Spotlight on Northern Virginia: Races to watch in June 18 primary election

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Virginians are selecting their prospective party’s nominees on Tuesday, June 18, in a steamy summer primary as voters hope to influence the makeup of the 119th U.S. Congress. The spotlight is on Northern Virginia where a couple of competitive races have formed.

With no candidate carrying an incumbent advantage, primary races are crowded in District 10, which is anchored in Loudoun County, and District 7, which includes parts of Prince William County. Open seats at times provide an opportunity for an opposing party’s candidate to prevail.

Five Republican candidates are vying for the party’s U.S. Senate nomination for a chance to go up against Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in November’s general election.

Competitive U.S. House races take shape

District 10

A dozen candidates are running in District 10 with hopes of succeeding fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, who stepped away for health reasons. Wexton was first elected to Congress in 2018.

The Democratic-leaning district includes parts of Loudoun, Fairfax, Prince William, Fauquier and Rappahannock counties.

A couple of candidates carry the advantage of name recognition, including former Speaker of the House of Delegates Eileen Filler-Corn and Del. Dan Helmer.

Election 2024 Virginia
Former House minority leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, leaves the Virginia Democratic Legislative Caucus at the Capitol on April 27, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Virginia Sens. Suhas Subramanyam and Jennifer Boysko could also have a leg up; both have previously won elections in areas represented in District 10.

“Primaries are really hard to handicap. I don’t really see an obvious favorite in this race” said Kyle Kondik, with “Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball” at the University of Virginia. “I do think that the eventual winner should be in good shape in November.”

There are a couple of reasons why that is.

The partisan makeup of District 10 appears to have realigned in Democrats’ favor over recent years. Kondik said former President Donald Trump has added and subtracted to Republicans’ coalition. Northern Virginia, he said, is an area that has grown bluer since the Trump era.

“Under the current lines, Barack Obama won the district by only about 2.5 points,” Kondik said. “Mitt Romney actually carried it very, very slightly in 2012, but by 2020, the district voted for Joe Biden by 18 points.”

Another factor contributing to the popularity among potential candidates is that politicians who are currently in the Virginia General Assembly can run without risking their seat.

“Unlike a situation where someone is leaving the House of Delegates to run for the state Senate, Virginia elections are on odd-numbered years and congressional elections on even-numbered years,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. “Win or lose, you can keep your state Senate seat or your state House of Delegates seat if you’re running for Congress this year.”

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On the flip side, the outlook for Republicans hoping to win over Wexton’s seat for their party in November appears to be murkier.

Kondik pointed to a 2018 race when Republican Sen. Barbara Comstock lost her reelection campaign to Wexton as an indicator of why November’s election in District 10 may not be so competitive.

“She was getting a lot of support,” Kondik said. “It still ended up being kind of a lopsided race, and she was just in a really tough spot in a Democratic wave here.”

Still, Farnsworth said all hope is not lost for Republicans.

“When there is an open seat contest, the prospects are particularly good for people in the other party to make a run at that seat and also the opportunities don’t come along very often,” Farnsworth said. “So when an open seat arises, you really do see a lot of people running for that opportunity.”

And once elected, unseating a congressman is notoriously difficult.

“The person who wins this primary may hold the seat for a long time,” Kondik said.

District 7

The Democratic and Republican primaries in District 7 are also crowded races as candidates bid for an open seat vacated by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who is stepping down to run for governor in 2025.

While District 10 has turned bluer since 2008, the changes aren’t so clear cut in District 7 — which includes parts of Prince William County as well as Stafford and Spotsylvania counties.

Much like political polarization in other parts of the country, urban areas in Northern Virginia have become more liberal, while rural areas are more conservative.

“A lot of change is going on under the hood, but it all sort of adds up to a district that is Democratic-leaning, but certainly not overwhelmingly so,” Kondik said.

That’s good news for Republicans.

“This is a district that I think is a more plausible Republican pickup opportunity than Virginia (District) 10 is,” Kondik said.

In a race with half a dozen candidates, Farnsworth said two possible front-runners are Derrick Anderson and Cameron Hamilton. Both are military veterans.

Early attention in the contest was on Anderson, who served in the Army and is a former Green Beret.

Hamilton, a former Navy SEAL, has led fundraising in the crowded race with $1.1 million from donors, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

On the Democratic side, one figure who has stuck out in a crowded field of candidates is retired Army Col. Eugene Vindman who has been backed by a whopping $5 million in fundraising — more than the total fundraising of all candidates from both parties combined, based on figures from the Virginia Public Access Project.

Though Vindman is raking in big money, that doesn’t necessarily translate to popularity with local voters as much of his fundraising has come from outside of District 7. Vindman has been labeled as a whistleblower who contributed to the first impeachment of Donald Trump, making him somewhat of a “national Democratic figure,” Kondik said.

Spanberger’s decision not to run for reelection could benefit Democrats, Kondik said. If she had chosen to run for reelection and then won the governor’s race, Spanberger would have needed to step down, forcing a special election to fill her seat in Congress.

“That’s maybe more of the circumstance where maybe a Republican could carry the district,” Kondik said.

District 5 — Trump factor comes into play in central Va.

Trump’s political influence looms over many races, but it has taken a unique route in Virginia’s 5th District congressional battle, which includes Charlottesville and parts of central Virginia.

Incumbent GOP Rep. Bob Good is one of the most conservative members of the House and is the chair of the House Freedom Caucus, which fiercely defends the former president.

Congress Speaker
Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, heads to a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Good has been a staunch supporter of Trump while in Congress, but last year, he briefly decided to support Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the GOP nomination for president.

That decision has come back to haunt him, even though he now proclaims that he remains firmly behind Trump.

The former president values loyalty and the Republican Party is littered with former officeholders who lost races after he turned against them.

Trump recently made a social media post in which he said Good is “BAD FOR VIRGINIA AND BAD FOR THE USA.”

He is instead endorsing Good’s Republican opponent in the primary, state Sen. John McGuire.

Kondik said Good “is in danger.”

“It’s pretty rare for House incumbents to lose primaries, but there are usually at least a few every year,” Kondik noted. “McGuire seems to have some advantages down the home stretch here.”

An internal poll released by the McGuire campaign in recent weeks suggested he’s leading Good, though Kondik said that it must be taken “with a grain of salt.”

Both candidates say they are the true conservative in the race, but McGuire called Good a “Never Trumper.” The winner of the GOP primary will likely win the general election, since the central Virginia district is ruby red.

Good was first elected four years ago, defeating former Rep. Denver Riggleman for the GOP nomination. At the time, Good attacked Riggleman for officiating a same-sex wedding.

The Republican lawmaker has been a relentless critic of President Joe Biden, but his strong personality has at times rubbed some of his fellow Republicans the wrong way.

One of his biggest critics now is Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who campaigned earlier this month with McGuire in Louisa County.

She called Good a “liar” who doesn’t really support Trump, while touting McGuire as a loyalist to the former president.

Both candidates share similar conservative positions, including more restrictions at the southern U.S. border and opposing abortion rights. They also both believe that Trump didn’t lose the 2020 presidential election.

GOP nominee for U.S. Senate will face an ‘uphill battle’ come November

Five Republicans are seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, who is seeking a third term.

Election 2024 Virginia Republican Senate Primary
This undated photo provided by the Hung Cao for Virginia campaign shows Cao. Cao is one of five Republicans in Virginia who are running for a chance to try to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine. The state’s Republican primary is scheduled for Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Cao has the most campaign money and experience running for higher office among the primary candidates, and he has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. (James Stone/Hung Cao for Virginia via AP)

The Republican candidates, not surprisingly, are vying to show who most closely aligns with Trump.

Navy veteran Hung Cao has Trump’s endorsement and also received generally positive marks for his 2022 run for the 10th District congressional seat, even though he lost to Rep. Jennifer Wexton.

Kondik said Cao did “pretty well,” considering how the district has trended more toward Democrats in recent years.

Trump has praised Cao, saying he would help lower inflation, secure the border and defend Second Amendment rights related to firearms.

Other candidates for the GOP nomination include Scott Parkinson, who formerly worked as a congressional staff member for DeSantis when he was in Congress; lawyer Jonathan Emord, who has successfully fought court cases against the Food and Drug Administration; Marine veteran and attorney Chuck Smith; and Eddie Garcia, an Army veteran who developed a cellphone app for veterans.

While Trump’s endorsements don’t always guarantee a primary victory, Kondik said he still has a “pretty magical touch” when it comes to GOP candidates.

Whoever wins will face an uphill political battle, since Virginia has not elected a Republican U.S. Senator since 2002.

John Warner — no relation to current U.S. Sen. Mark Warner — was elected more than two decades ago. He was a Republican with an independent streak and wasn’t afraid to go against GOP leadership.

“I do think that it’s a pretty heavy lift for a Republican to win a Senate race in a presidential year in Virginia,” Kondik said.

He believes that Democrats would have to fare very poorly nationwide in November for Kaine to have trouble getting reelected.

Biden won Virginia by 10 percentage points in 2020, but Virginia is likely to be closer in the upcoming election, which could help tighten a U.S. Senate race.

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Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

Jessica Kronzer

Jessica Kronzer graduated from James Madison University in May 2021 after studying media and politics. She enjoys covering politics, advocacy and compelling human-interest stories.

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