The Virginia House flipped to Democrats in 2019 and back to Republicans in 2021. Can Democrats win the three seats they need to regain control of the chamber? Blue Virginia's Lowell Feld joins us to run through the key races in both the Virginia Senate and House and how Democrats can win both chambers this November. We also look to 2024 and discuss some key announcements in competitive Virginia Congressional races.
Host David Beard and guest host Joe Sudbay also cover the huge news out of New Jersey, where Sen. Bob Menendez has been indicted (again) and this time most state and national Democrats are not standing by him. We also discuss the long-awaited entrance of hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick into the Pennsylvania Senate race for Republicans; the Supreme Court rejecting Alabama's long shot attempt to prevent a new Congressional map; and the gerrymandered state legislative maps Ohioans will be using for at least one cycle.
Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections. “The Downballot” is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. So if you haven't, please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. David Nir is off for the next few weeks, but we've got the great Joe Sudbay joining us. Welcome, Joe.
Joe Sudbay: Thanks, David. I always love joining you on The Downballot. It is my favorite podcast, and I'm not just saying that because I'm going to be guest-hosting with you. I really mean it.
Beard: Well, it better be your favorite when you're on, at the very least.
Sudbay: Oh, really, it's just terrific. I just think telling the stories of what's happening around the country is really critical and you and David do it so well.
Beard: Thank you. We've got a lot to cover this week. We're of course going to be talking about New Jersey where Senator Menendez has been indicted again, and Democrats seem to be not sticking by their man this time.
We're going to talk about Dave McCormick finally getting into the Pennsylvania Senate race for the Republicans, which Mitch McConnell has been begging for for months. We're going to talk about redistricting news in Alabama and Ohio, and then we're going to be speaking with Lowell Feld, the founder of Blue Virginia, a progressive political site dedicated to Virginia politics. We're going to be going through all the competitive races this fall in Virginia. So we've got a great show coming up and we're just about to get started.
So Joe, we've had one of the biggest news events, I think in a while in terms of the Senate, with this indictment of Senator Menendez that came through just a few days ago. And this really significant shift where we saw a ton of people protecting him from his previous indictment and from when this investigation first started getting reported to now that this indictment is out there, all this information about gold bars and all of these meetings with Egyptian officials and all of that, all of the dirty details I guess are now out in the indictment. And we've seen a huge shift in both folks in New Jersey, Democratic politicians, and his fellow senators, in terms of their support for Senator Menendez.
Sudbay: Yeah, it has really been. I was wondering when it first happened, if it would be like the last time — and David, that we're even talking about that there was a last time, I mean, Jesus Christ. And when I saw the governor, Governor Murphy said he thought that Menendez should resign, I thought it was very significant. And then also Senator Cory Booker, his seatmate in New Jersey, I thought that was very significant. I do think it's important, I do think it's important for Democrats to draw the line on corruption. And look, I'm an attorney, I'm a believer in the judicial system. I want him to have a fair trial, but you know what? I'd like him to have a fair trial while he's not a sitting United States senator. That's what I think would be best for the Democratic Party and actually for democracy.
Beard: Yeah, I think there's two points. One, as you said, of course, he deserves a fair trial. That doesn't mean he deserves to be a US Senator while all of this is going on, when it's clearly a detriment to both the people of New Jersey and to the Democratic Party of which he is a part.
And secondly, it's totally acceptable for the Democratic Party to say, like, "Hey, you may or may not get convicted, but this is bad. We're trying to do good things here. We're trying to make America a better place for the people who live here. And you being indicted and having all of this controversy is bad for what we're trying to do. So you need to step aside if you really care about the American people and let any number of other competent Democrats serve out your term so that we can keep trying to pass good laws."
Sudbay: And there are so many good competent Democrats from New Jersey who could easily step in and be United States senators. And I do think, David, when I saw George Santos defending him, I thought, okay, we don't need a Democratic member of the Federal Indictment Caucus. Let Santos have that and let Republicans continue to defend him. I think it's really important, as we've both said, and I really hope Menendez does the right thing and resigns.
I think the pressure's going to build and we'll see what happens, but he's not going to be effective. He can no longer be the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, for chrissakes. It's just too much of a distraction. And the people of New Jersey, this seat does not belong to Bob Menendez, and I think it's always important to remind people of that, this seat does not belong to Bob Menendez. It belongs to the people of New Jersey and they deserve an effective senator.
Beard: Yes. And we've seen a lot of New Jersey Democrats this time around, thankfully, see that light and withdraw their support for Senator Menendez. And I think we've also seen somebody already jump in, Representative Andy Kim, who won a competitive seat in South Jersey back in 2018 and has won competitive races since then.
He's already announced that he's going to jump into the Senate race, primary Menendez. We've already seen a number of county chairs in New Jersey say that they're not going to support Menendez. And because of New Jersey's very strange machine system where they have these county lines where all the incumbents are basically on the same row, which makes it really easy for them all to run together. And a lot of Democrats — and Republicans because they also have the system — will just go and vote the county line. So it's a big leg up.
So the fact that these county chairs are already pulling their support from Menendez means it's going to be very, very hard for him if he does try to run next year to have that support and be able to even win a primary if he's really stubborn and refuses to either step down or at least retire. I sort of doubt he'll resign because it would be almost impossible to force him to resign, but at least he should stop running for reelection in 2024 because he is not going to even win the primary.
Sudbay: Right. At a minimum, that's what we should hear from him. I'm still pulling for resignation, Dave.
Beard: Yeah, I mean, we'll see. The indictment — it seems not good for him, so maybe he'll cut a deal with federal prosecutors. He's been very forthrightly "I'm innocent, I'll prove all this wrong," but I guess that's what you're going to say either way. So we've seen in the past, plea deals will sometimes involve a politician resigning from office, so we could see something like that. Obviously, there's more than a year to the election next year, but I can't imagine that he'll be on the ballot come November 2024.
Sudbay: Right. I mean, look, gold bars have already become a meme. I mean, a week ago no one would've been talking about gold bars. Now they will forever be linked to Senator Bob Menendez and it's hard to overcome.
Beard: Yeah, well, so that's been quite the story for the week. But we did have another piece of Senate news nearby in Pennsylvania where Republicans, after months and months of begging for their candidate to jump in, finally got hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick to take a second bite at the apple. He, of course, ran two years ago and lost a close primary race to Dr. Oz, who of course went on to lose himself. So I guess McCormick thinks that he's got a better shot for some reason now in 2024. But of course, he's got a similar issue to Oz in that his ties to Pennsylvania are a little questionable.
Sudbay: Yeah, I mean, he's been living in Connecticut. He's a Wall Street guy, and it is one of these things: be careful what you ask for, NRSC Chair Steve Daines; you might actually get it. And so they got their candidate; they've got McCormick, but he is running against a Pennsylvania institution. Senator Casey has long been a senator. His father was a governor. This is an institutional family in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And Casey's going to run a different campaign than Fetterman, but I hope they do the same kind of campaigning against an out-of-stater running to buy their seat as Fetterman did against Oz, because that's exactly what it is. They're trying to buy the Senate seat, and that's what Republicans think they can do. We've seen it repeatedly. They go shopping for a candidate who's rich and will put in a bunch of money.
I think he put in like $14 million of his own money to lose in that primary to Oz in 2022. So that's what they're counting on. They're counting on his deep pockets, but voters are going to be looking at different things in 2024, and Joe Biden's going to be at the top of the ticket in Pennsylvania, a state he won in 2020, and Casey and the Democrats in the state are taking nothing for granted. We just saw Governor Shapiro instituted automatic voter registration, something that Republicans have been out of their minds about. Democrats are playing to win in Pennsylvania, and I think that's really important. You can just feel it.
Beard: Yeah, I find it strange how much the Republicans have played up Pennsylvania as one of the top races of the 2024 cycle. As you said, Casey, I think, is probably one of the strongest incumbents in a swing state anywhere. McCormick is obviously a rich dude. I'm sure he'll put in a ton of money. I'm sure the Republicans like that he'll put in a ton of money so they don't have to. But beyond that, he doesn't have a lot going for him. He doesn't have any strong ties or any favorability that would make you think, oh, he's a particularly tough candidate outside of the checkbook.
And McConnell has been listing it as one of the races along with the three races where Democrats are up in states that Trump won: Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia. McConnell has been listing it as the fourth key state, which I just think is so strange and must've been to try to induce McCormick into the race because I would put it: Nevada has a competitive race, Arizona has a strange situation, Michigan, Wisconsin, there's a lot of races that could be competitive. And I'd probably put Pennsylvania below maybe all of those just because Casey is so strong, and even if Biden has a tough go of it in 2024 in Pennsylvania, I would expect Casey to outrun him. So I don't really see McCormick's path to victory unless it's a really Republican year.
Sudbay: Right. I agree. I felt like I really did. It goes to what I said earlier, I feel like they wanted the money. They don't want to have to spend any money in Pennsylvania. They wanted to challenge Casey. They're hoping maybe that they can repeat a miracle of 2016 maybe in terms of the presidential race, I don't know.
But I agree, I don't see it as a top race. Casey has been a solid senator, and he knows the state, knows the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I mean, he is a Pennsylvania guy. He just exudes it. And that matters in Pennsylvania.
Beard: And we've seen particularly, I think in more Midwestern or Northeastern states, which Pennsylvania sort of straddles, that sort of history really matters. And there are some states, Georgia, Nevada, where there's a lot of people moving to those states. Being new to the state, doesn't matter as much necessarily as a state like we've seen in Michigan, Pennsylvania, the fact that he's been there, he's an institution, as you said, that's going to matter to voters, particularly older voters, I think. So I think he's in good shape despite McCormick.
Sudbay: Yeah, despite McCormick and despite McConnell's wishes, I think he's in good shape too. So I don't have the same level of concern about that as I do other states now.
Beard: It might've been our top story of the week, if not for the Menendez indictment and all of the stuff going on. There is real progress on the Alabama redistricting front. We had two pieces of news here. The Supreme Court, without any dissents — who knows what they might've thought privately, but none of the justices dissented.
They rejected Alabama's long-shot appeal to stop the court in Alabama from imposing a new map. The Alabama case was really just like, "We don't like that you ruled against us the first time. So what if you didn't rule against us this time?" And I think that the Supreme Court, even for somebody like Alito or Thomas, was sort of like, "This is stupid. We decided this three or four months ago. Why are you back here bothering us? We've got more important cases to rule conservatively on," I think in Thomas's and Alito's view.
So that finally ended that avenue, which means the court in Alabama will be putting in a new map. And as part of that, we saw the special master, who's appointed by the court to sort of give them options, release three maps. They're all pretty similar. The first one is essentially one of the maps that was submitted by the plaintiffs, by one of the plaintiffs. And the other two are very small variations on that same map. All of them prioritized keeping all of the districts, other than the 1st and the 2nd, the same. So all of the middle and northern Alabama districts, it’s the same as the 2023 map that the legislature passed. And so all they do is change the 1st and 2nd districts to bring the 2nd district into compliance with the Voting Rights Act. So it's a second opportunity district for Black voters in Alabama to elect a candidate of their choice.
Sudbay: Yeah, it was a big move. I have to say. Again, let's just admit we were completely surprised when the Supreme Court issued the Milligan decision in June, and I think there was a lot of hope in right-wing circles that the Supreme Court would deliver again, that Brett Kavanaugh had provided just enough of a window for them to come back. And they really thought that window was open and it was shut this weekend. Really significant, I mean, really significant.
And I think that that was a huge sigh of relief for a lot of people. Probably not Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society types who thought they had things wired, but it was a good win for democracy. And yeah, these new maps, look, I think there's a really good chance, and you can already tell that things are starting to shape up for new elections.
We'll have the new maps relatively soon. We'll have a decision by the court and we will have new districts and we will have a competitive district in the 2nd congressional district in Alabama, which, David, that's something we didn't think we would be able to say even three or four months ago. It's a big deal and it's a good opportunity for a Democratic pickup.
And look, this is going to be competitive, which is great. We'll take competitive races. One of the problems in some of these states where there's so much gerrymandering is voter turnout is down, there is not that much interest. But when a competitive race happens, things change and there will be money spent and there will be organizing it. And I just think it's terrific. And I'm really looking forward to seeing what the map actually turns out to be and to seeing who emerges as candidates because it's going to be great.
Beard: Yeah, there's two aspects here. One of which is that, yeah, it's probably going to be a plus one Democratic pickup for Democrats in the state of Alabama going from one seat to two seats. We know how close the House is. It's a five-seat margin. That's a big deal.
But it's also just the ability for Black voters and largely Black Democrats in Alabama to have greater representation, to get a chance to participate in democracy. In Alabama, it's so rare that Democratic voters have a chance to elect somebody statewide. Obviously, we saw Doug Jones win that crazy election in 2017. But by and large, it's a very red state. And so, the statewide elections are largely Republican overwhelmingly.
And so the opportunity for these voters in southern Alabama to elect a Democrat, to have a competitive race, the districts are largely about 55-45, Biden-Trump a few points here or there. But in that, like you said, they could be competitive, particularly in a Republican-leaning year, you could see the 2nd be a really competitive seat. And that's all right. But what black voters deserve is the chance to have their voice heard in this district, and now they'll finally be able to.
Sudbay: Yeah. You know what was really interesting and jarring, I think for a lot of people was the disdain that the Republican-controlled Alabama legislature had for the Supreme Court ruling. The disdain that the governor, Governor Ivey, when she signed the line, said, "We know better."
And even this week, the Republican Attorney General, Steve Marshall, issued a statement that said that they'd imposed a racist separate but equal gerrymander on the state. Which, I mean, that is rich coming from a Republican Party that has gerrymandered to dilute the power of black voters in the state for almost forever, unless the federal judiciary came in to overrule them.
But man, it was a big, I think, an eye-opener for a lot of people about just how intensely some of these Republicans, particularly in a state like Alabama, did not want Black voters to have their voices heard.
Beard: Yeah. And I think we've seen other states where maps have been struck down or Republicans have been really upset, but we haven't seen the same reaction as we have in Alabama. I think it's almost the proof is in the pudding, in the way that Alabama Republicans have reacted to this opportunity for Black voters to have a greater say is proof of how the Voting Rights Act is still needed nationwide, obviously. But particularly in a state like Alabama where there's clearly such racialized voting and there seems to be a real sense of outrage that Black voters would have their voice heard in this situation.
Sudbay: Absolutely. I hope Chief Justice Roberts, who pretended that racism doesn't exist in the Shelby County decision about 10 years ago, was paying close attention, because it does exist. And the Republican Party in Alabama proved it over and over again at every step of the proceedings.
Beard: Absolutely. Well, we've got one last piece of news for the weekly hits, and that's up in Ohio. It's another redistricting event. The Ohio Redistricting Commission reached a “bipartisan” (quote unquote) agreement to pass new state house maps — so state legislative maps — on Tuesday night. They did pass unanimously, but the two Democrats on the committee didn't exactly pass them enthusiastically.
House minority leader Allison Russo — she said, "To me, it's not a vote because I think these maps are fair or that this process worked the way that it was supposed to. My vote is simply to take this process out of the hands of this commission." And the reason why that's important is that the commission, if they didn't have a vote that was bipartisan, would redraw the maps again a few years later. While this way, as long as this process is in place, the maps are locked in through 2030.
I think the reasoning for the Democrats was to take these maps and not have it give the Republicans a second bite at the apple later on. And look to next year when hopefully there will be an independent redistricting commission on the ballot for 2024 that can hopefully redraw these maps in a fair way because it's not the most extreme Republican gerrymandering we've ever seen, but it's definitely a Republican gerrymander.
Sudbay: Absolutely. It is a Republican gerrymandering. And this is a state where the voters have actually tried to fix the gerrymandering situation in the past, and it just hasn't come to fruition. There are 99 members of the house; this new map will give Republicans a 61 to 38 advantage.
Now, that's going to include some tossups, although eight of those tossups are Democratic tossups and there will be three Republican tossups. But even 11 out of 99 competitive seats is way more than there are right now.
In the Senate, there are 33 members of the Senate. The breakdown will be 23 to 10 for Republicans. Again, there'll be about four competitive districts, three Republican, one Democratic, that could be tossups. But I think it's really important, think of those margins, 61, 38, 23, 10, huge Republican advantage. This is a state where on average Republicans won about 54% of the vote, and Democrats won 46% in the last decade.
These districts do not represent that, and it's another one of these states. Look, Republicans have... We know the shenanigans they will do. Look what we saw in August with Issue 1, where they tried to increase the threshold to pass a constitutional amendment because of the amendment that's coming up this November on reproductive rights.
They do not want the voters of their state to have any say or to have fair participation in the process. And this is a Republican trifecta state. Now they have a Republican-controlled supreme court, I mean a conservatively Republican-controlled Supreme Court. They're doing everything they can to rig the system. And this is just another example of it.
Beard: Yeah. And obviously, Republicans have consistently won statewide elections recently in Ohio, but they've won them by six to eight points, the competitive ones. Biden, Trump; Ryan versus Vance in 2022. And so obviously a fair map will probably have slightly more Republican-leaning seats than Democratic-leaning seats and no one's trying to argue against that. But obviously, the scale is not 61-38 and 23-10. That's a much bigger margin than you would expect from fair maps. And so like I said, there's hopefully going to be a redistricting commission on the ballot in 2024. And so hopefully these maps are not used for more than one cycle. And for 2026, we can get some more fair maps.
Sudbay: Right. And of course, the process of getting that ballot measure on the ballot is being complicated by the Attorney General right now, the Republican Attorney General, who keeps sending back and wanting new language. Again, just the whole process that they put people through to have fair representation is really on full display in Ohio all the time. It really is all the time, David. It's really quite amazing.
And when you think about it, not too long ago, this was the quintessential swing state. It no longer is, but it's not the... Like you said, I mean the margins are not as extreme as Republicans have been able to shape the districts to reflect.
Beard: Yeah. And we've seen progress in the Columbus suburbs, in the Cincinnati suburbs. It's not a state that's completely fallen off the map by any means. Of course, there's going to be a huge fight to keep Sherrod Brown in office next year. We'll just have to see how things progress in Ohio next year and then beyond.
That wraps us up for our weekly hits this week. In a moment, we're going to be talking with Lowell Feld from Blue Virginia to go in-depth on the Virginia state legislative races that are happening this fall so stick with us.
Joining us today is Lowell Feld, the founder of the progressive site, Blue Virginia, and an expert in all things Virginia politics. Welcome, Lowell.
Lowell Feld: Well, thanks for having me.
Beard: Let's start off by just having a state-of-play overview of Virginia. Obviously, we know the state legislature is up for both houses, so give us a broad overview of where things stand right now.
Feld: Yeah. Well, I mean the current lay of the land is that Democrats have a very small, tenuous I would say, majority in the state Senate, 22 to 18. In 2021, we had the governor's election. And Glenn Youngkin unfortunately won that, but the state Senate wasn't up that year. That year was the statewide offices and then the House of Delegates.
Anyway, and then the House of Delegates, we had had a 55-45 Democratic majority before that election. After that election, unfortunately, we fell to 48 seats for the Democrats. Now Republicans have a 52-48 majority. We have 22-18 in the Senate and they have 52-48 in the House. It's very close. And the main thing is now Glenn Youngkin, if he gets a "trifecta," which is the House, the Senate, and the governor's mansion, they can pretty much turn Virginia into Florida or Texas or whatever horrible red state you want to talk about here as an analogy.
The thing is that he's pushing really hard because he was not able to accomplish all of his goals in the first year and a half or whatever it's been now of his governorship because the state senate has been like a brick wall, a blue brick wall against the worst of his ideas and his party, banning abortion or massive tax cuts for the wealthy.
But he's done a lot of damage still in this time because he gets to a point to all the commissions and boards, control the... Now they have majorities on all the electoral boards in the state, and that's very troubling. He's trying to pull us out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, RGGI, which is probably illegal, but that's going to be in court. That's going to be a legal case there.
He pulled us out of ERIC, which is the... I don't know, I forget what the acronym is, but it's the electronic registration for voter registration; it's all the states in the country used to participate in this but now red states have started pulling out of it because of basically conspiracy theories and craziness on the far right. He's doing that, and then it's just, he's really been going after our public education system in Virginia, the teaching of history. His role model governor in a lot of ways, he said, is Ron DeSantis in Florida.
Really, I mean, there's a lot at stake in these upcoming elections on November 7th. Also, note that early voting's already started. Voting's going on, that started on Friday. And there seems to be pretty strong turnout so far. I mean in these off-year odd-year elections turnout, in the past, before Trump, before the resistance, and before all the energy that went into fighting back against Trump, it was very hard to get people to turn out for these elections.
A lot of people don't focus on the state legislature, and we know how important they are. I mean, we do, but like a lot of people, maybe they're realizing it more. It used to be you would get around 29, 30% turnout in these elections. And Democratic drop-off was worse than Republican drop-off, so that's another problem. But in 2019, we had 42% turnout. It was higher. And this year, I mean, I don't know, but we could even maybe we'll surpass that. I don't know.
Youngkin has pushed very hard for early voting for Republicans. They've invested a lot of money. He's gone on Fox News a million times and other right-wing media to really... Because Trump's been attacking early voting for years and is demonizing it. But Youngkin sees that there's a huge disadvantage for them. We Democrats have started off with a huge headstart in these elections, with the early voting. So anyway, that's a little bit of — I mean, there's a lot to talk about in Virginia. There really is.
Back in 2017, before the election, I think it's really important to remind people, Republicans controlled the House 66-34, almost a 2:1 margin. Democrats stormed back in 2017, took the House in 2019, as you mentioned, and then lost it in 2021.
Several of those races, Lowell, were a hundred, couple hundred votes. That's the thing about these state legislative races, that they are so close, and they can be so close.
And there are probably eight to ten really competitive House races. Give us some ideas of some of the races that you're really keeping an eye on, that Democrats need to win.
Feld: Yeah, I mean, it's interesting. Because yeah, you think about, we actually had a redistricting amendment passed in 2020, and so now, the legislators don't draw their own districts.
I mean, that was an anti-gerrymandering, supposedly, amendment. And yet, still, the vast majority of these districts are not really competitive. I mean, we have the Virginia Public Access Project, which is a nonpartisan organization, pretty well respected here in Virginia.
They did an analysis, like the House of Delegates — 100 seats — and they found seven competitive seats. And the state Senate, they found four out of 20, and really, you could even narrow it down more than that.
In the state Senate, I would say there's really, you could say two or three. One of them is in the suburbs of D.C. and Loudoun County, and a little bit less of Fauquier County. And that's, remember, this is all new districts here. We're finally running under the district.
That district is suburban, exurban DC, and it's trending, it leans blue, certainly in a presidential election year. And that election is between Democrat Russet Perry, and Republican Juan Pablo Segura, who is the son of a billionaire, right-wing billionaire, who's basically funding his campaign.
But Russet Perry's a very strong candidate. She's got a great profile. Her background, I don't know if you talked to her, Joe, yet. I think you may have interviewed her, but…
Sudbay: Yeah. I was able to, yeah, she's great.
Feld: Yeah, so that's a key race. I mean, that one, I think, maybe is number one in terms of races to keep an eye on.
I think also, down in the Colonial Williamsburg area, southeast Virginia, you have an incumbent Democratic State Senator, Monty Mason, that's a really tough district. That's a purple competitive district, and he really needs to hold on.
If we can win those two seats, and then, there's one other, Schuyler VanValkenburg, in the Richmond suburbs, in Henrico County. He's running against an incumbent state Senator, [Siobhan Dunnavant], a Republican. But that district's, again, redistricted, and it's much bluer than it used to be, so she should lose.
But you get these entrenched, these incumbents, and I think she's been fairly popular. But it's somewhat of a new district, really. So that's a key one right there.
I mean, there are other ones, but if I were going to say, which are the absolute ones to focus on election night, I mean, I think definitely, Russet Perry, she's got to win. Monty Mason's got to win, and then, Schuyler VanValkenburg.
Then you have Danica Roem. That district is the Manassas area, Prince William County. She should be okay, and she's a strong candidate, and it's a pretty strong district, but it's on the list of five, if you look at these different lists, the Virginia Public Access Project's or others, that one's listed as possibly competitive.
Then there are ones, I mean, and remember, Democrats have been outperforming across the country in special elections for the entire year. So you never know. I mean, maybe we'll have a very strong night, in which case, we could possibly win a couple others.
In Suffolk and the Southside, Clint Jenkins, the Democrat there, could possibly beat a Republican, Emily Brewer. And that would be great. I mean, we could get up to 23, 24 seats in this, out of 40 in the state Senate. That would be nice to have a little cushion. And then Joel Griffin in the Fredericksburg-Stafford area, he's running against Republican, Tara Durant, and an independent candidate there, as well.
And I'm not sure how that independent's going to draw more from the Democrat or Republican. But anyway, I think that's pretty much it for the state Senate.
I mean, maybe you have any questions on that, before we go to the House of Delegates? Again, there's a lot here, so ...
Sudbay: I did get to speak to Russet Perry on my show on the State of the State tonight — and I talked to Joel Griffin, too — and I found them both really impressive.
I think it's important that you mention, Russet's opponent, his whole claim to fame is he's the son of a billionaire. That is it.
Feld: That's about it.
Sudbay: And the other thing that seems to be kind of pervasive, both in the Senate races and in the House races is, the Republican candidates don't want to publicly talk about their positions on abortion. They are doing everything they can to avoid that subject. And I think that's really interesting.
Feld: Yeah, I looked at that awhile, not that long ago, but I've been looking at it; I wrote something about it a month or two ago. You look at their websites, and a lot of them have nothing. Especially in the competitive districts, they just don't really talk about abortion at all. They don't even mention it.
A lot of them are trying to run away from ... See, that's the thing. If you get them in a secret recorded video or something, then, sometimes they'll say their real position, which usually is, they believe life begins at conception and all that.
But they don't say, that's not their public position, public-facing, whatever position on their website, or anything like that. They're like, they don't even don't talk about it all. Or they'll say maybe, the 15 weeks seems to be the thing they've settled on. I guess they've done a lot of polling on this, and Youngkin settled on, he argues that's a reasonable compromise.
And I think, if you look at the polling, and maybe, I mean, Youngkin has plenty of money. I'm sure he spent it on tons of focus groups and polling, or whatever. So maybe that's true, that 15 weeks is somewhat popular, or not unpopular.
But I mean, the vast, definitely the strong majority of Virginians, there was just a new poll that came out today, showed that the strong majority of Virginia support the legal right to reproductive freedom, no question about that.
And only a tiny percentage, I think it was seven percent for support, totally banning it, which I think is what the position is of a lot of these Republicans, if you got them to speak honestly. But they don't. But they won't.
Sudbay: That's right. And Virginia, just, I think a lot of our listeners know, is the last state in the South that allows reproductive choice.
Sudbay: I mean, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida have all enacted those heinous six-week abortion bans. And this is all on the ballot. It's all on the ballot for November 7th.
Feld: Right, and this is a huge issue. I mean, everybody's talking about it. The TV ads are coming out now, and Democratic ads are saying whatever their opponent is, will vote to ban abortion. And really, I think they honestly will.
I mean, Youngkin can talk about 15 weeks all he wants, but if they have the power, you see what's happening with Kevin McCarthy right now. He might want to do whatever he wants to do, but he's being driven by the far right. And if the Republicans get power in Virginia, the hard right on this is going to be pushing really hard for more restrictive than 15 weeks.
I don't know. I mean, if you trust them? I mean, I don't, but maybe some voters do. But I mean, I find that hard to believe. But yeah, that's it.
Yeah, this new poll that came out today, by the way, had Democrats up very little, I mean, by three points or something like that, generic ballot. So this is by the University of Mary Washington, a new poll came out, and it had Youngkin, actually, only 40% approval rating, and 37% disapproved, which is really terrible for a governor in general.
Virginia governors, if you look back, I mean, well, this was in the old days, Mark Warner was in the 90% approval, Kaine was in the seventies, but even Bob McDonnell and others were much higher. Now, this is only one poll, but I'm not convinced that Youngkin is that popular, really. I'm not sure what effect that will have.
Oh, the other thing hanging out there, then we can talk maybe about the House of Delegates, but the government shutdown? That's a huge wild card. I think. It looks like it's going to happen.
I don't know how long it's going to go; I don't know how bad it's going to get. But I don't think that's what Youngkin and company want right now.
Virginia has a huge number of federal employees, military, federal contractors, private contractors, as well. And they really get screwed, by the way, because the federal employees, they will get paid eventually, that's the law. They will get back pay. I don't think the private sector contractors do, actually. So that's very bad.
A lot of people have bills coming, and they can't, yeah, you don't get paid during the shutdown. Eventually you do, but meanwhile, you have to pay your bills. So that could lead ... I'm not sure what political impact that will have, exactly.
The last time we had a shutdown right before an election was 2013, when Terry McAuliffe was running against Ken Cuccinelli, and McAuliffe ended up winning that election, not by a lot. And I look back, I couldn't find a really clear indication that the shutdown gave McAuliffe a boost.
The only difference back then, there was no early voting, essentially. This time there's massive early voting, so people are already voting. Also then, the shutdown ended a couple of weeks before the election.
I remember, the next day, the headlines in the paper turned immediately to the launch of the healthcare.gov website debacle, or whatever. So the last two weeks was all about that.
But this time, the shutdown could go for awhile. There's already voting, so it could have an impact. I mean, that's definitely a wild card out there.
Beard: Yeah, I think if there's a state in the country that is affected the most by the shutdowns, it's Virginia and Maryland, these states right around DC. Both because of the federal worker populations, but they also have, like you said, significant military populations.
These are the voters in the competitive areas, northern Virginia, down near Norfolk, Virginia Beach, that matter in terms of these specific districts that Democrats need to win.
Feld: Yeah, absolutely. Anyway, that looks like it's going to happen. I mean, I don't almost see any way out of it, at this point. So that's something to keep in mind.
And yeah, I don't know how that's going to play out, but I do think Republicans were, I think, Virginia Republicans. were talking internally to the House Republicans, and trying to get them to push this shutdown beyond the Virginia elections.
They don't want to deal with that in the next few weeks, but I think they're going to be. So, oh, well.
I mean, it sucks. I mean, I don't want it in the sense of, I think it's going to hurt a lot of people.
Politically, it might help us Democrats, but I still don't want it, because I think it's terrible.
Beard: Yeah. Like so many things Republicans do, it can be both terrible for the people that it affects, and good politically for Democrats, because it's so terrible for the people that it affects.
Feld: Right. Yeah, I know. So anyway, so you want to move on to the House of Delegates, talk a little bit about that?
Because there's, again, in the House of Delegates, so you have a hundred seats there. They're all up. I would say there are maybe seven, eight at most, maybe ten or a little more seats that are really competitive.
One seat, we'll get this one out of the way maybe first of all. One seat that I think was definitely competitive was the one with, you may have heard of this woman, Susanna Gibson, she had a scandal where there are sex tapes out there, with her and her husband. But anyway, so my understanding in that poll just came out — this was a Republican poll, but I've heard some other information, as well, that she's fallen. She was probably leading before that, and now she's not.
So that's a competitive district in the Henrico, in the Richmond suburbs, a purple district. And it was winnable. She actually outraised her opponent. That was one I definitely was keeping an eye on, but now I'm not sure it's competitive anymore, so we may be taking that one off.
So when I say there might be seven, eight, nine, 10, it's hard. This is fluid, somewhat. I mean, some of the big ones, I mean, there's one in the Prince William County, in northern Virginia, Josh Thomas, that's a big one in HD-21.
That's sort of western Prince William County: Gainesville, Haymarket. And he's running against the guy, John Stirrup, who was the one who was recorded on that secret video, I don't know if you saw the story in the Washington Post a few weeks ago, but basically saying, he wants to ban abortion.
That's an example. I think, if you get any of these candidates on secret recorded audio, that's probably what they would say, if they're not on guard. And apparently, he wasn't. So anyway, I think that one's a big one.
I mean, I think that's one Biden won by 27 points in 2020, but McAuliffe lost it by 1.8 points. You see that with the turnout in a presidential election. And then you have the max turnout, Democrats definitely turned out in droves for those elections. But you have dropoff even in a governor's election in 2021. And this is, I call it the off-odd year election, or off-off, whatever you want to call it. And that's the lowest. So we'll see. But I think Josh Thomas, that's one to keep an eye on for sure.
We have an incumbent in the Richmond suburbs, Rodney Willett. That's a district that Biden won by 16 points. McAuliffe won by four. He should be okay, but you never know again with the turnout, dropoff, all that. But he has to win. Remember we have to pick up two for a 50-50 tie and three seats for a 51, a very narrow 51-49 majority.
Josh Cole in Fredericksburg area, that's a district Biden won by about 12 points. McAuliffe lost by about two. Again, I think Cole is probably favored there and we have to win that one. Michael Feggans in the Virginia Beach area. That's one that Biden won by 12 points. McAuliffe lost by two. Again, got to win that one.
These are all crucial races. I'm trying to think of some other ones. I mean those are probably the biggest ones. They are probably the four big keys. There are several others that you could get into. Especially with the shutdown and everything, if it's a very good evening for Democrats, we could win another one in the Suffolk-Chesapeake area. We have one there where it's a close one. Biden won by two points. McAuliffe lost it by seven points.
So a lot of these it's going to come down to: does the turnout look more like the presidential and the gubernatorial? And gubernatorial election, remember, was the year after the White House flipped and Virginia always flips the other way. I mean, when Trump won, the next year, Ralph Northam, the Democrats swept to victory in Virginia by about 10 points. And in 2008, Obama won. He won Virginia by six points. The next year, 2009, Bob McDonnell, the Republican won by 17 points. That's like a 23 point swing. So that shows you what can happen.
So that's what happened. That 2021 was a bad year, but still Youngkin only won by about two points. But the question is whether the turnout, it looks more like the 2017 to '18, '19. That's the blue wave sort of years. Is it more like the 2021 year, which wasn't great, 2022, which was more neutral-ish sort of, I think those US House and Congressional race. That's hard to say.
And we have early voting numbers coming in now, but it's kind of hard to say who's voting exactly. There's some modeling you can do and then there's a firm that does it, L2 Politic Data or whatever. And then there's TargetSmart. They haven't put out any numbers yet, but L2 seems to be thinking that Democrats have the edge right now. But I'm not sure if you look at some other numbers, if that's ... I'm not sure how much confidence I put in that.
Sudbay: It's still early. It's still early voting. It's only been not even a full week yet. And some of these races, again, I do my show on SiriusXM that I talk to a lot of the candidates and I've talked to Michael Feggans, he's terrific, and Josh Cole and Josh Thomas. And one of the things, and it's a consistent, also Kimberly Pope Adams, who's running down in district 82, very competitive race. And I always ask them, what are they hearing on the doors?
And one of the reasons I love talking to state lege candidates is they actually have to do the doors. And we can see polling, you can read polling, you can see focus groups, you can hear the Washington pundits talk about things. But when you're talking, knocking the doors, you're actually hearing right from people. And man, the one consistent theme I heard, and I heard it last year too, when I was being told that abortion wasn't a top issue, abortion was a top issue for the candidates who are knocking doors. Kimberly Pope Adams, that's a rural-ish district. And she said right off the bat, "Abortion, I hear it every single door I knock." And I find that really fascinating. And again, it's one of the reasons why Republicans are trying to hide their records. They know it too.
Feld: Yeah. Yeah, that's a very interesting district. That's a mix of rural and urban. It's got Petersburg city in there too. So that's one we have to pick up. We had that district. And then Lashrecse Aird actually was the, I don't know if you ever talked to her, but she was the delegate there and she lost in 2021 by very little. And several of those districts, we did lose by only like a hundred votes like you were saying. And now Lashrecse Aird actually knocked off in a primary in June Joe Morrissey, who's infamous for a lot of reasons. So she's going to be in the state senate, actually. She's going to end up getting a promotion. She's be in the state Senate.
But anyway, Kimberly Pope Adams is running for Lashrecse, essentially that seat, although it's been changed, now it's redistricted. So yeah.
One other one, Travis Nembhard, that's a little tough one in Western Prince William County. It's close to Josh Thomas and Danica Roem. It's in that whole area, but his is a little more difficult. It's a little ... It's not as blue or a little redder, but that's an interesting one too, to keep an eye on.
Sudbay: He's terrific too. I talked to him too. I have said, I've really been lucky. I've gotten to talk to, and actually, you've helped me connect to a lot of them too. Well, they're just terrific candidates, really, a great group of Democratic candidates this year.
And that really makes a big difference too, that you have good candidates who are out there doing the doors and understand the realities of what we're up against. And there's a lot more money in these state legislative races than there ever have been really.
Feld: Yeah, the money is another thing. I mean, if you had, and I think we did talk several months ago, and I think I did say this, that my biggest worry was probably money. I mean, Youngkin is personally, I don't think he's going to spend his personal money, but he is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He made a lot of money at Carlisle Group, not necessarily doing great things or whatever. But anyway. But he's been raising a lot of, if not probably most of the Republican money at this point is coming from his Spirit of Virginia PAC, which that money, in turn, is coming from some really nasty right wing. The Nazi memorabilia guy, for example, in Texas, he's given a bunch of money, I don't know, a million dollars, it was hundreds of thousands at least from that guy, and just some really right-wing corporate, really, slimeballs.
So it's out-of-state money, but that's coming in. But Democrats have money too. And I think I've been waiting for all the national groups, LGBTQ, gun violence prevention, voting rights, reproductive freedom. I mean, you just name the issue. I've been waiting for them to really come in, and they have been more now. And the Democrats, the National Democrats have come in with money as well.
So I think the last campaign finance numbers, which were through the end of August, looked actually pretty good for Democrats. I mean, in the state Senate and House of Delegates, we actually outraised the Republicans, which I was very pleasantly surprised actually about that, because I was bracing myself for, oh my God, how much money, dark money. Well, there is dark money too. That's the other thing hanging out there. The Koch brothers and others are playing around and putting money into third-party expenditures that I'm not sure how much money's sloshing around out there. Probably a lot. So that's an issue.
Beard: Now, before we let you go, I know obviously 2023 is what everybody's focused on, very important election, but Virginia does have three competitive congressional races and there's been some fairly big events happening in those races already. So could you give us just a brief rundown of the state of play in those races for next year?
Feld: Big news that came out the other day in the 10th Congressional district, which is Loudoun County, again, the DC suburbs and other areas there too. But anyway, Jennifer Wexton, who is the incumbent representative there, announced that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, but it turns out it's much worse; I think it's called PSP or something. Anyway, it's really bad. So it's worse than Parkinson's, just regular Parkinson's. So she's going to finish out her term and then she's not going to run for reelection.
And she defeated Republican Barbara Comstock back in 2018. And Wexton is great. I mean, she's popular, whatever. So we're not going to have an incumbent, point is, in the 10th. And it's a lean Democratic, but it's not solid Democratic. So it's a little worrisome. And there'll probably be a… God knows how many Democrats will run for that nomination. Could be 10, 12. I mean, I have no idea. So anyway, that's one.
Abigail Spanberger in the 7th Congressional District, of course you probably have heard she's definitely, almost certainly, going to be running for governor in 2025. That's our next governor's election. And remember, Youngkin can't run for reelection, one term at a time. You can skip a term and then run. But anyway, so Spanberger, I'm not sure if she's going to run for reelection in 2024. But anyway, bottom line of it is: she is going to be running for governor in 2025, so at some point she's going to be vacating that, and that's a purple-leaning blue, but a few points, it's not, again, not a safe district necessarily.
And then in the 2nd Congressional District where we had a great congresswoman, Elaine Luria, who was on the January 6th Committee, got national exposure from that and all that. And then that was redistricted and she kind of got screwed in the redistricting moved definitely in the red direction. And so we have now Jen Kiggans, a Republican in there, and she's awful, I mean, I think. So Luria's not running, but we have one announced Democratic candidate and she's been endorsed by a lot of people, Missy Cotter Smasal, who's a military veteran, and she's got a really good bio, kind of somewhat similar to Luria's in a way, US Navy. And that's good. That's a really heavily military district down in that Hampton Roads area, major naval base and military base there.
So anyway, those three are going to be, and they're all going to be more or less somewhat competitive. The 10th is leans blue, definitely, the seventh, somewhat leans blue, and the second is tossup. I mean, that's probably a tossup at this point. I mean, it might lean slightly red, but in a presidential election year, if it's Trump and Biden, I mean, I could see that district going for Biden by a few points. And then I think the 10th will go for Biden. I think the seventh will go for Biden. So really the worry is more 2026 and beyond, I guess, in a way.
Beard: Well, this was a great rundown of Virginia elections obviously. We'll be keeping a close eye on the state legislative races leading up toward the election in November. Where can people follow you and hear more about Virginia elections?
Feld: My website is bluevirginia.us and then, I hate to even mention Twitter/X at this point, but we are on there still. I mean for how long, I don't know, but it's that @BlueVirginia. And then we're on every, pretty much all the other new ones. I mean Threads and Bluesky. It's crazy. I mean Spoutible. I mean, it's really bizarre. Post and Mastodon, I mean we're on all those. It's all Blue Virginia pretty much if you want to. If you're on any of those social media networks, or you're getting off of Twitter/X or whatever.
Beard: Thanks for joining us.
Feld: Okay, thanks a lot.
Sudbay: Thanks, Lowell.
Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to Lowell Feld and Joe Sudbay for joining us. The Downballot comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing 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 editor, Trever Jones, and we'll be back next week with a new episode.