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Reclaiming control in Richmond in November could serve as template for Republicans nationally in 2022
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — After Democrats took over the entirety of Virginia state government in 2020, they got to work.
Photo ID requirement to vote — gone. Ultrasounds and waiting periods for abortions — gone. Death penalty — abolished.
New background checks are now required for gun purchases. LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in employment and housing, and conversion therapy was outlawed. Undocumented students can get in-state tuition.
Marijuana was first decriminalized and then legalized for recreational use. Utility companies were told to retire their fossil fuel plants by 2045. Cities and counties got the green light to remove Confederate monuments.
Democrats even reached back into the 1970s to dust off the Equal Rights Amendment and ratify it.
What Democrats tout as progressive, long-overdue change, Republicans bash as a misguided, ill-advised liberal toot. In November, Virginia voters will be asked to render their verdict, with Republicans banking on a backlash among Virginia’s more conservative-minded voters to lead them back into power.
As the party’s nominee for governor, Glenn Youngkin, put it in a Tweet after his victory at the recent state convention, “It’s time to get our Commonwealth back and put Virginia on the right track to make her the best place in America to live, work, and raise a family.“
If Republicans are successful in their quest to take Virginia back, it could serve as a template for Democrats nationally who are banking on a similar backlash against the Biden administration to break the Democrats’ lock on power on Washington — although Biden is, at least so far, not going nearly as far as his compatriots in Richmond.
What has happened during the last two years in Virginia is an illustration of a split that has also been seen nationally — Democrats from urban and suburban districts whose political interests have radically diverged from their more conservative neighbors in rural areas and small towns.
Once Democrats regained control of the legislature after 25 years out of power, the pent-up demand for liberal innovation could be indulged, to the significant chagrin of conservative Virginians who are angry because they increasingly don’t recognize their state, or at least its government.
Republicans, once dominant in Virginia, have seen their fortunes fade. The last Republican presidential candidate to carry the state was George W. Bush, and they haven’t won a statewide race since 2009. Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the House of Delegates and a 21-18 margin in the Senate, which isn’t up for election in November. (Conservative firebrand State Senator Amanda Chase, elected as a Republican, sits as an independent after a dispute with her party leadership.)
Most of the attention in November will be the battle for control of the House — which, because of COVID-related census delays, will be fought using districts drawn by Republican legislators in 2011 — and the governor’s race between Northam and his likely Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018 and holds a wide lead in polls for the June Democratic primary.
McAuliffe, 64, a Clinton confidante and prolific Democratic fundraiser, was forced from office by a rule unique to Virginia that doesn’t allow governors to run for a second term. If his comeback is successful, it will mark only the second time that a former governor has reclaimed the office (the other was Democrat Mills Godwin elected in 1965 and 1973).
Youngkin, 54, is a political newcomer who lives in the Washington D.C. suburbs and is running as a Christian conservative allied with Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. He made a fortune running a private equity company, allowing him to loan his campaign $5 million during the nomination campaign.
The governor’s race in Virginia is one of just two contests in the off-year election (the other is in New Jersey), making it a key early test for Democrats’ new tenure in Washington.
Four years ago, Democrats took both of those governorships, an early warning sign of the blue wave that would sweep Republicans aside in 2018.
Donald Trump remains a looming presence over this race. Youngkin spent much of the nominating contest dodging questions about whether he thought Joe Biden really won in 2020; after securing the GOP nod, he finally conceded Biden’s election was legitimate.
Democrats will try to tie Youngkin and other Republicans firmly to Trump; they will have to navigate those waters in a way that keeps Trump happy without unduly harming their prospects in the vote-rich suburbs.
The race for control of the House of Delegates will likely be decided in the Washington D.C. suburbs, where Democrats flipped a slew of seats in 2017 and 2019 amid a suburban backlash against Trump. Republicans need a net gain of just six seats to reclaim control.
One of the changes pushed through the legislature by Democrats was to shift redrawing of political maps from legislators to an appointed independent commission. But because 2020 census results have been delayed by the pandemic, the existing maps will be used.
That means House battles will be fought using maps originally drawn by Republicans in 2011, although Democrats already won a majority with those maps in 2019.
The Republican challenge will be to persuade suburban voters who gave Democrats the keys to the castle two years ago that they have gone too far — that what has been coming out of Richmond isn’t what they voted for.
For the other two statewide offices on the ballot in November, Republicans selected former Delegate Winsome Sears for lieutenant governor and Delegate Jason Miyares from Virginia Beach for attorney general
Sears, 57, who served a single term in the legislature nearly 20 years ago and hasn’t held office since, was the biggest surprise to come out of the Republican convention, dispatching five rivals. A Jamaican immigrant and former Marine from Winchester, she served as national chair of Black Americans to Re-Elect President Trump in 2020, and her campaign posters and Twitter feed showed her carrying an assault rifle.
Should she prevail in November, Sears would preside of the Democratic-controlled Senate, giving Republicans at least some leverage in the upper chamber.
Eight Democrats are competing in the primary for lieutenant governor, with no clear front-runner.
The attorney general race is the only statewide contest where the incumbent is running, Democrat Mark Herring, who is seeking a third term. However, he is facing a stiff primary challenge from Delegate Jay Jones.
The survivor will face Miyares, 45, the first Cuban-American to serve in Virginia’s legislature.
The post of attorney general would be a perch which a Republican could try to use to thwart Democrats in the legislature by filing legal challenges. Republican attorneys general have also been leading the charge against Biden administration policies in Washington.
All of the statewide races, and the battle for control of the House, will get out-sized national attention, given the small number of contests this year and the bragging rights that will go to the victors.
As for 2022, November will set up this question: “As Virginia goes, so goes the nation?”
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Political newcomer bests 6 rivals to set up likely fall race against Democrat Terry McAuliffe
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — Glenn Youngkin, a wealthy outsider making his first run for political office, has won the Republican nomination for Virginia governor, setting up what will likely be a high-spending and highly contested fall match-up with Democratic former governor Terry McAuliffe.
Youngkin secured a majority to clinch the nomination after six rounds of counting; the Republican Party of Virginia opted to use ranked-choice voting by more than 30,000 delegates who cast ballots during a statewide drive-thru convention Saturday.
Younkin won 55% of the weighted delegate vote to defeat his last remaining rival, Pete Snyder, a venture capitalist who was the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013.
“I am prepared to lead, excited to serve and profoundly humbled by the trust the people have placed in me,” Youngkin said on Twitter after Snyder conceded late Monday. “Virginians have made it clear that they are ready for a political outsider with proven business experience to bring real change in Richmond.”
State Senator Amanda Chase from Chesterfield County — who describes herself as “Trump in heels” and has been threatening to bolt the party to run as an independent — was eliminated in the round prior to Snyder. She has so far not publicly reacted or gave an indication of her future plans, although Trump endorsed Youngkin after results were announced.
In the race for lieutenant governor, former State Delegate Winsome Sears — the 2020 national chair of Black Americans to Re-Elect President Trump whose campaign posters and Twitter feed show her carrying an assault rifle — defeated five other candidates to win the party’s nod.
State Delegate Jason Miyares from Virginia Beach beat out three other candidates in the race to be the party’s nominee for attorney general. However, the second-place finisher in that contest, Chuck Smith, has requested a recount.
Youngkin, 54, who lives in Great Falls in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, was formerly the CEO of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm. He loaned his campaign more than $5 million, which gave him a financial advantage over his intra-party rivals with more political experience.
Democrats will choose their nominees for all three offices in a June 8 primary. McAuliffe, who is trying to reclaim the post he held from 2014 to 2018, holds a commanding lead in Democratic polling.
Republicans have not won an election to statewide office since 2009, as the Old Dominion has moved more clearly into the Democratic column.
But Republican activists have been energized by the Democratic takeover of the legislature in 2020, which has ushered in a flurry of social legislation, including LGBTQ rights measures, gun control and marijuana legalization.
The Republican convention count — conducted by hand after some candidates objected to using computer software programs over fraud concerns — began Sunday afternoon at a hotel in downtown Richmond and was live-streamed.
The party used ranked-choice voting, which meant that if no one got a majority after the initial count, lower-finishing candidates were eliminated one-by-one and their votes reassigned to the delegate’s second choice.
Also, delegate votes didn’t count equally but were weighted based on where each delegate lives, with each county and independent city in Virginia given a number of delegates based on Republican performance in past elections.
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Hand count at Richmond hotel will decide races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — Republican party officials in Virginia have begun counting votes cast in Saturday’s statewide drive-thru nominating convention to pick their nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, with at least one candidate already lobbing charges of malfeasance.
The count began Sunday afternoon at a hotel in downtown Richmond. It will be done by hand, after some candidates objected to using computer software programs over fraud concerns, and live-streamed.
Due to the hand counting and complexity of the process — which includes weighting votes and ranked-choice voting — full results are not expected until at least Tuesday and could stretch to Thursday.
Delegates cast votes at 39 drive-thru locations across the commonwealth. Rich Anderson, the Republican Party of Virginia chair, said officials “could not be happier with how smoothly and efficiently our convention was run.”
“We would also like to ensure all the convention delegates that their ballots will be counted fairly and accurately – leaving no room for doubt or question as to whom our nominees will be,” Anderson said in a statement.
However, State Senator Amanda Chase — who calls herself “Trump in heels” — took to Twitter shortly after convention closed to allege that party officials in Madison and Prince William counties were not following the rules. She accused them of trying to tilt the election to one of her rivals, Pete Snyder, and threatened to bolt the party.
“If RPV steals this election for Pete I still have plenty of time to run as an independent,” she tweeted. “Clear corruption by RPV, I will not honor a pledge if the Party cannot run a fair process.”
Since the 2020 election, Chase has embraced Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud and his assertion that he was cheated out of re-election. She was censured by her Senate colleagues and stripped of committee assignments for calling the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 “patriots.”
She also carried a gun into a committee hearing, was forced to sit in a plexiglass box in the Senate chamber after refusing to wear a mask, and has vigorously opposed efforts to remove Confederate monuments. Some party leaders have expressed fears that given all of her controversies, her nomination could lead to electoral disaster in November.
Party officials plan to first count the vote in the race for attorney general, with four candidates, followed by the lieutenant governor’s race, with six, and the governor’s race, with seven.
Republicans in the Old Dominion, which has been shifting Democratic, have not won any of those offices since 2009.
Virginia Republicans decided to nominate candidates with a convention, rather than a primary, which is allowed under state law but which set off internal wrangling over process, with the loudest complaints coming from Chase, who has charged that party officials were trying to use rules to stop her.
Delegate votes won’t count equally but will be weighted based on where each delegate lives.
Each county and independent city in Virginia was given a number of delegates based on Republican performance in past elections, and delegates from each locality will pick those delegates. That means that some rural, heavily Republican counties will elect more delegates than much larger, Democratic Richmond, although larger numbers of delegates in those areas could make the value of each individual delegate vote less.
To add another layer of complexity, the party is also using ranked-choice voting, in which delegates will rank candidates rather than selecting one. If no candidate gains a majority, candidates with fewer votes will be eliminated and their votes reassigned to delegates’ second choices, until someone gains a majority.
Ranked-choice voting is normally associated with more Democratic-leaning electorates, such as the city of San Francisco and the state of Maine. But Virginia Republicans used the process in electing a party chair in 2020 and opted to continue with the practice this year.
In addition to Chase and Synder, a venture capitalist who was the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013, the governor’s race includes State Delegate Kirk Cox, who served as House speaker until Republicans lost control of the legislature in 2017; Glenn Youngkin, an investment company executive; Octavia Johnson, the former sheriff in Roanoke; Peter Doran, a former think tank CEO; and Sergio de la Peña, a former Army colonel who served as a deputy assistant defense secretary in the Pentagon during the Trump administration.
The survivor of the convention will likely face the formidable challenge of trying to beat Democratic former governor Terry McAuliffe, who is trying to reclaim the post he held from 2014 to 2018 and holds a wide lead in polls in the Democratic race.
The race for lieutenant governor includes State Delegate Glenn Davis; former Delegate Tim Hugo; Puneet Ahluwalia, a business consultant; Lance Allen, an Air Force veteran who works for a defense contractor; Maeve Rigler, an attorney and businesswoman; and former Delegate Winsome Sears, whose campaign posters and Twitter feed show her carrying an assault rifle.
The lieutenant governor’s race was rocked in the final stretch with an anonymous robocall accusing Davis of being a “gay Democrat.” He filed a defamation suit to try to unmask who was behind the attack.
Democrats will choose their nominees for all three offices in a June 8 primary.
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Fairfax also accuses Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney of involvement in a scheme to make charges public
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
RICHMOND (CFP) — After seven months of publicly fighting politically damaging allegations of sexual assault, Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax has struck back with a $400 million defamation suit against CBS, accusing the network of abandoning “sound, standard journalistic practices” when it aired interviews with Fairfax’s two accusers in April.
In a complaint filed in federal court in Alexandria, Fairfax’s lawyers also accuse CBS of bias in pursing the story because of its “own significant problems with #MeToo scandals” involving three prominent figures forced out at the network over allegations of improper conduct.
The complaint also accuses Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney — a fellow African-American Democrat and political rival of Fairfax — of being involved in the effort to make the women’s charges public, an allegation a spokesman for the mayor dismissed as “offensive.”
For good measure, Fairfax also dragged former Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe into the fray, accusing him in the lawsuit of having an interest in derailing Fairfax’s political career and noting he was the was the first major official in Virginia to call on Fairfax to resign after the allegations surfaced.
The complaint said Fairfax is suing “to restore his reputation and clear his name, ensure the truth prevails, [and] stop the weaponization of false allegations of sexual assault against him.”
Because Fairfax is a public figure, winning a defamation lawsuit against CBS will be extraordinarily difficult. He will need to prove not only that the allegations are false but also that CBS knew or didn’t care that they were false — a legal bar that’s almost impossible to clear.
In response to the lawsuit, a CBS spokesperson issued a brief statement saying, “”We stand by our reporting, and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”
A lawyer representing Vanessa Tyson, one of Fairfax’s accusers, accused the lieutenant governor of “victim-blaming” and called again for the legislature to hold public hearings on the allegations, which Fairfax and legislative Democrats have resisted.
The sexual assault controversy began in February when Tyson, now a college professor in California, went public with her allegation that he sexually assaulted her in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where both were working.
The story first broke on a conservative website Big League Politics, based on information from a private Facebook post made by Tyson.
At the time, Governor Ralph Northam was under pressure to resign after racist photos surfaced on his medical school yearbook page, which would have a made Fairfax Virginia’s governor.
Days later, a second woman, Meredith Watson, came forward to say Fairfax had raped her in 2000, when both were students at Duke University.
CBS anchor Gayle King interviewed both women for segments on network’s morning show, which were heavily promoted and drew significant media attention when their aired in April.
Fairfax has admitted having sex with both women but has insisted the encounters were consensual. His lawsuit alleges that the assault charges were a “politically motivated” tactic to keep Fairfax out of the governor’s chair.
The lawsuit alleges that Tyson allowed her friend Adria Scharf to make the Facebook post public, which got the ball rolling on the assault allegations. Scharf’s husband, Thad Williamson, a former key aide to McAuliffe, is an adviser and close friend of Stoney, as well as a friend and former classmate of Tyson, according to the lawsuit.
Stoney “views Fairfax as a political rival who has been positioned to delay Stoney’s desired run for Governor” in 2021, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint also alleges that Fairfax had been warned in 2018 that if he ran for governor in 2021, “Stoney, Williamson, and Scharf intended to promote a supposedly damaging, uncorroborated accusation against Fairfax involving Tyson in an attempt to harm Fairfax personally and professionally and to derail his political future.”
A spokesman for Stoney told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the allegations in the lawsuit were “100 percent untrue and frankly, it’s offensive.”
If the lawsuit ever gets to trial, one of CBS’s own lawyers, who was a classmate of Fairfaix and Watson at Duke, may be a key witness in the case.
According to the complaint, after Watson went public with her allegations, the lawyer had text message conversations with Fairfax expressing the view that her charges were false, based on information from someone else whom Fairfax says was an eyewitness to their consensual encounter.
However, the lawyer, who is not named in the suit, did not actually witness the encounter, according to the lawsuit.
The suit also alleges that CBS ignored exculpatory evidence provided by Fairfax’s legal team before the interviews aired and “sought to visibly align itself on the side of perceived victims to improve its public image” in the wake of its own #MeToo scandals.
Three high-ranking CBS figures — Les Moonves, the network’s CEO; Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes;” and morning anchor Charlie Rose — all resigned amid allegations of misconduct.
Northam resisted calls to resign and remains governor. However, under state law, he can’t see re-election in 2021, opening up the seat for competitive primaries in both parties.
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Political support for Virginia lieutenant governor collapses, with impeachment threat on the table
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax’s political problems have gone from bad to worse after a second woman stepped forward Friday to accuse him of sexual assault, with his political support in free fall as his fellow Democrats desert him.
Fairfax is now calling for an FBI investigation into claims of sexual assault made by Meredith Watson, who says he raped her in 2000, and Vanessa Tyson, who says he forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004.
In a statement issued Saturday, he acknowledged having consensual sexual encounters with both women but urged Virginians not to “rush to judgment” before the claims are investigated.
“I say again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” he said in a statement released late Saturday. “Our American values don’t just work when it’s convenient — they must be applied at the most difficult of times.”
But Fairfax is facing momentum growing against him, including a call for his resignation by the Democratic Party of Virgina, which put out a statement on Twitter calling the sexual assault allegations “credible” and saying the lieutenant governor “no longer has our confidence or support.”
Fairfax — the only African American holding statewide office — has even lost the support of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who said in a statement that “we can’t see it in the best interest of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Lieutenant Governor to remain in his role.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington said he will introduce articles of impeachment to remove Fairfax if he does not step down by Monday.
“As the father of three young girls, I cannot stand by silently while the lieutenant governor is facing multiple, credible allegations of sexual assault,” Hope told reporters at a news conference Friday night. “My sincere hope is that this will not be necessary and the lieutenant governor will heed the calls of many to resign this weekend.”
The latest allegations are a stunning reversal in the political fortunes of Fairfax, who just a week ago was poised to take over as governor with Governor Ralph Northam under pressure to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page.
Should Fairfax resign, Northam — or whoever is sitting in the governor’s chair — will pick a replacement, with an election in November to fill the final two years of Fairfax’s term. Impeachment would be a decision for the Republican-controlled legislature.
In a statement released Friday, lawyers for Watson alleged that Fairfax raped her in 2000, when they were both students at Duke University. The statement did not give details of the attack but described it as “premeditated and aggressive.”
Her attorneys also indicated that she has emails and Facebook posts that document that she told other people about the attack right after it happened. She decided to come forward after learning of a claim made earlier in the week by Tyson, a California college professor who said Fairfax sexually assaulted her during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, according to her attorneys.
“Ms. Watson was upset to learn that Mr. Fairfax raped at least one other woman after he attacked her,” the statement said. “(She) is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character. She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life.”
Democratic leaders largely stood by Fairfax after Tyson’s allegation. But the dam burst once Watson came forward, imperiling the political future of a man who had been seen as a rising star in Democratic politics.
“The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible,” McAuliffe said on Twitter. “It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia.”
“The allegations against him detail atrocious crimes, and he can no longer effectively serve the Commonwealth,” Kaine tweeted. “We cannot ever ignore or tolerate sexual assault.”
Virginia’s other Democratic U.S. senator, Mark Warner, and the dean of its U.S. House delegation, Democrat Bobby Scott, both stopped short of calling for Fairfax’s immediate resignation, although they said he should resign if the charges are substantiated.
Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates also called for Fairfax to resign, including Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and both African Americans in the race, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
“The allegations … are corroborated, painful stories of sexual assault and rape. It’s clear Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax should resign his office,” Harris said on Twitter.
The new allegations against Fairfax cap a week of turmoil in the Old Dominion, with all three top statewide Democratic elected officials enmeshed in controversy, a little over a year after they were swept into office in a Democratic wave
The turmoil began when Big League Politics, a conservative website, published a photo from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page showing a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.
After first appearing to concede that he was in the photo and apologize, Northam then said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the photo.
But after apologizing for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he compounded his problems by admitting that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.
In his first interview since the scandal broke, with the Washington Post, Northam said he will not resign and would spend the remaining three years of his term working for racial reconciliation in the commonwealth. He also said he “overreacted” in quickly issued his initial apology that he later walked back.
Adding to the meltdown in Richmond was an admission by Attorney General Mark Herring that he wore blackface while impersonating a rapper when he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.
However, Democratic leaders have so far not bailed on Herring, which prompted the Republican Party of Virginia to accuse them of hypocrisy and giving the attorney general “a hall pass.”
“What is the difference between Governor Northam’s blackface and AG Herring’s?” said Jack Wilson, state GOP chairman, in a statement. “If there is no difference, shouldn’t Democrats call for both to resign?”
Wilson said Democrats were protecting Herring to maintain “their stranglehold” on state government. If Northam, Fairfax and Herring were to all depart, House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.
However, that would only be possible if Northam left first. If he were still governor when Fairfax resigned, he could pick a replacement who would supplant Cox in the line of gubernatorial succession.
If Herring resigns, the legislature would pick his replacement if lawmakers in session; if not, then Northam would pick a replacement who would serve until the legislature reconvenes.
The current legislative session is scheduled to end on February 23.