Halloween: Scary Virginia Senate Races

Map showing close Senate races as of October 31
Map showing close Senate races as of October 31
Democratic (blue) and Republican (red) Senate districts prior to Nov 3
Democratic (blue) and Republican (red) Senate districts prior to Nov 3

Control of the 40-person Virginia Senate depends on a small number of district races. Scary I-66 tolls in Senate Districts 13 and 29 and threatening actions in District 20 made it a seemingly nerve-racking, anxious week before Election Day on November 3.


Districts 13 & 29: Horrifying I-66 Tolls in Northern Virginia?

A strange situation has developed in District 13 for the GOP, where first-term Republican Senator Dick Black should be cruising to victory in a Republican-leaning district. Black reportedly insulted women in an ad against Democratic opponent Dr. Jill McCabe, and his record on women’s issues looks bad. He is now using the “$17 tolls” scare tactic to gain political traction. Meanwhile, McCabe has surpassed Black in fundraising. Will District 13 be a lucky or a cursed number—and for which party?

Political ads for an against Sen. Dick Black
Political ads for an against Sen. Dick Black

Terrifying tolls are also an issue in District 29. Republican Hal Parrish, Manassas Mayor and Republican candidate for District 29, also used the $17 tolls in campaign ads prompting a withering rebuke from Democratic Governor McAuiliffe.

District 20: Facebook, Fear & Guns in Southern Virginia

An eerie incident in District 20 brought back memories of Republican State Senator Bill Stanley’s Glock. It all started when Andy Parker, father of Roanoke TV reporter who was fatally shot recently, started making negative comments on Bill Stanley’s Facebook page. Stanley has an “A” rating with the NRA, and Parker is a spokesman for Everytown for Gun Safety. Stanley perceived the Facebook comments as threatening and reacted by applying for concealed handgun permits and calling the Capitol Police and county sheriff’s office. Parker apologized for his harsh Facebook comments.

Governor Terry McAuliffe mocked Stanley’s reaction as a political ploy for voter sympathy, which then prompted a fearful furor from Republicans.

Stanley is running for re-election against Democrat Kim Adkins (NRA “F” rating), former mayor of Martinsville. Stanley’s campaign showed concern for Martinsville and Henry County votes by opening a new Republican office in September. The gun issue took a vicious turn when Adkins’ Martinsville campaign office was defaced with a large spray-painted gun target symbol and threatening words.

Adkins' office vandalized
Adkins’ office vandalized
District 7: Monstrous Money Amounts in Virginia Beach

Republican Frank Wagner, who has not had a Democratic opponent in his last two senate elections, is fighting for his political life in one of the most expensive races in Virginia’s history. Governor McAuliffe lost this district by about 300 votes out of some 50,000 cast in 2013, but Democratic Lt. Governor Northam won it by 5,200 votes.

District 8: This Virginia Beach District Should Be Safe for GOP

Virginia Delegate Bill DeSteph is running against Democrat Dave Belote, a political newcomer. Belote’s fundraising is impressive, but this district should go Republican, based on recent elections.

District 10: Scary Gun Safety & the Battle for Richmond

A battle over gun safety and 2nd Amendment rights is brewing. Democratic candidate Dan Gecker, supported by Everytown for Gun Safety, is running against Republican Glen Sturtevant, with backing from the NRA. Voting history for the district favors Democrats, for example the district favored Democrats in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 elections.

District 21: Democratic Senator Faces Formidable Opponents

State Senator John Edwards earned NRA endorsement, but this could scare away some Democratic voters in this close election. Republicans are targeting Edwards, the last Democratic senator in Southwest Virginia. However, the conservative Republican and Independent candidates will likely split the non-Democratic vote. McAuliffe won this district in 2013, and Democratic Senator Warner received 54% of the vote in 2014. Edwards should win re-election.

The Election Could Spook Republicans

Based on demographic trends and past voting trends, Democrats should take District 10 from Republicans and successfully defend Districts 21 and 29. This means that Democrats should gain control of the Senate. If Democrats pick up Districts 7 and/or 13, then Republicans will be more than unlucky. The loss of Districts 8 or 20 would be real Republican horror stories. All of the above races are worth watching on Election Day.

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Mapping Virginia Senate Races, 2015

It’s the beginning of October, and campaign signs are popping up like flowers in spring. This is the sprint season for political campaigns, especially in Virginia where all 40 members of the State Senate and 100 members of the House of Delegates are up for election on November 3, 2015.

Whereas Democrats need to win an impossible 19 seats from Republicans to take control of the House of Delegates, they need to capture only 1 seat in the Virginia Senate to take back control that they lost in 2014. Currently, Republicans hold 21 seats and Democrats 19.

The Senate districts were drawn in 2011 to protect incumbent senators, and so the majority of districts are safe for sitting senators. Most races are boringly predictable. However, there are a few districts where retiring senators created open seats—and some electoral excitement. Also, a handful of districts are unpredictable due to demographic changes, especially in urbanized areas, that have taken place since the 2011 redistricting. Big changes can happen in 5 years (parents of teenagers know this). Those exciting Senate district contests are shown in yellow on the map and described below:
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District 6. Democratic Senator Lynwood Lewis is an incumbent in a Democratic-leaning district. He should win.
Prediction: Democratic hold

District 7. Republican Senator Frank Wagner represents an urbanized district favorable to Democrats that includes Virginia Beach and Norfolk and is almost a quarter African American. In September, Democratic challenger Gary McCollum created faux Republican outrage because he purportedly misunderstood his Army Reserve status; then Senator Wagner generated outrage from the Virginia Black Caucus for the following quote at a fancy country club luncheon: “So it’s a very diverse district. I wish sometimes I represented this half, but I’m very, very happy to represent the folks I have.” Perhaps the candidate who makes the least mistakes in October will win.
Prediction: Toss-up

District 10. Republicans will likely lose this open seat because demographic changes and voting trends increasingly favor Democrats. Almost a quarter of the population is African American. Dan Gecker’s campaign needs good Democratic voter turnout in the Richmond area to offset Republican votes for Glen Sturtevant in the rural western part of the district.
Prediction: Democratic pickup

District 13. Republican Senator Dick Black is an incumbent in a Republican-leaning district. He should win.
Prediction: Republican hold 

District 20. Republican Bill Stanley defeated the Democratic incumbent in the 2011 election by some 600 votes, getting only 46.8% of the total in this borderline Republican district. Senator Stanley is state chairman for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, which will have both a positive and negative impact on local voters. Democrat Kim Adkins may have a chance at an upset if the Democratic areas in and around Martinsville and Danville enjoy high voter turnout on Election Day.
Prediction: Toss-up

District 21. The challenge to Democratic Senator John Edwards follows a Republican strategy of targeting Democrats in southwestern Virginia, where Republicans took district 20 in 2011 and district 38 (west of district 21) in 2014. However, Senator Edwards should receive more than enough Democratic votes from the urban populations in Roanoke and Blacksburg to counter the rural Republican votes east and west of Blacksburg.
Prediction: Democratic hold

District 29. Democrat Jeremy McPike should win this open seat due to demographics and voting patterns. Republican Hal Parrish, current Mayor of Manassas, is a strong candidate with lots of money, but the Democratic precincts in and near Dale City should overwhelm the rural and suburban Republican precincts in the west.
Prediction: Democratic hold

The “Toss-ups” in districts 7 and 20 should favor either the Republican or Democratic candidates by mid-October. The last time the Virginia Senate was elected in 2011, a Republican governor supported his party’s candidates; but in 2015 a Democratic governor promotes Democrats (other active campaigners are Lt. Gov. Northam and Attorney General Herring). In any case, it looks likely that Democrats will take back the Virginia Senate come November 3.