2023 may be an off-year, but that just means Virginia takes its traditional place as one of the key states to watch. With odd-year state elections, Virginia has often been a key bellwether for the rest of the country and this year is no different. Both the State Senate and the House of Delegates are up and both chambers could be won by either party. Daily Kos Elections Editor Jeff Singer joins us to preview the key races in both the June primary and the fall general election.
Host David Beard and guest host Joe Sudbay also discuss the many notable campaign announcements from the past week, including Democratic Rep. Colin Allred’s entrance into the U.S. Senate race in Texas against Ted Cruz and GOP Gov. Jim Justice’s entrance into the West Virginia Senate race against Joe Manchin. Then they cover two big retirements in blue states, Sen. Ben Cardin in Maryland and Gov. Jay Inslee in Washington State, plus what Democrats might run to replace them.
David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for the Daily Kos Elections. My co-host David Nir is under the weather this week, so we wish him the best. But we've got guest host Joe Sudbay back with us.
Joe Sudbay: David, thanks for inviting me. I'm sorry David Nir is under the weather, but I do always enjoy the opportunity to spend some time on “The Downballot.”
David Beard: Yes. Well, before we get started, let me say “The Downballot” is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. I also ask that you subscribe to “The Downballot,” if you haven't already, on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts, and leave us a five-star rating and review.
But let's go ahead and dive into today's episode. We've got a ton to cover this week. Tell us what we're going to be hitting on Weekly Hits.
Joe Sudbay: Well, we're going to be talking about actually some pretty big political news that has emerged over the past week. We've got a major candidate for Senate to challenge Ted Cruz in Texas, Colin Allred. We have a retirement in the United States Senate, and that is Ben Cardin from Maryland, which opens up a very competitive primary.
In West Virginia, the seat held by Joe Manchin, a really rough state for Democrats, we know the governor, Jim Justice has joined the Republican primary, and we had another big retirement announcement, and that's in Washington state. Jay Inslee said he will not be running for a fourth term. So we'll dig into those.
David Beard: We've got a lot to cover in the Weekly Hits. Then for our deep dive, we've got Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer back. He's going to be previewing the Virginia state legislative elections that are taking place. The primary is this June, so in just over a month, and then the general election in November. They're a very competitive state legislative chamber. So we'll run through the key seats that will decide control of both those chambers. So stick with us.
Well, we've had a fair amount of news for the end of April, beginning of May of an off year, and we want to start down in Texas, where we get a big Senate announcement. So, Joe, what's happened there? Well,
Joe Sudbay: Well, it's an announcement I think a lot of us have been waiting for, with a lot of anticipation. But this week Congressman Colin Allred, who currently represents Texas House district 32; it's part of Dallas and in the suburbs. He announced that he's going to challenge Ted Cruz next year.
I have to tell you, he did a video. If you haven't seen it, check it out. It is terrific. It tells the story of his life. Frankly, I thought he just eviscerated Ted Cruz, which, of course, gives a lot of us joy. He talked about how Cruz rallied the rioters on January 6th, then hid in the supply closet, said that he was all hat, no cattle, which I think is a real Texas thing. He mentioned that you don't have to be embarrassed by your senator.
Allred's a pretty formidable candidate. Great fundraiser. First won in 2018. He defeated a long-term Republican incumbent. He's a former professional football player, which I think, as I understand it, is a big deal in Texas. He's a lawyer, worked in the Obama administration. In the last election, 2022, he got over 65% of the vote.
Everybody hates Ted Cruz, and he won in 2018 with 50.8% of the vote against Beto O'Rourke. That's around 215,000 votes. So a lot of attention on this one. There will be a lot of money spent. As I mentioned, Allred's a great fundraiser. You know that the Senate Republicans are going to pour money in to protect Cruz, because they know people don't like him.
There are two other possible democratic candidates for the March 5th, 2024 primary. State Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents the area around Uvalde, and then mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, who's finishing his term. Just one other thing I think of note about Texas and primaries, if no candidate breaks 50% on March 5th, there's a runoff on May 28th.
David Beard: Yeah. In terms of the primary, I think there's going to be a ton of establishment support rallying around Allred. I think there'll definitely be some pressure for those other candidates to either not run or to drop out to give him a clear path, because obviously Texas is a huge state. I'm confident that he will raise a ton of money, but he will need every bit of it to reach the millions and millions of voters who live in Texas.
So I would not be surprised if there's some movement in that area. Of course, those candidates have absolutely a right to run, but I think they'll struggle with fundraising and establishment support if they do.
Looking to the general, yeah, I think this could be very competitive. Democrats, of course, have next to no offensive opportunities in the Senate in 2024. This is really the best one. The only two realistic ones are Texas and Florida. Even though they're in a similar area the past few years, Texas is ... It's slowly moving more blue. Florida, unfortunately, if anything, has been trending more right. Obviously this past year was a disaster in Florida.
So I do think this is probably Democrats' best offensive opportunity. With the seats we've talked about that Republicans are going to be targeting in West Virginia and Ohio and Montana and others, they really need to put the seed in play.
I think Allred is pretty much the best candidate that you could possibly want here. I think he absolutely appeals to the average Texas voter while being acceptable to all groups in the broader Democratic coalition and having a lot of connections already in DC, of course, from being a congressman.
I do think he can give Cruz a race. Obviously we saw that O'Rourke came pretty close in 2018. There's been further movement slightly, but movement to the left here. The Trump-Biden race in 2020 was less than six points. That race was close even though Texas really wasn't ... nobody ran ads in Texas. It wasn't really like a competitive state. But it was close compared to a lot of other states. It was almost five points.
So I think there's every chance here that this turns into absolutely a race that we're going to be keeping a very close eye on as we get into the summer and fall of 2024.
Joe Sudbay: I couldn't agree more. Absolutely. I think Allred is a terrific candidate. As I said, his introductory video, which he released this week, was so powerful. It told his story growing up to a single mother and managing to become a professional football player, become a lawyer. He's got a great story. Then, like I said, he eviscerates Ted Cruz, which is fairly easy to do. There's a lot of material. But it's good to see that right out of the gate, he's taking on Cruz, because that's what he's going to have to do. He's just going to have to do that a lot.
David Beard: Yeah. Yeah. I think if you swapped out John Cornyn, who's the other senator from Texas, that'd be a tougher race because he's a pretty generic Republican. Obviously he's bad on a lot of stuff. But, personally, he's just a generic guy. Whereas Cruz is particularly loathsome, and you have to take advantage of that if you're going to actually get yourself to victory in this race.
Joe Sudbay: Absolutely right. There was just a lot of news this past few days on races bumping up. What are the other ones you're looking at?
David Beard: So another big announcement this time, on the GOP side, was in West Virginia, where Republican Governor Jim Justice announced a run for Senate against, of course, Joe Manchin. Though Manchin hasn't officially announced whether or not he's running for reelection. He does seem to be acting like he's running for reelection. He's done a lot of distancing himself from Biden, voting with the GOP more than he has been. So he's certainly setting himself up to run for reelection, but he hasn't made that announcement yet.
Now Justice first faces a primary from GOP Representative Alex Mooney, who's already gotten into the race. Justice is definitely the establishment favorite. Steve Daines, who's the chair of the NRSC, had some very nice things to say about Justice at his announcement. But Mooney is definitely going to have plenty of support as well.
The Club for Growth has vowed to spend $10 million on Mooney's behalf, and Mooney is going to be attacking Justice as a secret liberal as every far-right Republican likes to call all other Republicans.
Justice, of course, was originally elected as a Democrat before switching parties as governor. So maybe they could see a little bit more coming from there than they otherwise would.
But I do think Justice is probably a pretty strong favorite here. He's pretty popular in West Virginia at this point. He's pretty universally known as the governor. Early polls have shown him with a healthy lead against Mooney in the primary.
So, of course, $10 million in attack ads in West Virginia goes a long way. So this race is far from over. But I think you'd have to say Justice is the favorite. If we do get a Justice-Manchin race in the general, I think that's going to be very tough for Manchin.
I think Manchin would have better odds against Mooney, who he could paint as somebody who was out of state until recently, who's very much a far-right conservative. Justice, of course, has his foibles, but he's not as far-right as Mooney. So I think it could be very difficult for Manchin if he does end up having to face Justice in the general.
Joe Sudbay: Yeah. I was wondering, David, if this is one of those races where we might see Democrats try to, as our friend David Nir says, ratfuck the Republican primary and do what they can to undermine Justice and get Mooney into the race. Of course, that would need some cooperation from Joe Manchin, who, like you said, is not being very cooperative with Democrats. He's probably going to wait until next January to announce if he's even running for reelection.
Of course, there's all this chatter about him possibly being a No Labels candidate. So really going to be interesting. We have to keep an eye on how Manchin acts over the next few weeks and months. But if I was him, I'd be thinking, if I'm running for reelection, I'm going to want some of that DSCC money. So they should only let him go so far with his attacks on Democrats.
David Beard: Yeah, yeah. Of course, this is a situation where you really need something to go right far beyond just running a good race. And so, maybe getting in there and trying to help Mooney get over the edge, just really nuking Justice pre-primary in a way that maybe also hurts his favorables going into the general is the way to go. The reality is West Virginia is now one of the most Republican states in the country. The fact that we still hold the seat is all but a miracle. It's obviously been key, as extremely frustrating as Joe Manchin has been for the past few years.
The alternative has been a Republican who would've voted no on everything. And so, Manchin being there, allowed the IRA to get passed. It's allowed a number of judges to get confirmed, a lot of other good legislation. So, that's been a good benefit. Again, as frustrating as Manchin is, and I get as frustrated by him as anybody, but I do think there's every chance realistically that the time is up. Obviously, we're going to do everything we can, but it's just a very, very tough state.
Joe Sudbay: Very, very tough state and just gotten so much tougher over the years too. It's really amazing. But Joe Manchin's got his work cut out for him and like I said, it'd be interesting to watch how he deals with the next few weeks and months in the Senate because if he does decide to run, he's going to want that money.
David Beard: Now, we do have one more big announcement in the Senate. It takes us to the nearby state of Maryland where we've got a retirement.
Joe Sudbay: Yeah. Senator Ben Cardin is retiring after three terms in the Senate. He's one of those senators who is more like a policy wonk and a workhorse. You don't usually see him jumping in front of TV cameras. He's kind of been a low-key guy, but very effective in delivering for his state. He was a member of the house from 1986 till he ran in the Senate primary in 2006 when Senator Sarbanes retired. And I just want to give that context because Senate seats don't come available very often in Maryland. Of note, in that September, 2006 primary, Cardin won with 44% of the vote. His nearest competitor was his then fellow member of Congress, Kweisi Mfume, who after a 20-year break is back in the House again.
Maryland Republicans have not won a Senate seat in Maryland since the '80s, but they have elected Republican governors over the past few years, including Larry Hogan, whose term concluded in January. Hogan is an anti-Trump Republican who flirted with running for president. No doubt, well, undoubted will be recruited to run for this Senate seat, even though he'd be sort of a pain in the ass for Republicans, but they just want a body. They want the body, and they'd love to win this Democratic-held seat.
On the Democratic side, we can expect a very crowded primary. Like I said, Senate seats don't become open very often in this state and a lot of names are already being discussed. Will Jawando, who's a Montgomery County Council member, has already announced he's running for the race. Others whose names keep popping up are David Trone, the congressman from Maryland’s 6th district. Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.
John, Johnny O. This guy called Johnny O, who's John Olszewski, Jr. He's the Baltimore County Executive. And another name that we keep seeing is Jamie Raskin, who represents Maryland's 8th congressional district, a beloved member of Congress who just last week rang the bell in the cancer ward at his hospital because he had finished his chemo treatments, which of course is a factor. He says he's cured, but that's obviously something he has to consider. Of note, both Raskin and Trone ran against each other in a House Democratic primary back in 2016 when Jamie Raskin won the 8th congressional district primary and then became the member of Congress. So, I don't know, maybe we'll see a Raskin-Trone rematch in the Senate, but it's going to probably be a lot more names mentioned. But this is going to be the battle, should be, the Democratic primary in Maryland.
David Beard: Yeah, and I believe I've already seen Hogan say that he's not interested in this, which is what I would expect. They've tried for years at this point to get him involved in running for Senate and he has not been interested. I don't think that he would have much of a chance, even if he did run. As we've seen over and over again, governorships and Senate seats, people treat them very differently when they vote. And partisanship is much, much stronger when you're voting for a Senator, than when you're voting for your governor, to be an executive.
Joe Sudbay: Absolutely.
David Beard: I do think the big person who's looming over this is Trone. He's the 17th most wealthy member of Congress. He's going to be willing to spend a lot of money in the primary. And so, the question I think there is, is there's going to be some sort of consolidation for a candidate that can really counteract that money because if it's split 10 ways, if there's 10 candidates getting between 5% and 20% of the vote, I wouldn't be surprised to see Trone's money carry him to victory, and that wouldn't be the worst thing. He's a perfectly fine Democratic member of Congress, but it's never my favorite thing when somebody becomes a senator because they just had a lot of money and the other candidates didn't.
I do think there'll be some pressure to maybe consolidate around one of the African American candidates. Jawando is black. He would be Maryland's first black Senator. Maryland has one of the higher percentages of African American voters in the country. So, I think it's a state that absolutely should have a black senator. So, that could be one thing that sort of consolidates, be it Jawando or somebody else. There may be a number of other black candidates running, but I think that's something to watch as well.
Joe Sudbay: Yeah, I think that's really important. Chris Van Hollen is the other Senator; won just a couple years ago. He's from the seat that Jamie Raskin now has. And that's another dynamic, is kind of the Baltimore region versus suburban DC. That's another way to look at how this race is going to play out. And then David Trone actually is from the far suburbs, more of a western Maryland district. So, he's kind of not really one of those, even though he did run in the 8th district before. So, it's going to be a very interesting primary and like you said, a lot of people and a lot of money, and a lot of it will probably come from David Trone.
David Beard: Yeah, and as a DC resident who shares the media market, I'm sure I'll be seeing many, many ads over the next year. So, I will try to report back any interesting ones.
Joe Sudbay: Likewise, likewise. What's the other races that you're looking at, David?
David Beard: Yeah, so we had one more big piece of news—this over on the West Coast in Washington state where Democratic Governor Jay Inslee announced that he would be retiring rather than seeking a historic fourth term in office. He will have been governor for 12 years by the end of this current term. Now, Republicans haven't won the Washington state governorship since John Spellman won in 1980. So, this is a very, very long streak of Democratic governors that will obviously look to continue. In 2024, there's two big candidates who everyone has sort of known has been interested for a while. That's Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz. Ferguson has already announced. And he announced with a lot of establishment support on his website. He's got endorsements from 16 state Senators, 20 state Representatives, and four members of Congress, most notably Pramila Jayapal, who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus in DC. So, he's got a lot of heavyweight hitters behind him.
On the Republican side, it's still so very unsettled. It'll be interesting to see if they get a real candidate that they consolidate behind, because, of course, Washington State uses a top two primary system like we've talked about before. So, if there's no Republican, it's possible that you could end up with two Democrats advancing to the general election. But I would expect, Washington state is very consistently Democratic, but there's a healthier Republican base there. It's not something like Washington DC where there aren't any Republicans. So, I would expect Republicans to get someone and to consolidate around them, but I think whoever advances from the top two system, whichever Democrat, will probably be the favorite going into November of next year.
Joe Sudbay: Yeah. It's going to be interesting. I think there was a lot of question about whether Inslee would go for the fourth term. There was a lot of speculation he might. He's certainly going out on a high note these past few, this past session, particularly the Democrats have had a great control in the legislature and they've passed some really remarkable legislation. One of the things I was completely most moved by is they did protections for abortion rights and trans care, and he signed that bill and he also signed a number of gun bills, including an assault weapon ban. And it's quite a good legacy for him to finish up his governorship. And he’s got one more term, obviously one more legislative session next spring. But it's really an impressive way to conclude your term and we'll see where he may, what future he may have too.
David Beard: Yeah, he did run for president for a little while back in 2020 before dropping out, but ahead of the primaries. And I was looking back on his history, and it was pretty interesting because he first won election to governor in 2012 in a very close race. He only won 52-48, and then each subsequent race has gotten a little bit more comfortable. And there was also a period where two rebellious Democrats had given control of the State Senate over to the Republicans because they were sort of conservatives. And so, it was really a rocky sort of early period, but in part, of course, thanks to the Trump administration, sort of radicalizing some Democrats and making a light blue state, like Washington state, a little safer for Democrats, getting better control of the legislature for Democrats. They've really been able to do some really impressive stuff like those things that you mentioned. So, I do think it's a good time to go out if you want to go out on a high.
Joe Sudbay: Absolutely. And you remember last fall, we were being told by some of the pundits and prognosticators in DC that the Senate race with Patty Murray was going to be close. It wasn't at all. And I think a lot of that had to do with what both Trump and the Dobbs decision, and now Democrats in that state are delivering on their promises. It's great. I think it's a terrific legacy for Jay Inslee.
David Beard: Yeah. Yeah, and I'm sure we'll see some of those Republican pollsters come back with showing us narrow races next year, but color me suspicious.
Joe Sudbay: Absolutely right. Absolutely right. Never dull though, is it David Beard? It's never dull.
David Beard: It never is. We've got a lot of news this week considering we're still pretty far away from 2024. But before 2024 we've still got the 2023 elections. Stick with us as we're going to be talking with Daily Kos Elections Editor, Jeff Singer. He's back on the pod and he's going to be previewing the Virginia state legislative elections that are coming up this November.
This week we're joined once again by Daily Kos Elections Editor, Jeff Singer, who's going to be previewing the Virginia legislative elections for us. They've got their primary elections in June, so just a few weeks away and then of course the general election this November. Welcome back to the pod, Jeff.
Jeff Singer: Thank you, David. It's great to be back.
David Beard: So why don't we start off by having you give us just an overview of where we stand with the Virginia elections and sort of how we got here in the past couple of elections.
Jeff Singer: So Virginia famously is one of the few states that holds statewide elections and elections for the legislature in odd numbered years. And this year the entire 100 member House of Delegates is up for a new two year term and so is the entire 40 member state Senate there, up for a four year term. Right now the Democrats hold a 22 to 18 majority of the State Senate. It's the only thing that keeps the Republicans from having complete control of the state government because Governor Glenn Youngkin who won in 2021 is there and his victory helped the Republicans win a 52 to 48 majority in the State House.
So what's at stake is quite a lot. If the status quo holds, then we'll have the division that we've had for the last two years. Republicans will see their bills fail. Democrats won't be able to pass things, but they'll be able to prevent the Republicans from passing anything. If Democrats hold the state Senate and flip the House, it puts them in a stronger position. And if the Republicans keep the state Senate, then Youngkin has a lot of leeway to get what he wants in what's become a blue state.
And I'll also add, there's something new about this year's elections. This is the first time that either chamber will be using the new maps that were drawn up by the State Supreme Court. Before it was the legislature doing it and so quite a lot's changed. Some Democrats were in better positions than they used to be. Some are in much worse positions. Same with the Republicans. So quite a lot of change.
David Beard: Now of course, the senate and the governorship is never up for election in the same cycle. So now obviously Republicans won in 2021 with Glenn Youngkin. Democrats are obviously going to try to take back control of the governorship in 2025, but in order for that to turn into full control of Virginia, they've got to take back and then hold the House leading up to that. And then of course they have to hold the Senate because whoever holds the Senate is sort of guaranteed control for four years or at least a level of influence for the next four years, right?
Jeff Singer: And in Virginia there's a lot the legislature can do for appointments, whether the governor signs off on it or not. Republicans for a long time had control of the legislature even when Democrats had the governorship and they were able to put some conservative Supreme Court justices. So if Democrats have the legislature for another two years, even if Youngkin there puts them in a better position than they might be in other states.
Joe Sudbay: These House races to me, Jeff, are really so important. I mean I follow them pretty closely. I mean, I go back to 2017 when, in the not too distant past, Republicans controlled this house of delegates 66 to 34. In the 2017 election, Democrats picked up 15 seats, then they took the majority in 2019, lost it again, as you said in 2021. Some of those races in 2021, and I know we're dealing in new districts now, but they were so close. They were under 100 votes. That's one of the things that I think is so important about state legislative races is how close they can be. And the thing about Virginia, because they're the big game, it will get undue attention this year.
Jeff Singer: Exactly. And Virginia unfortunately doesn't have campaign finance rules, which means that if a race suddenly starts to look a little interesting, a lot of money can rush in there very, very quickly.
Joe Sudbay: Very quickly.
David Beard: I wouldn't be surprised to see a number of these races break the million dollar mark in terms of spending. Now we're going to go through a number of the key races that will probably decide control of both of the chambers in November. But first I just want to briefly touch on a couple of interesting primaries both on the Democratic side in the Senate. And so we'll start with Senate district 13, which is quite the showdown. So tell us about that race.
Jeff Singer: This is a seat in the Richmond area and the Democratic incumbent is none other than Fighting Joe Morrissey. We could write a whole book on this guy. He has a, I don't know if remarkable is the right word, but he has a famous ability to survive scandal after scandal after scandal. He's up for a new four-year term. But it's not just his many, many personal problems that are making him a target. He is unreliable on pretty much everything, including abortion rights.
He kept Democrats in suspense on whether he'd vote to greatly restrict abortion. His vote didn't end up needing to matter because Democrats scored a big special election win in January that expanded their majority and made Morrissey no longer the defining vote. But he could be again if he wins renomination and the Democrats lose ground in November. So progressives really want him to go, and including many of his colleagues.
Morrissey's opponent in the primary is former state Delegate Lashrecse Aird. This is a safely blue seat. Whoever was the primary should be fine in the general election, and this is probably going to be the biggest test Morrissey's ever had on whether he can survive everything that he's done.
David Beard: The other seat that's gotten a lot of attention in the Senate primary is Senate district 18 down in Chesapeake and Portsmouth. Talk about that one for a little bit.
Jeff Singer: This is the only district in the chamber where there are two incumbents going at it. There are Democratic incumbents, Louise Lucas and Lionel Spruill, and this is another safely blue district. And the ideological divisions aren't at all the same as they are for Morrissey's race, but it's gotten a bit interesting. Lucas is the most senior member of the State Senate. About a week ago she accused unnamed northern Virginia leaders of wanting to beat her so that they could get one of their own on her committees. They wouldn't have to deal with her seniority.
She said, "There are people working to shut black leaders out of key positions." I should mention both candidates are black here, but she's arguing that they want to take down someone as prominent as her so that people who aren't black could have more power in Northern Virginia. That's what she said. It's been a big thing there. We'll see how it impacts the race.
David Beard: And one of those things you often I think see in races like this is when there's not an ideological distinction like there is other primary between Morrissey and Aird that we just talked about. Things can often get nastier and about very specific little things like this because they don't have as much issue stuff to talk about. Because these two candidates, they're incumbent Democrats, they probably vote the same way 95 plus percent of the time. And so they end up arguing about who's getting support from northern Virginia, various Democrats and why, which gets very messy.
Jeff Singer: Exactly.
David Beard: Those are the big primaries to watch out for. But of course the thing that we really care about is in November when both these chambers are going to be up and there's going to be a bunch of races that are going to determine who controls both of these chambers. Now since we started with the Senate, talked about some of those primary races, let's just stick with the Senate for now and then we'll move on to the House. We've got four races we want to talk about. So why don't you start us off, Jeff.
Jeff Singer: And I should say Democrats, they have 22 out of the 40 seats right now. They can afford to lose exactly one. If there is a 2020 split then the tie we broken for the Republicans by the Republican Lieutenant governor — she's not up until 2025 — Winsome Earle-Sears. So Democrats really need to pretty much hold their ground. They can lose one seat and that's it.
One of the big races we're watching is in the Richmond area Senate district 16. It's between Republican incumbent Siobhan Dunnavant and Democratic Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg. This is a seat that got a bit bluer in redistricting, but it was already trending Democratic. Henrico County outside of Richmond, it's one of those areas that used to be really, really Republican turf till not too long ago.
In 2008 when Barack Obama was becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Virginia since LBJ in 1964, he was also carrying the former Republican bastion of Henrico County. And then a lot of areas in the county were still pretty red until the Trump era. This is one of them. Dunnavant survived in 2019 under a different map and is still a tough district. She's up for a real challenge this time. In her new district, Biden won 55% of the vote in 2020. Terry McAuliffe, even as he was losing statewide, won 52%. So this is really going to test her crossover appeal.
David Beard: What are the other Senate districts that are super competitive this fall that we need to keep an eye on?
Jeff Singer: So while Dunnavant saw her district get a lot bluer, Democratic state Senator Monty Mason has the opposite issue. His once safely blue district in Hampton Roads is now a lot more competitive. It's now the 24th District. It used to be very reliably blue, but under the new lines, Biden won 53% of the votes. Glenn Youngkin won 51%. So this is exactly the type of battleground that everyone's going to be watching in both houses. These are the types of districts that everyone's going to be watching, the Biden-Youngkin districts. Mason's Republican opponent is a former local sheriff, Danny Diggs. This is going to be one of the big ones.
Then there are two open state Senate seats, two Biden Youngkin districts. One of them is in Southside Virginia along the North Carolina border of the 17th District. Biden won 53% here, Youngkin won 52%. The Democrats don't have a primary. Delegate Clint Jenkins is the only candidate. The Republicans do have a primary next month for another Delegate, Republican Emily Brewer and a former NASCAR driver, Hermie Sadler.
Then we go up north to Loudoun County in the 31st District. It's another seat like that. Biden won 56%, but Youngkin got just over half. This time the dynamics are a bit different. The Republican has no inter-party opposition. He's a businessman, Juan Pablo Segura, he's the son of a billionaire. And the Democrats have a primary between a local prosecutor, Russet Perry, and a Leesburg Town Council member Zach Cummings. So, there could be other targets worth watching on both sides. Things can get pretty unpredictable in legislative races, but these are the four districts that at this point look like they're going to decide control.
David Beard: I love how rich people are so everywhere in the Republican party electorate and running for everything, they're now down to state senate candidates. Our sons of billionaires, it used to be just US Senate candidates were the millionaires and billionaires and now they're just filtering down everywhere.
One clarifying thing I had, so those last two races that don't have incumbents, SD-17 and SD-31: are they seen as Democratic held seats or Republican held seats right now or because of redistricting or is there not really a party that owns the two seats?
Jeff Singer: Because of redistricting, no one really owns either of these two seats. They really could be just the ones that make all the difference.
David Beard: Hopefully Democrats will be able to hold on to the Senate seats they need, given that whoever has that chamber, as we mentioned, will hold it for the next four years, so it's pretty important. But of course, the House is also up. The House is up every two years, but that doesn't mean we still don't want to take it back this year as opposed to waiting for 2025 when the governor's race is up as well. Obviously with 100 seats, there's a lot more races going on across the state of Virginia, but let's go ahead and start going through some of the key races we want to be keeping an eye on as we head to November.
Jeff Singer: Yeah. So, this is another one where the chamber is very close. Again, Republicans have 52 out of the 100 seats. If there's a tie here though, there's no Lieutenant governor to break it, there'd be some sort of power sharing agreement. So, things could get very complicated in a hurry if there's a 50/50 split. So some of the seats we're going to be looking at, all these are seats that Biden won and then Youngkin won, so prototypical battlegrounds. Staying in northern Virginia in Prince William County, HD-21, Biden won about 60% here, should look safe, but then Youngkin won about 51%, so we'll find out. There's one Democrat Marine veteran, Josh Thomas; the Republicans have a fight between local Board of Supervisors member John Stirup and Marine veteran Josh Quill.
All right, and staying in Prince William County, we have another one, HD-22, not as blue; Biden won a little bit more than half the vote, but Youngkin got 53%. This is another one where there's just one Democratic candidate, attorney Travis Nembhard, while there's one Republican also, former Manassas city council member Ian Lovejoy.
David Beard: And so, those are two big, big races in Northern Virginia. Let's move down to the center of the state where there's some more races around the Richmond area.
Jeff Singer: Yeah. So back in Henrico County we have HT57. It also has a little bit of rural, but very red, Goochland County attached to it. So, dynamics are a little bit different than the Dunnavant race, but pretty comparable. It's one where Biden and Youngkin each took about 52% of the vote and the Republicans have just one candidate, David Owen, while the Democrats have a primary between Susanna Gibson and Bob Shippy. Then we go a bit north to Fredericksburg, HD-65. Biden won 55%, but again, Youngkin got 51%, so quite a lot of swing vote around here. Former Democratic Delegate Josh Cole, he's trying to regain a seat in the House, he has the field to himself on the Democratic side, while for the Republicans, they have a primary, but it looks like their main candidate is a captain in the Stafford County Sheriff’s Department, Lee Peters.
Joe Sudbay: I got to interview Delegate Cole in 2021 when he was running for election, and that was one of those races that was so, so, so close back in 2021. What are some of the other races you're keeping an eye on, Jeff?
Jeff Singer: Yeah, so south of Richmond there's House District 82: Biden won 55%, Youngkin won 51%. This time there's a Republican incumbent, Republican Delegate Kim Taylor. While there are two Democrats running, Victor Mackenzie and Kimberly Pope Adams. Then in Virginia Beach we have Republican Delegate Karen Greenhalgh, who's trying to hold the 97th District. Once again, Biden won 55% here, Youngkin won 51%. If you're sensing a pattern there, looks like there very much is one. And there's no primary on either side. Greenhalgh's Democratic opponent is an Air Force veteran, Michael Figgins. While the map's different, Greenhalgh went through a very, very close race last time, she unseated a Democratic incumbent, the race went to a recount. In December we found out that Greenhalgh won by 115 votes, so very competitive area.
David Beard: Now obviously it's still May, it's still early days, primaries are still happening next month. But do you see how these races are start starting to shape up in terms of issues? What is the key issue that the Democrats and the Republicans look like they're going to be focusing on as they move into a general election campaign?
Jeff Singer: Well, as it usually is, the Republicans want to talk about taxes and crime, Democrats want to talk about abortion rights. And what's really complicated here is, polls, they show Youngkin quite popular; they also show that people don't really like his policies. So, that's not an unusual dynamic when there's a governor in charge of a state that politically is a bit different from them, but it's there. So, Youngkin probably would pin himself forward to say, "I need majorities to do things," while he might not be super clear about the exact things he'd like to do, while Democrats probably aren't going to be targeting Youngkin himself, they don't really want, they don't want to make this a referendum on Youngkin, they'd rather be about Trump and other Republicans. So we'll see how that goes.
I expect abortion rights to come up quite a bit, especially since there almost were anti-abortion policies that might well have passed had Democrat Aaron Rouse not won his special election in January. I should mention with him, his seat got quite a bit more Democratic under the new map. Still worth watching, but it shouldn't be the cliffhanger it was in January.
Joe Sudbay: Yeah, the Senate Democrats really were the wall against trying to undo all of the progressive policies that had passed in the previous session when there was a Democratic trifecta. You really get this sense, Virginia's a classic example of what can happen when there's a Democratic trifecta and what Republicans will try to do when they get theirs and clearly some really important issues, abortion, LGBTQ rights, legalize marijuana, voting. I mean, we saw Cleta Mitchell who was Trump's lawyer, one of the coup plotters, giving a speech to the RNC specifically targeting Virginia as a way to undermine, as a place where they can undermine voting rights, if they take back the state Senate in November.
Jeff Singer: Yeah, exactly. Virginia often does get overshadowed in the year before presidential races by races in Louisiana, Kentucky. They're going to be important. I will be the first person to say the race in Louisiana for governor is very important, but Virginia has quite a lot going on here. And it could only take a few votes in a few districts to make all difference between whether Republicans have complete control of the state government in a place that really has been trending the other way for a long time. Or if Democrats can stand up and be the bastion that they've been for the last two years.
David Beard: Well, this is definitely a number of races that will continue to keep an eye on, both for the primary in June and then as we move into the fall. Jeff, thank you for joining us. In case anyone who's listening to the pod is not following you on Twitter, where can they find you on Twitter?
Jeff Singer: So, I often tweet from our Daily Kos Elections account DKElections. You can find me personally at DarthJeff90, that's an account I came up with, I think in high school, I did not think I'd be using it professionally now, but DarthJeff90.
David Beard: Well, that's what social media does to us. So yeah, everyone give Jeff a follow on Twitter. Thank you once again for joining us.
Jeff Singer: Thank you Beard. And as DarthJeff90, may the Fourth be with you.
David Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to Jeff Singer for joining us and for Joe Sudbury for joining in as guest host. “The Downballot” comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing the firstname.lastname@example.org. If you haven't already, please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five star rating and review. Thanks to our producer Walter Einenkel and editor Trever Jones. We'll be back next week with a new episode.