Down-ballot drama: 2017 guide to Virginia House of Delegate races

WASHINGTON — In addition to the high-profile race for governor and other statewide races, Virginia voters will be asked to weigh in on a flurry of competitive races farther down the ballot: House of Delegate seats are also up for grabs Tuesday.

This election features more competitive House races than at any time in the past two decades, and analysts say the usually local, low-key races are shaping up to be an early barometer of the national political climate nearly a year into Donald Trump’s presidency.

Overall, 60 House districts across the state are fielding challengers from both major political parties. That’s up from just 29 districts two years ago. In all but 12 of those races, Democrats are challenging Republican incumbents.

And the trend holds true in Northern Virginia, where Democrats are challenging Republican incumbents in 13 of the 19 districts WTOP is tracking.

“Democrats are experiencing a bonanza of interest in running for office in the Trump era,” said David Wasserman, an editor with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, who has analyzed the state’s delegate races. “And that’s true in Virginia.”

History-making Dem challenges conservative stalwart

In one of the most closely watched races, Democratic candidate Danica Roem, a Prince William County journalist, has run an aggressive campaign against one of the most socially conservative members of the Virginia legislature, Bob Marshall,in the 13th District.

Marshall introduced the 2006 state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and introduced a so-called transgender bathroom bill earlier this year. He has held the seat, which includes parts of Prince William County and Manassas Park, since 1992 and carried 56 percent of the vote two years ago.

But Roem, who would be the first openly transgender politician if elected, has raked in more cash than Marshall by nearly 5 to 1, raising nearly $500,000 this year.

3 open seats in Northern Virginia

Meanwhile, three seats in Northern Virginia are up for grabs after three longtime Republican lawmakers, including Speaker Bill Howell, opted not to seek re-election.

In the 28th district, which includes parts of Stafford County and Fredericksburg, Republican Bob Thomas, a Marine Corps veteran and IT contractor, is running to succeed Howell. He faces Democrat Joshua Cole, a former House page and Virginia Senate staff assistant.

In the 2nd District, which includes parts of Prince William and Stafford counties, Democrat Jennifer Carroll Foy and Republican Mike Makee are vying to win the seat being vacated by Republican Mark Dudenhelfer.

Carroll Foy is a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and a public defender. Makee, a Navy veteran and Stafford County Utility Commission member, got a bit of a late start campaigning. He was tapped to run in August after former Republican candidate Laquan Austion dropped out of the race following allegations that he overstated his academic credentials.

In the 42nd District, which includes parts of Fairfax County, Democrat Kathy Tran, a former U.S. Labor Department official, is seeking to flip the District blue. The seat is currently held by Del. David Albo, a Republican who served in the House for 24 years and chose not to run for re-election this year.

Tran, who would be the first Asian-American woman elected to the House of Delegates, faces Republican Lolita Mancheno-Smoak, who would be the first Hispanic-American female Republican in the House of Delegates if elected. Two other Latina candidates are running in delegate races as Democrats.

Republicans challenge Dems in 2 swing districts

Other races to watch include two Northern Virginia semi-swing districts, where Republican challengers are seeking to unseat first-term Democratic delegates.

In the 87th District, which includes parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties, Republican Subba Kolla is challenging Del. John Bell, a retired Air Force veteran. Bell, a Democrat, is ahead in fundraising, but Kolla isn’t far behind. Bell has raised $627,000 to Kolla’s $524,600, according to data from the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

Clinton carried the District by 25 points in 2016.

In the 34th District, which stretches from McLean to Loudoun County, Del. Kathleen Murphy faces Republican challenger Cheryl Buford, a former public schoolteacher who served in the Education Department as part of the George W. Bush administration.

Murphy narrowly won a 2015 special election to fill the seat left open by Barbara Comstock, who’s now serving in Congress. Murphy held onto the seat by a razor-thin margin in that year’s general election.

Clinton carried the district by 18 points last November and Murphy’s fundraising haul far outpaces Buford’s.

Northern Virginia is must-win territory for Dems

Virginia’s delegate races come in the off-year and generally don’t garner much attention nationally. But Wasserman, the Cook Political Report analyst, has written that the races could be key to understanding Democrats’ prospects nationally.

Compared to the personality-driven gubernatorial election, the delegate races could better gauge voters’ attitudes toward the two parties and the parties’ efforts at turning out voters, Wasserman told WTOP.

All told, the Cook Political Report lists five seats in Northern Virginia — all handily won by Clinton in 2016 — as “probable” Democratic pickups.

“Democrats know that they have to pick up these seats in Northern Virginia, because Hillary Clinton’s margin over Donald Trump was impressive,” Wasserman said. “And if they can’t pick up Clinton districts, then where can they win?”

If Democrats pick up at least 10 seats on Tuesday, Wasserman said he would see that as a sign the party has enough enthusiasm and the political winds at its back to retake the U.S. House next November.

Still, most analysts do not expect Democrats to pick up enough seats to shift the balance of power in Richmond, where they are far outnumbered in the lower house, holding just 34 seats. They would need to pick up 17 seats to garner a majority, while Republicans need to pick up just one extra seat to gain a supermajority that would allow them to override a governor’s veto.

Delegate races in Northern Virginia to watch

District 2 OPEN (parts of Prince William and Stafford counties)

Jennifer Carroll Foy — Democrat
Mike Makee — Republican

District 10 (parts of Loudoun, Frederick and Clarke counties)

Wendy Gooditis — Democrat
Randy Minchew — Republican (incumbent)

District 13 (parts of Prince William County and Manassas Park)

Danica Roem — Democrat
Bob Marshall — Republican (incumbent)

District 18 (Parts of Fauquier and Culpeper counties)

Tristan Shields — Democrat
Michael Webert — Republican (incumbent)
Wilton King — Green

District 28 OPEN (parts of Stafford County and Fredericksburg)

Joshua Cole — Democrat
Bob Thomas — Republican

District 31 (parts of Prince William and Fauquier counties)

Elizabeth Guzman — Democrat
Scott Lingamfelter — Republican (incumbent)
Nathan Larson — Independent

District 32 (parts of Loudoun County)

David Reid — Democrat
Tag Greason — Republican (incumbent)

District 33 (parts of Loudoun, Frederick and Clarke counties)

Tia Walbridge — Democrat
Dave LaRock — Republican (incumbent)

District 34 (parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties)

Kathleen Murphy — Democratic (incumbent)
Cheryl Buford — Republican

District 38 (parts of Fairfax County)

Kaye Kory — Democrat (incumbent)
Paul Haring — Republican

District 40 (parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties)

Donte Tanner — Democratic
Tim Hugo — Republican (incumbent)

District 42 OPEN (Fairfax County)

Kathy Tran — Democrat
Lolita Mancheno-Smoak — Republican

District 49 (parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties)

Alfonso Lopez — Democrat (incumbent)
Adam Roosevelt — Republican

District 50 (parts of Prince William County and Manassas)

Lee Carter — Democrat
Jackson Miller — Republican (incumbent)

District 51 (parts of Prince William County)

Hala Ayala — Democrat
Rich Anderson — Republican (incumbent)

District 53 (parts of Fairfax County and Falls Church)

Marcus Simon — Democrat (incumbent)
Mike Casey — Independent

District 67 (parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties)

Karrie Delaney — Democrat
Jim LeMunyon — Republican (incumbent)

District 86 (parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties)

Jennifer Boysko — Democrat (incumbent)
Linda Schulz — Republican

District 87 (parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties)

John Bell — Democrat (incumbent)
Subba Kolla — Republican

District 88 (parts of Spotsylvania, Stafford and Fauquier counties and Fredericksburg)

Mark Aycock — Democrat
Mark Cole — Republican (incumbent)
Gerald Anderson — Green Party
Amanda Blalock — Independent

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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