Rough and tumble in Virginia midterm elections
Tim Kaine, Virginia's Democratic governor (left) is opposed by Corey Stewart (right), an extreme right wing Republican. | pbs.org

As the Nov. 6 midterm elections approach, Virginia, with its eleven congressional seats, is seeing some interesting and important battles.

There is one federal Senate race, with Democratic incumbent Tim Kaine being challenged by a right- wing Republican firebrand, Corey Stewart, who is the chair of the Prince William County board of supervisors in the Northern part of the state. Stewart has built his campaign, and indeed his political career, around immigrant-bashing and the defense of the “southern heritage,” the latter even though he is from Minnesota.  He has grabbed onto the issue of the Confederate statues and has associated himself with some pretty dubious figures of the ultra-right.

Polls suggest that Stewart will not be able to oust Kaine from his Senate seat.  But the Cook Political Report and other authoritative sources now show four of Virginia’s House seats possibly in play for November.  All four are Republican-held; the four seats currently held by Democrats appear to be safe for the incumbents.  Should all four of the seats in play flip from Republican to Democrat, the Democrats would have eight of Virginia’s House seats to the Republicans’ three.  If this happened elsewhere, it would have a huge impact.  Both Virginia’s senators are Democrats, as are all three state executive officers (governor, lieutenant governor and state attorney general).

In the 2016 state legislative elections, the Democrats got the majority of the popular vote but, as the result of manipulated districts, fell just two votes short of a majority in the House of Delegates (the lower house of the Virginia General Assembly), while the Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the state senate.  Next year, all 100 state house and all forty seats in the senate are up for election.  If the Democrats win just a few extra General Assembly seats in 2019, Virginia will be a “blue” state instead of  “purple.”  This will have important implications for labor and civil rights, for the social safety net, and other things.  Virginia is a “right to work” state by statute, but in 2016 the Republicans tried to get “right to work” enshrined in the state constitution via a referendum.  The referendum lost, and the loss of the Republican majority in the General Assembly could open the door to a new effort to remove right to work from the statute books also.

What is going on in the four Republican-held congressional districts that could flip to the Democrats in November?

In the Tenth Congressional District, in the far north of the State bordering Maryland to the north and stretching from the Washington D.C. suburbs on the east to the West Virginia border on the west, the incumbent Republican, Barbara Comstock, is the most threatened.  The seat has been held by Republicans for many decades, but in recent elections, Democratic  challengers have been narrowing the vote margin.  The district is wealthy and well-educated, but also includes many federal workers and Asian-American, Latino and African-American voters who tend to vote for Democrats. The Cook Report classifies this seat as “Leaning Democratic”. Comstock’s Democratic opponent, State Senator Jennifer Wexton, an attorney, beat several rivals in the June 15 primary, and is supported by labor, women’s and other usually progressive groups.  Comstock has tried in vain to portray herself as a “moderate” Republican and distance herself from President Trump, who is extremely unpopular in this district. But except for her dissent on Trump’s efforts to repeal “Obamacare”, Comstock’s votes in Congress have largely aligned with the president’s wishes. The district went for Clinton by a big margin in the 2016 elections.  So this election looks very bad for Comstock.

What about the other districts coming into play for November?  The Seventh, where the federal House seat is held by far rightist David Brat, a former economics professor, is classified by Cook as a “Republican Toss-Up.” This is somewhat surprising because heretofore that district has been considered quite conservative.  The vertically shaped district, which runs from just southwest of Richmond, Virginia’s capital, to Northern Virginia, is mostly white and relatively well off, without any really large cities other than some of the Richmond suburbs.  It went for Trump over Clinton by 50 to 44 percent in 2016.  Brat won his first election to the seat in 2014 by 61 percent, replacing a powerful House Republican, Eric Cantor.  In 2016, Brat held the seat with 58 percent of the vote.  So how could this be a “toss up” two years later?

Brat’s Democratic opponent, Abigail Spanberger, is no fiery radical—she is described as a “former CIA analyst” so it would be hard to red-bait her. She claims that if elected, she would take positions that would get bipartisan support.   And some Republican voters may still resent the way Brat elbowed aside his predecessor, Cantor, whom they admire.   But more than anything, the national reaction against the Trump administration many be undermining Brat as it is other Republicans fighting to retain their seats this year.  Brat, however, instead of trying to distance himself from Trump, continues to play into the Democrats’ hands by spouting a never ending stream of extremist remarks and false claims, including that Spanberger’s supporters were swearing and cursing at the pastor in a church based event.

I have already written about the bizarre race between Democrat Leslie Cockburn and Republican Denver Riggleman for the open seat in the Fifth Congressional district, and will follow up with another article soon, and also with an article on the other Virginia House races.


CONTRIBUTOR

Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.

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