway Barbara;” Comstock has questioned Hill’s personal history, calling him “Shady Shak.”

In the 2nd District, two Democrats are running to face freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor, in a district Trump carried by just 3 points in 2016:  Elaine Luria, a businesswoman and former Navy officer, and Karen Mallard, a public school teacher.

Taylor also faces a GOP primary challenge from Mary Jones, a former county supervisor in James City County, who has wrapped herself in the Trump mantle and criticized Taylor for not being conservative enough.

In the 7th District, Democrats Abigail Spanberger and Daniel Ward are vying for the right to take on U.S. Rep. Dave Brat in November. Spanberger, from Glen Allen, is a retired CIA operative; Ward, from Orange, is an airline pilot and former Marine Corps officer who worked as a State Department aide during the Obama administration.

Both Democrats have each raised more than $900,000 for the race, nearly catching Brat, who is best known nationally for knocking off former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a 2014 primary. Trump carried the district by 7 points.

The one Democrat-targeted seat where there won’t be any suspense on primary night is the 5th District, where Democrat Leslie Cockburn won the nomination at a Democratic convention and Republican party leaders picked Denver Riggleman to run when the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett, pulled out in May after disclosing his alcoholism.

Cockburn, from Rappahannock County, is a former network television producer and correspondent who has raised $715,000 for the race. Riggleman, who owns a distillery near Charlottesville and made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2017, will start the race in a significant financial hole.

GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart

In the Republican U.S. Senate race, Stewart is facing off against State Delegate Nick Freitas from Culpeper and E.W. Jackson, an African-American Baptist pastor and social conservative activist who was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013.

Stewart nearly won the GOP nomination for governor in 2017 after a campaign in which the Minnesota native championed the preservation of Confederate monuments. In announcing his Senate bid, Stewart vowed to “run the most vicious, ruthless campaign” against Kaine, the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president.

Freitas has criticized Stewart for making an appearance alongside one of the organizers of last-year’s neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, calling on voters to reject Stewart’s “dog-whistling of white supremacists, anti-Semites and racists.”

Stewart responded by calling Freitas an “establishment Republican” using “leftist tactics of CNN.”

Polls have shown Kaine with a substantial lead over all three of his potential GOP challengers. Republicans haven’t won a Senate election in the Old Dominion since 2008.

Virginia U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett exits re-election race

Garrett discloses he’s an alcoholic, amid controversy over alleged misuse of his congressional staff

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

RICHMOND (CFP) — Freshman U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett of Virginia has announced he not seek re-election this fall because he is an alcoholic, while also insisting that allegations that he and his wife misused his congressional staff to perform personal errands are untrue.

U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett, R-Virginia

Garrett’s departure means Virginia Republicans will now have to pick a replacement candidate in the 5th District, where the GOP faces a strong challenge from Democrat Leslie Cockburn.

In an emotional statement videotaped outside the State Capitol on Memorial Day, Garrett called the allegations of misuse of staff, first made by Politico, “a series of half truths and whole lies.”

But he also said anyone “who has known me for any length of time and has any integrity knows two things — I am a good man, and I am an alcoholic.”

“Sometimes winning means knowing where your priorities should be. My devotion to the ideas and belief in America has not wavered, but my commitment to be the best husband, father and friend means addressing the only truth I’ve been heretofore unwilling to tell,” he said.

Garrett, 46, a former prosecutor, won election to the 5th District seat in 2016, after serving five years in the Virginia Senate. The sprawling district takes in much of central Virginia from the Washington, D.C. suburbs to the North Carolina border.

Garrett’s decision to depart the race comes amid concerns by Republican leaders about weak fundraising for the coming battle with Cockburn, a former network television producer and correspondent.

As of April, Federal Election Commission reports show that he had raised only $433,000 and had just $133,000 in cash; Cockburn had raised $715,000, with $271,000 remaining.

Citing four unidentified former staffers, Politico reported on May 25 that Garrett and his wife, Flanna, used staff members to run personal errands, including taking care of their dog, which would be a violation of House ethics rules.

In his withdrawal statement, Garrett refuted the allegations, which he said are “driven more by Republicans than Democrats.”

“These attacks aren’t true, and I can prove that,” he said.

The Politico story came two days after reports began surfacing that Garrett was considering dropping his re-election bid after his chief of staff resigned. The next day, he held a news conference in which he insisted that he would run again but giving a performance described in press accounts as “rambling” and “bizarre.”

With the filing deadline for Virginia’s June 12 primary closed, the 5th District Republican Committee will now pick a replacement for Garrett. Cockburn is unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Garrett won the 5th District race by 16 points in 2016; President Donald Trump carried it by 11 points.

Random drawing gives GOP control of Virginia House of Delegates

Republican Delegate David Yancey declared winner in race tied after disputed recount

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Republicans have retained control of the Virginia House of Delegates after a random drawing to settle a race in Newport News that remained tied after a disputed recount.

Va. Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News

Republican Delegate David Yancey will get to keep his seat after his name was drawn from a bowl by James Alcorn, chairman of the State Board of Elections, as Yancey’s Democratic challenger, Shelly Simonds, looked on.

With Yancey’s win, Republicans will hold 51 seats in the House of Delegates, to 49 for Democrats, although Democrats have gone to federal court to overturn another race in which their candidate lost narrowly in a recount.

Speaking to reporters after the January 4 drawing, Simonds refused to concede and said “all options are on the table,” including possible legal action to contest the outcome in District 94.

Yancey, who didn’t attend the drawing, issued a statement saluting Simonds on running a “great campaign.”

“The election is behind us, the outcome is clear, and my responsibility now is to begin the work I was re-elected to do,” he said.

Despite falling short of control, Democrats made an astonishing breakthrough in the November vote in Virginia, nearly overturning a 66-34 Republican House majority by flipping 15 seats and taking out 12 GOP incumbents, including many veteran lawmakers in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

Democrats also carried all three statewide races, including a win by Governor-elect Ralph Northam, and only trail Republicans by one vote in the Senate, where the GOP holds a 21-19 majority. Northam takes office January 13.

The drawing to settle the contest in District 94 was the latest bizarre twist in the seesaw battle between Yancey and Simonds that has roiled Virginia politics for more than eight weeks.

Shelly Simonds

After the initial results were reported, Yancey held a 10-vote lead. Then, a December 19 recount overturned Yancey’s margin and showed Simonds ahead by one vote. But when a panel of judges met to certify the results the next day, they decided to count a ballot for Yancey in which the bubbles for both candidates had been filled in but the bubble for Simonds was crossed off.

With that ballot counted, Simond’s single vote lead became a tie, which, under Virginia law, had to be settled by drawing lots.

Simonds asked the judges who counted the disputed ballot to reconsider, but they refused, saying they had complied with state law in determining the intention of the voter who filled out the ballot, who had voted for the Republican candidates in all of the other races.

The unusual circumstances of the drawing drew a large crowd to the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond, despite a snow storm. Slips of paper with the names of both candidates were put inside film canisters and then placed in a large bowl and mixed, with Alcorn selecting the winner.

Democrats, GOP will likely tie for control of Virginia House of Delegates

Democrat wins recount by a single vote to give party parity

RICHMOND (CFP) — By the margin of a single vote in a single race, Virginia Democrats are poised to do what was unthinkable before November’s House of Delegates election — gain enough seats to share control with Republicans come January.

Virginia Delegate-elect Shelly Simonds

A December 19 recount in District 94 in Newport News gave Democrat Shelly Simonds a one-vote victory over Republican Delegate David Yancey, out of nearly 24,000 votes cast. Before the recount, Yancy had a 10-vote lead.

Simonds’s win means Democrats and Republicans both have 49 seats in the 100-seat chamber, with recounts pending in two other races. The Democrat has a 336-vote lead in one of those races, while the Republican leads by 82 votes in the other, making a 50-50 tie the most likely scenario.

Heading into the November election, Republicans held a commanding 66-34 lead in the House of Delegates. But Democrats, riding a surge of suburban support, flipped 16 seats and took out 13 Republican incumbents to end 18 years of GOP control.

While the recount result in District 94 still has to be certified by a judicial panel, GOP House leaders issued a statement conceding both Simonds’s victory and their loss of control.

“As we have said for the last six weeks, we are committed to leading and governing alongside our colleagues,” the GOP leaders said. “We stand ready to establish a bipartisan framework under which the House can operate efficiently and effectively over the next two years.”

Governor-elect Ralph Northam took to Twitter to congratulate Simonds, observing that her one-vote win proves “(e)very vote matters.”

Democrats have filed a federal lawsuit seeking a new election in District 28 in Fredericksburg, where the GOP candidate has an 82-vote lead pending a recount. If successful, Democrats would have a shot at winning an outright majority in the election rerun.

Republicans hold a narrow 21-19 lead in the Virginia Senate. Democrats carried all three statewide posts in November, led by Northam’s 9-point win in the governor’s race.

Earthquake in Virginia: Democrats overturn huge GOP majority in House of Delegates

Results show U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock faces tough sledding to keep her seat in 2018

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Heading into the November 7 election, Republicans enjoyed a comfortable majority in the Virginia House of Delegates, just one seat short of the two-thirds majority necessary to override the vetoes of a Democratic governor.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Virginia

But after a catastrophic showing in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, they may now end up sharing power in the legislature’s lower house with Democrats. And those results spell trouble ahead for Republican U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, who will have to defend her seat in 2018 in the same suburban areas where Democrats rolled.

With three races still too close to call, Democrats are assured of winning at least 49 seats in the House, to 48 for Republicans. Republican candidates lead in all of the three outstanding races, but the margin in all three is small enough to trigger a recount; in one district, the GOP margin is a mere 13 votes.

If all of the races fall to the GOP, Republicans would keep control of the chamber, 51-49. But if just one flips back to the Democrats, the split will be 50-50, and neither party will have control.

State Senate races were not on the ballot; Republicans control that chamber 21 to 19.

Virginia Delegate-Elect Danica Roem

History was also made when Danica Roem, a transgender woman, won a seat in Prince William County by defeating GOP Delegate Bob Marshall, a 14-term social conservative who had described himself as Virginia’s “chief homophobe” and insisted on referring to Roem with male pronouns during the campaign.

When Roem takes office, she will be the the first transgender person in the United States to be elected and serve in a state legislature while openly acknowledging her transgender identification.

Democrats made a concerted push to cut into the 66-34 majority that Republicans held before the election, contesting 88 of the 100 seats and raising copious amounts of money, including more than $800,000 in four races. But the swing of at least 15 seats was beyond their wildest expectations.

Democratic challengers took down 12 Republican incumbents, with two more in danger in the races still too close to call. Democrats also picked up three open seats that Republicans had held, with one more open GOP seat still to be called.

Virginia Delegate-Elect Chris Hurst

Most of the carnage was in the D.C. suburbs, where seven incumbents fell, including four in Prince William County. But incumbents also lost in suburban Richmond, the Hampton Roads area, and even in a rural district near Blacksburg won by Democrat Chris Hurst, whose girlfriend, Roanoke TV reporter Alison Parker, was gunned down on live TV in 2015.

Hurst raised more than $1.1 million, a staggering summing in a constituency with just 80,000 people. And despite running in a rural Southern district, he also advocated for treating gun violence as a “public health crisis.”

Democratic Delegate candidates were helped by the top of the ticket: Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam rolled up margins of 20 to 30 points in the northern Virginia suburbs on his way to winning the governorship over Republican Ed Gillespie, and Democratic candidates also took statewide races for lieutenant governor and attorney general.

The results in Virginia were being widely interpreted as a sign that Democrats are reaping the rewards of anger toward President Trump and congressional Republicans, particularly in suburban areas filled with upscale, college-educated voters.

Even before the November 7 election, Comstock was considered to among the most vulnerable Republicans in the U.S. House because Hillary Clinton won her 10th District in 2016 by 10 points, en route to carrying the Old Dominion, the lone Southern state in Clinton’s column.

The district  stretches from Fairfax and Manassas west to the West Virginia border. However, its major population centers are in Loudon, Prince William and Fairfax counties — all areas where Northam ran up big numbers and GOP delegates fell by the wayside.

Comstock has already drawn 11 Democratic challengers. The biggest name in the pack is State Senator Jennifer Wexton from Leesburg.

Democrats roll in state elections in Virginia

Northam elected governor; Democrats sweep statewide races and make big gains in legislature

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

RICHMOND (CFP) — In a huge night for Democrats, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam easily defeated Republican Ed Gillespie to claim Virginia’s governorship.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam

Democrats also won two other statewide offices, and the GOP lost its once-comfortable majority in the lower house of the state legislature, a stunning feat that included election of the nation’s first-ever transgender legislator.

Northam’s 54-45 percent victory over Gillespie in the November 7 vote was nearly twice as large as Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory over Donald Trump in 2016 and was built on 20-point victories in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and Richmond.

Holding the governorship in Virginia is a boon for Democrats frustrated by a string of heartbreaking defeats in special and off-year elections since Trump took the White House. The result, however, was a hold, not a takeaway, and it came in the lone Southern state Clinton carried.

Speaking to jubilant supporters in Fairfax, Northam offered a thinly veiled rebuke to the president’s take-no-prisoners style of politics.

“It was said that the eyes of the nation are on the commonwealth,” Northam said. “Today, Virginians have answered and have spoken. Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry and to end the politics that have torn this country apart.”

After Northam was declared the winner, Trump, visiting South Korea, sent a tweet taking issue with Gillespie’s decision to distance himself from the president: “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.”

The specter of Trump hovered over the governor’s race. Gillespie did not invite the president to cross the Potomac to campaign for him, angering some in his party’s pro-Trump base, but Northam still tried to hang Trump around Gillespie’s neck, accusing the GOP nominee of figuratively “standing right next” to the president, even if literally he had not.

Ed Gillespie

In his concession speech, Gillespie thanked his campaign workers and supporters but did not mention the president.

“I felt called to serve. I hope I’ll discern what (God’s) calling is for me next,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie’s loss is his second statewide defeat in four years. In 2014, he challenged Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner, coming to within 18,000 votes of beating him.

In the race for lieutenant governor, Democrat Justin Fairfax, an attorney and former federal prosecutor from the D.C. suburbs, defeated Republican State Senator Jill Vogel. Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring also won his re-election race over Republican John Adams.

Perhaps the most shocking result of the night came in the races for the House of Delegates, the lower house of Virginia’s legislature. Republicans entered election day holding a 66-34 majority; Democrats ousted at least 11 incumbents and picked up three open seats that the GOP had held.

With five races still too close to call, Democrats had 48 seats and Republicans 47. Of the five races left outstanding, Republicans were ahead in three and Democrats in two. If those results hold, the chamber would be evenly divided, 50-50.

In four of the five House races still to be decided, the leads are less than 125 votes, making recounts likely.

Virginia Delegate-Elect Danica Roem

Among the winners was Danica Roem, a transgender woman who won a seat in Prince William County by defeating veteran GOP Delegate Bob Marshall, a 14-term social conservative who had described himself as Virginia’s “chief homophobe” and insisted on referring to Roem with male pronouns.

When Roem takes office, she will be the the first transgender person in the United States to be elected and serve in a state legislature while openly acknowledging her gender identity.

Northam’s win in the South’s lone off-year governor’s election gives Democrats three of the region’s 14 governorships, with Northam joining Louisiana Governor Jon Bell Edwards and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. The incumbent Democrat in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe, was barred by state law from seeking re-election.

Northam, 58, comes to the governorship after 10 years in elected office, first as a state senator and then lieutenant governor.  A former U.S. Army doctor, he has practiced pediatric neurology at a children’s hospital in Norfolk since 1992.

With his win, Democrats have now won three of the last four governor’s races in Virginia, a once solidly Republican state that has trended Democratic in recent years, primarily due to an influx of new voters into the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

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