The shift to the general election in Virginia is nearly here. Not only will Democrats nominate their three statewide candidates, but every House of Delegates race will be set after this date. Now, by the end of the week I promise to have my predictions out for those three statewide primaries. I wouldn’t cop out on that. But this article is for discussing the large amount of incumbent delegates facing primaries this year. It’s heavily lopsided towards the Democratic side of the aisle as well; 14 incumbent Democrats face primary challengers, while only three incumbent Republicans face challengers. The real question – are any of them in danger?
I’ll start off with the Republicans, since like I said, they only have three incumbents being challenged. Two of those incumbents seem to be in no danger. Kathy Byron of the 22nd district has heavily outraised challenger Izzy Knight so far and has heavy support from deep red Bedford County, which is the largest part of this district. Knight also has a bit of a local presence as a bit of a kook, which doesn’t help against a decently-liked incumbent. There was a story that came out that questioned Byron’s residence, but it seems to have had little effect. The other incumbent who’s being challenged and looks to be in no trouble is Ronnie Campbell. He’s being challenged by Mark Reed, who has no raised the money needed to be competitive against an incumbent; this primary will not be close.
The third GOP incumbent being challenged, however, does seem to be in trouble. Charles Poindexter has been a delegate since 2008 in the 9th district down in southwest Virginia. With the sudden and sharp right turn that area has taken since his election, some criticism has come on him for being too moderate for the seat. There has also been criticism about his age and energy, as Poindexter is 79. That‘s one of the biggest contrasts to his opponent, Wren Williams, who is much younger than Poindexter and has major connections to local political operations. Another key contrast in this primary and the other two is that Williams has outraised Poindexter. In a primary, that’s considered a good sign of competitiveness. I expect this to be close and I think we see Williams knock off Poindexter next Tuesday.
Since there are 14 incumbent Democrats being challenged this year, I’m going to split them up to analyze the races. First, the House Democrats I don’t see having any real issues.
- Jay Jones, HD-89: Jones is simultaneously running for Attorney General and re-election to his House of Delegates seat. Usually this would be considered a sign of trouble for most incumbents, but a big thing Jones has going for him is heavy support for his AG run in his home area. This means he is quite likely to win his district in his AG run. Plus, Jones is already considered a strong progressive and his challenger is a white woman in this majority-black seat in Norfolk. For this race, Jones will be fine.
- Jeff Bourne, HD-71: Bourne’s primary race is very similar to Ronnie Campbell’s on the Republican side. Opponent has way less money, Bourne is fairly popular, and his opponent does not really bring anything else to the table. Bourne should coast to victory and then to re-election.
- Lamont Bagby, HD-74: Very simply, his opponent got in very late, Bagby has nearly $230,000 in COH and has no scandals to speak of. He’s fine.
- Ken Plum, HD-36: On paper this should be a race that’s competitive. Plum is a long intrenched incumbent in a Safe Democratic seat running against a young, progressive female candidate. That’s been the textbook for incumbents to be defeated in Democratic primaries across the nation. But it hasn’t come together here. Plum has heavily outraised his opponent, Mary Barthleson, who has raised less than even the sacrificial lamb Republican in this seat. There were also heavy rumors that Barthleson was dropping out back in April that never materialized, but that tells you how her campaign has gone. The longest serving member of the House of Delegates will be back for another term.
Here, some incumbents who, if their opponent pulls off a stunner, could lose – even if that is still very unlikely.
- Kathleen Murphy, HD-34: This is another race that again, in theory, should be competitive. Once again though, we have a challenger who falls below expectations. Murphy’s opponent, Jennifer Adeli, was a local Democratic operative but has failed to turn that into large support in this seat. Adeli has failed to keep up with Murphy in the fundraising game and I’ve been told she’s struggled with messaging on why Murphy needs to be replaced. There’s a world or two where Adeli pulls it out, but it’s very unlikely to be this one.
- Kaye Kory, HD-38: This was one I was tempted to put into my next category, but I decided to keep it here. Kory’s opponent, Holly Hazard, has kept relatively close in fundraising, but that’s more on Kory than Hazard showing actual strength. Hazard has also received the endorsement from NARAL, but she’s apparently facing the same issue as Adeli: struggling to define her campaign against Kory. I doubt we see Kory fall next Tuesday.
- Alfonso Lopez, HD-49: Another one I considered moving to the next category, as Lopez’s opponent, Karishma Mehta, has fundraised well. But Lopez still has fundraised better and has nearly $100,000 more in COH according to the last finance reports. Mehta does have a lot of progressive energy behind her, especially from environmental groups. But Lopez himself has also been solid on environmental issues, and it’s doubtful that will be enough to convince voters to toss out Lopez.
You Might Be In Some Trouble
For candidates in this category, I consider them to still be favored, but it’s easy for me to see a path to them losing.
- Lee Carter, HD-50: Carter is doing the same as Jay Jones, where he’s running for two offices currently. Carter is currently running for Governor, a campaign which you’ll see my thoughts on later this week. But, unlike Jones, Carter is not favored to win his House district in that primary. That makes his task that much harder. What’s keeping him away from real danger however, is the fact he’s drawn two primary challengers. Michelle Maldonado seems to be the more serious of the two, but the anti-Carter vote in this primary will be split. And that seems set to be enough to save Carter from falling out of politics altogether.
- Dawn Adams, HD-68: This was a seat that voted for Ed Gillespie in 2014 but Adams flipped in 2017. Since 2014, though, this seat has zoomed to the left and voted for Biden by 17 points. That’s led Adams to get a decent primary challenger in Kyle Elliot, and Elliot has responded with strong fundraising so far. The fact fundraising has been close so far shows that this may end up being a race to watch on primary night. I still see Adams as favored, but Elliot may make her fight for re-nomination.
- Ibraheem Samirah, HD-86: Here we see a primary where the two candidates are trying to out-progressive each other. Samirah was elected in a special election in 2019, and he’s being challenged by Irene Shin. Shin is a local activist and has been endorsed by the person who used to hold this seat – state senator Jennifer Boysko. Samirah also has a past of controversy in politics, something that might leave some voters in his district with a want for someone else. I still see Samirah as favored, but he might be the most endangered incumbent in this section.
Red Lights Should Be Flashing
This section is saved for incumbents who I think have about a 50/50 shot of surviving their primary. Red lights should be blaring in their campaigns.
- Candi King, HD-02: Big followers of our Virginia coverage may remember this name. King was the nominee in the early 2021 special for this seat to replace Jennifer Carroll-Foy. King won a very low turnout primary and then barely scraped a win in a usually safe Democratic seat in the low turnout special. General election turnout will make this seat fine for the nominee, but King is not guaranteed that role. A surprise late challenge from Pamela Montgomery has been heightened by some controversy. King refused to sign a pledge to not take money from Dominion Energy, and the Clean Virginia PAC, led by Sonja Smith and her husband, immediately dumped $40,000 into Montgomery’s campaign. That gave Montgomery a large fundraising advantage, and we have seen the race get nasty. That, plus the fact King’s incumbency advantage won’t be as large due to have won via a low turnout special, makes this a major primary to watch June 8th.
- Elizabeth Guzmán, HD-31: The incumbent delegate has had a crazy primary season. Starting in the LG race, it seemed like Guzmán was going to leave her seat. That left the door open for Rod Hall, a government official with ties to both the Obama and Northam administrations. Hall got many endorsements from key figures, including local officials and delegates. Then, Guzmán rejoined this race, and then dropped from the LG primary altogether back in April. Guzmán is the more progressive candidate, and there are two other challengers to her in this race. But Hall has fundraised well and those endorsements are helping him heavily in this race. His connections to the district’s black community will be key in this race. Hall also still has more money, but we’ll see if it stayed that way in the latest quarter. That doesn’t take away that Guzmán is in serious trouble against Hall and her drop back to this race still may not save her.
- Steve Heretick, HD-79: Heretick is in a race that on it’s surface, fits in the last category. He has two opponents and has so far outraised them both by significant amounts. Two things have changed though. One, connections between Heretick and a fraud case from 2017 came back into the spotlight this week. It was reported that Heretick was officially deposed earlier in May to give pre-trial testimony, which means the federal government is taking this case very seriously. Secondly, one of his opponents, Nadarius Clark, is going to report a Q2 haul of $500,000. That’s a major fundraising total and puts Heretick on notice for sure. Combine that with Clark fitting the mold of successful primary challengers (young, a minority, and way more progressive) and Heretick’s in real danger. However, a third candidate does still exist in this race, and while he hasn’t done much, his inclusion makes me believe that Heretick, like the other two on this list, is still slightly favored. But he is in for one of the toughest races of his career.
Usually I wouldn’t have this category. However, there’s one race where I think an incumbent is so endangered that I think they are actually favored to lose. Thus, we have this category.
- Mark Levine, HD-45: Mark Levine is in trouble. And it’s been clear for a while. Levine won a 5-way primary in 2015 with only 28% for this seat, and has coasted on being in deep blue Alexandria for his time. But a run for LG that has not gone well (which I’ll be explaining in more detail at the end of the week) has left him incredibly vulnerable, and Elizabeth Bennett-Parker has taken advantage. Bennett-Parker is the current Vice Mayor of Alexandria and is just as progressive, if not more so, than Levine. That, combined with solid fundraising and multiple key local endorsements, has arguably made her the favorite. Levine’s decision to focus on the LG primary is also coming to hurt him here, as Bennett-Parker has been able to portray him as unfocused on his job as delegate. Levine has also come under some recent criticism for using official letterheads to campaign. Levine is also unlikely to win his home district in the LG primary, which as I have said previously, makes his job much harder. I personally see Bennett-Parker coming out with a comfortable 60-40 victory on June 8th, officially retiring Mark Levine.