Virginia 2021 House of Delegates primary: Some incumbents cruise to victory, others toppled

As votes are being counted in more than a dozen contested House of Delegates primary races Tuesday night, many officeholders cruised to victory, but a trio of incumbents in Northern Virginia found themselves locked in tight races and, in some cases, heading for defeat.

In the 45th District, challenger Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, an Alexandria City Council member and the city’s vice mayor, toppled incumbent Del. Mark Levine, according to a projection by the Associated Press.

The district includes parts of Alexandria City and Arlington and Fairfax counties. Levine was first elected to the seat in 2015.

Levine had also sought the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor at the same he sought renomination to his House seat. In the end, he lost both races.

Levine came in a distant third in the six-way lieutenant governor race. In his renomination fight, unofficial vote counts showed challenger Bennett-Parker had opened a commanding lead over the incumbent — nearly 60% to 40%.

Levine ran unopposed for the seat in 2019 and 2017.

Bennett-Parker, the co-director of the nonprofit job training program Together We Bake, faces Republican J.D. Maddox, a national security consultant and business owner, during the general election in the fall.

With all precincts reporting in the 50th District, Del. Lee Carter, who had also waged a long-shot campaign for the Democratic nod for Virginia governor at the same time he sought reelection to his House seat, has been defeated by challenger Michelle E. Lopes-Maldonado in a tight race, The Associated Press projected.

Unofficial vote counts showed Carter, a democratic socialist first elected in the 2017 Democratic wave, behind Lopes-Maldonado, a former attorney and small-business owner, about 38% to 44%, according to the vote tallies posted online by the Virginia Department of Elections.

The Associated Press call comes hours after Carter appeared to concede the race:

Carter said the job of delegate “has made me miserable for the last 4 years” and that it was now someone else’s turn. He said he faced “constant assassination threats and harassment.” He also cited his achievements, including working to expand health insurance coverage, legalize marijuana and end the death penalty.

Carter was also defeated in his bid for the Democratic nomination for governor. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe was on pace Tuesday night for a rout in that race.

Maldonado, the challenger, declared victory in her bid for the seat, saying on Twitter she accepted the Democratic nomination “with great enthusiasm and humility” and that she promised “to work every single day to win this race in the fall and to make you proud.”

Community activist Helen Anne Zurita had just under 18% of the vote in that race.

Total turnout in the 50th District, which includes parts of Prince William County and Manassas City, stood at more than 3,500 votes cast — well above turnout in the 2019 Democratic primary for the seat.

In an interview with WTOP, Maldonado said that while she campaigned over the past few months, “What I was hearing on the ground is that people were feeling like their voices weren’t being heard, and that they were feeling left out and behind.”

In the fall, Maldonado will face Dr. Steve Pleickhardt, a Northern Virginia dentist, as her Republican challenger.

“I am feeling excited and energized and ready to really move forward with some great momentum and a great team to move us forward to the Nov. 2 election,” Maldonado said.

She cited the economy, recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, and transportation and infrastructure as top priorities.


More Virginia Primary 2021 coverage


In the 86th District, which includes parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties, incumbent Del. Ibraheem S. Samirah, who was first elected in a 2019 special election, defeated by challenger Irene Shin, the director of a nonprofit focused on civic engagement, in an extremely tight race.

With all precincts reporting results, Shin was leading Samirah 51.61% to 48.39% and the AP called the race for Shin on Wednesday afternoon. Samirah conceded on Twitter shortly before midnight.

Shin declared victory on Twitter.

Shin is set to face Republican Julie Perry, a high school history teacher, in the fall.

Overall, 14 Democratic incumbents faced challenges from within their own party — an unusually large number and more than three times higher than the number of Democratic incumbents who faced primary opponents in 2019 or 2017.

The results of Tuesday’s primary will set the stage for the general election contests in the fall, where Republicans are set on challenging Democrats, who assumed full control of state government in 2020.

In the 31st District, the site of the most crowded Democratic primary in Virginia, incumbent Del. Elizabeth Guzman successfully defended her seat against three challengers in a closely watched race, according to the AP’s projection.

Guzman, who launched an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor before dropping out of that race to focus on her House reelection campaign, was leading with just under 54% of the vote to about 46% for her next closest challenger, R.D. “Rod” Hall, a transportation policy adviser.

Idris A. Jibowu-O’Connor received just under 5% of the vote in unofficial vote tallies. Another candidate, Kara A. Pitek, received 4.64%.

The district straddles Prince William and Fauquier counties and is considered competitive in the fall.

Guzman, considered a strong liberal voice in the General Assembly and an ally of progressive standard-bearer Bernie Sanders, ran unopposed in 2019.

Guzman thanked voters on Twitter.

Guzman will face Republican challenger Ben Baldwin, a financial adviser and member of the Prince William County Chamber of Council, in the fall.

In the 2nd District, the Associated Press projected Del. Candi King would handily fend off a challenge from Pam Montgomery.

King just won the seat in a January special election after narrowly defeating Republican Heather Mitchell in a race to replace Democrat Jennifer Carrol Foy, who stepped down to run for governor.

The district includes parts of Prince William and Stafford County.

King faces Republican Gina Ciarcia, a teacher, in November.

In the 34th District, which includes Fairfax and Loudoun counties, Del. Kathleen J. Murphy, who was first elected in 2015, defeated challenger Jennifer M. Adeli, a small-business owner and activist, according to the AP. With 19 of 24 precincts reporting, Murphy led Adeli 73% to 26.97%.

In November, Murphy faces Republican Gary Pan, a business owner and civic leader, who previously ran for the seat in 2019.

In the 36th District, also according to the AP, incumbent Ken Plum, the current longest-serving member of the House, defeated primary challenge from Mary K. “Red” Barthelson — it was the first time Plum has faced a primary challenge in more than two decades.

With nearly all precincts reporting, Plum, who has held the seat since 1982, was leading Barthelson 75.24% to 24.76%.

Plum faces Republican Matt Lang, a veteran and security consultant, in November.

The AP also projected a victory for Democratic incumbent Del. Kaye Kory in the 38th District, which is in Fairfax County. Kory, who was first elected in 2009, led challenger Holly Hazard, an attorney and animal advocate, 62% to 38% with most precincts reporting.

The Republican in the race in November is Tom Pafford.

In the 49th District, which includes parts of Arlington and Fairfax County, incumbent Del. Alfonso H. Lopez also fended off a challenge from preschool teacher Karishma Mehta. The Associated Press called the race for Lopez. With 16 of 21 precincts reporting, Lopez led Mehta 69.51% to 30.49%.

Lopez will square off against Republican Timothy Kilcullen in the fall.

Most Republican candidates for state office were previously selected at party conventions, but Republican voters weighed in on a few House of Delegates on primary day, including in the 51st District. The AP projected Tim Cox, a U.S. Navy veteran, had defeated Jeffery A. Dove Jr. an Army veteran and IT contractor for the GOP nod for the seat. Cox led Dove  77% to 24% in vote totals with all precincts reporting.

The district, which is in Prince William County, is considered competitive. The seat is currently held by Hala Ayala, who was elected in 2017, but who stepped down to seek the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. Briana Sewell, the chief of staff to Prince William County Board Chair Ann Wheeler, is unopposed for the Democratic nomination for the seat.

The Associated Press and WTOP’s Kyle Cooper contributed to this report. 

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com 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 Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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