Last year, Virginia offered the first sign that anti-Trump backlash could propel Democrats to previously unimagined electoral gains. This year, Democrats have a prime opportunity to win big in Virginia again — and put themselves on track to retake the House.
Virginia ranks just a notch below California and Pennsylvania among the crucial states for Democrats to get a majority. Election prognosticators think the party has a shot at four of Virginia’s 10 congressional seats, including that of one of the most conservative members of the House.
But which candidates they pick in the June 12 primary will be important too. Here’s a quick breakdown of the Virginia primaries that really matter.
Virginia’s Second Congressional District: Democrats favor another female veteran to challenge Scott Taylor
Who is the Republican? Rep. Scott Taylor, former state legislator, first elected in 2016. He voted for Obamacare repeal, the tax bill, and a 20-week abortion ban.
Who are the Democrats? Elaine Luria is a former US Navy commander who now runs an art studio. She has earned the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue imprimatur, which means the national party thinks she’s shown she can be a credible candidate. She also has the endorsements of Emily’s List and End Citizens United.
On Tuesday, her only challenger is Karen Mallard, a schoolteacher who says that President Trump’s nomination of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos inspired her to enter the race.
What’s the story here? The Cook Political Report considers this a Lean Republican race. But in 2016, though Taylor won handily, Trump beat Hillary Clinton by just 3 points. It’s a pretty diverse district too: 68 percent white, 20 percent black, 5 percent Asian, 5 percent Latino.
Taylor is an incumbent, which gives him an advantage, but he is hardly an entrenched one. The left-leaning Public Policy Polling found Luria trailing by just 6 points in an April poll. Based on what we’ve seen in special elections and in Virginia last year, it wouldn’t even take much of a wave to make this race competitive.
Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District: an open seat opportunity for Democrats after Tom Garrett stepped down
Who is the Republican? Scandal-plagued Rep. Tom Garrett just announced he would step down in late May. In place of a primary, under the circumstances, the local party nominated Denver Riggleman, a local distillery owner. He has promised to join the archconservative House Freedom Caucus if elected, of which Garrett was a member.
Who are the Democrats? Like the Republicans, Democrats elected to have a nominating convention instead of a primary election. They picked Leslie Cockburn, a former reporter who supports Medicare-for-all.
What’s the story here? Cook rates the Fifth District, which represents a big middle chunk of the state just west of Richmond, as Lean Republican and R+6. But the district did vote for a Democrat in the 2008 blue wave, and the GOP just lost the incumbency edge when Garrett retired. Then again, Trump won here by 10 points in 2016. This isn’t the suburban Republican, Never Trump kind of district propelling so much of the Democratic hopes in 2018. It’s a bit of a long shot, but Democrats could have a chance here in November, though it would be their biggest lift.
Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District: Dave Brat suddenly finds himself in jeopardy
Who is the Republican? Incumbent Rep. Dave Brat. He is a former college professor who famously ousted then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor from the right in 2014. He’s one of the most conservative members of the House.
Who are the Democrats? Abigail Spanberger is considered the favorite. She’s a former federal law enforcement officer and CIA operative and has amassed support from a lot of local leaders. She is facing Dan Ward, a retired military colonel. It’s worth noting that in Democratic primaries where the top choices are a man and a woman, women have been winning a lot.
What’s the story here? Brat is an archconservative who knocked out an establishment Republican, but his district is changing. Trump won by 6 points here after Mitt Romney won by 11 in 2012. It swung 8 points toward Democrats in the governor’s race last year. There are a lot of younger, more affluent, and better-educated voters in the district, which covers parts of the Richmond suburbs.
According to Cook, it’s an R+6 district, so this is far from a slam-dunk for Democrats. But party operatives insist they genuinely believe they could remove one of the furthest-right members of the House in a wave year.
Virginia’s 10th Congressional District: Barbara Comstock is one of the country’s most vulnerable House Republicans
Who is the Republican? Incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock, first elected in 2014 and long pegged as one of 2018’s most vulnerable Republicans. A former Bush administration official, Comstock voted against Obamacare repeal but for the tax bill. It’s the latter that could land her in trouble, since the individual mandate repeal is being cited by insurers as a big reason for coming premium hikes for 2019.
She does have a primary challenger: Shak Hill, a former Air Force officer and ex-Senate candidate running to her right. Comstock is taking him seriously enough to mount attacks against Hill.
Who are the Democrats? State Sen. Jennifer Wexton is probably the frontrunner: She has name identification on her side, and she’s well-liked by many different factions. She can also run on Virginia expanding Medicaid. But she has some legitimate challengers: Alison Kiehl Friedman worked at the State Department under President Obama, Lindsey Davis Stover worked at the VA under Obama and on Capitol Hill, and Dan Helmer is a veteran running the farthest to the left.
What’s the story here? The 10th sits near the top of Democratic targets in 2018. Cook pegs it actually D+1, and Clinton beat Trump here in the Washington, DC, suburbs by 10 points(!) in 2016. Everybody thinks this is a toss-up race.
Comstock has defied the party on at least one major item — the House Obamacare repeal bill. But Democrats are going to pin premium hikes on her after she voted for the mandate repeal, and they say the tax bill particularly adversely affected Virginia by rolling back the tax exemption for state and local taxes.
She has represented the area in one way or another for nearly 10 years, and she can expect a lot of support from national Republicans. If Democrats are going to take back the House, they absolutely need to beat Barbara Comstock and other Republicans like her.
(Also, we are obligated to mention Nathan Larson, the independent candidate in this race, whom the Washington Post described as being “pro-incest, pedophilia, and rape.” He is not a real contender, but he’s gotten attention for his repulsive platform, if you want to call it that, as a self-identified “incel” candidate.)
Virginia Senate: Tim Kaine is almost definitely going to win reelection
Who is the Democrat? Incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine, first elected in 2012. Former governor and vice presidential candidate. Dad. Dork.
Who are the Republicans? Libertarian state lawmaker Nick Freitas, former gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart, and former lieutenant governor candidate E.W. Jackson. It’s quite a crew. Stewart keeps getting linked to white supremacists. Freitas has the backing of some high-profile libertarians, like Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul. Jackson thinks gay people are sick and yoga is Satanic, and, as a black man, he says he still opposes taking down Confederate monuments. Stewart was ahead in the one poll we’ve seen, but most voters said they were still undecided.
What is the story? Kaine is almost definitely going to win. Virginia has been trending strongly blue since Trump’s election, with Democrat Ralph Northam winning the governor’s race last year. Early polling has Kaine over 50 percent and leading any of his three potential Republican challengers by 20 points. Cook says this is a Solid Democrat race. But we had to mention it.