A Deeper Dive into Virginia’s House of Delegates Races

Virginia’s lower house is arguably the site of the most competitive elections in the nation this year. While Virginia’s statewide races are expected to be close, the House of Delegates seems to be where the real uncertainty is. While we still do see Democrats as slight favorites here at Elections Daily, their advantage is slim. So I wanted to go deeper into those races we still consider competitive. With only a month and a half to go until Election Day, here’s where the races stand.

The Likely Races

If you read our latest update, you’ll realize that we, for now, have no races in the Likely Republican column. The races we had there we saw as no longer competitive at this time. The 33rd, the 62nd, the 81st and the 96th all were stretch seats for Democrats in the first place, and the competitive atmosphere in Virginia puts these seats off the board. Along with that, we didn’t feel confident in moving either of our current two Leans Republican to the Likely column yet. The team did discuss moving HD-84, but decided to wait on that for a clearer picture in October.

However, we do have 6 races in the Likely Democratic column to explain a bit deeper. Of the six races we have there currently, four of them we don’t expect to move from this column unless something massively changes in the next month and a half. Those four are HD-21, HD-31, HD-68 and HD-91. In all four of these races, the Democratic campaigns have an advantage in size and statistically from their Republican opponents.

HD-91 is especially a failure for the GOP here, as this was a single-digit Biden seat. A poor campaign from Republican A.C Cordoza, who was described to me as a “true believer” by a GOP strategist, is a big reason behind our rating.

There are two races though, that we could see moving towards Leans Democratic. The first is HD-63, where redraw lines have made this previously safe race competitive. Under these lines, the race moved 2.5 points towards Donald Trump from 2016-2020 and is heavily dependent on strong black turnout. The issue for incumbent Lashresce Aird is that not only does black turnout drop in Virginia state level elections, but she’s got a strong opponent: Republican Kim Taylor has a solid campaign operation and is making some noise in this race. Enough noise that Virginia Democrats decided to drop thousands of dollars into Aird’s campaign this past fundraising period. If we see action from both parties in the next month, expect this race to move to the Leans Democratic category.

Similarly, HD-72 is another race we could see becoming more competitive in our rankings if GOP nominee Christopher Holmes shows another strong period of fundraising and campaign building. While this seat has moved sharply away from the GOP at the top of the ballot, it’s still been competitive downballot. And Holmes might be running just the right campaign to be competitive here, especially as a local. He has to continue to show some type of momentum if we were to move this race from its current ranking.

The Lean Races

We then have six races in the Leans category. That means we believe these races are competitive, but that one party is favored. Four of these races are in the Leans Democratic category, while two are in the Leans Republican category. I’ll start out explaining those two first.

Republican seats

House District 84 is based entirely in Virginia Beach and is currently represented by Glenn Davis. This was a Trump-Biden seat, but Biden didn’t do as good as Governor Ralph Northam did here in 2017. If there’s a seat where there would be a bounce back to a Republican victory in this seat statewide in the VA Beach area, this would be it. Davis has also crafted himself a moderate path in his time in the house, which opponents in the race in the GOP Lieutenant Governor’s convention attacked him for this past spring.

Davis’s opponent is similarly a moderate – Democrat Kim Melnyk, a member of the Virginia Beach school board who has an interesting history. She’s supported Republicans before, and even endorsed Ben Loyola in 2020 for Virginia’s 2nd congressional district. However, neither party seems particularly interested in this race, and questions surround Melnyk’s ability to have the infrastructure necessary to knock off Davis.

House District 100 is the other one, based in Accomack and Northampton counties, with parts of Hampton included as well. This is a Clinton-Northam-Biden district, but Republicans have one of their strongest incumbents. Rob Bloxom Jr is a moderate and is also a legacy candidate in the area. His father represented this seat before becoming Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture in 2004.

Bloxom Jr is facing Finale Norton this time around, a former Bank of America executive. Norton is also local, and is an African American woman, which could help keep black turnout up in this seat, where it is crucial. But Bloxom has faced tougher challengers before, and even in the face of a challenge from a former Obama official in 2019 and being outspent 7-to-1, Bloxom still prevailed by 3%. It will take a real fight for Norton to get the final votes she needs to beat Bloxom, but we still expect this race to be close.

Democratic seats

There are the four races we consider Leans Democratic. Those races are HD-40, HD-73, HD-83 and HD-85.

Starting in HD-40, this Fairfax and Prince William-based, heavily gerrymandered seat has trended sharply left since 2016. However, Republicans think they have a good shot here, and their confidence is not unwarranted. Republicans recruited Harold Pyon, a local activist with deep ties to the Korean community in the district. That is key because the current 40th holds all of Centreville, which has a strong Asian community. It also helps that this seat still just flipped in 2019, and just barely against former incumbent Tim Hugo.

The Democratic incumbent here is Dan Helmer, a veteran from the Fairfax area. Helmer beat Hugo in 2019, but was in the Virginia political scene before that – remember the “Helmer Zone” ad from 2018? But Helmer has run on a campaign of accomplishments, especially with gun laws. The way this seat has moved sharply left may mean that Helmer shouldn’t really be all that worried. But both caucuses have started to pour in money, and insider reports are saying that Pyon is getting the inroads to a usually solidly-Democratic Asian community in the district. If that’s the case, this is going to be an incredibly close race and one that may decide the chamber as a whole.

House District 73 is another Richmond-area seat, this one held by Rodney Willett. While Willett has only held this seat since 2019, it flipped in 2017 with Debra Rodman. Rodman went on to run and lose to Siobhan Dunnavant in 2019 while Willett held this seat by a lesser margin than expected against Mary Margaret Kastelberg. Kastelberg is back for 2021 and has made this race one of the most competitive in the Richmond area. While Willett has stayed ahead of Kastelberg in personal fundraising, she has been helped by over $115,000 in positive outside spending from Americans for Prosperity.

This is a seat that has trended heavily to Democrats, and is not necessarily one that is a majority-maker for Virginia Republicans. However, the investment here from both state parties shows that this seat is very much close and in play. And if regional polling shows true in the Richmond area, this seat is going to be close at the top of the ticket. Which may end up giving Kastelberg an advantage. The 73rd is certainly one of the seats to watch on election night.

We then have two seats in Virginia Beach. HD-83 and HD-85. Both seats are similar in terms of partisanship, so I’m going to explain them both here. The 83rd is held by Democrat Nancy Guy, while the 85th is held by Democrat Alex Askew. Both were elected in 2019, but under very different circumstances. Guy flipped this seat in 2019 by a landslide total of 41 votes over incumbent Chris Stolle. Guy would usually be considered one of the most endangered Democrats this cycle, but two things keep this seat in the Leans Democratic category. One, this seat has gone from a Clinton +5 seat to a Northam +11 seat to a Biden +15 seat. That’s a fast trend. Secondly, Guy could have dealt with a rematch against Stolle, whose family is a local Virginia Beach dynasty, but he lost the GOP primary to Tim Anderson. Anderson is a more right-wing figure who is also known for being Amanda Chase’s lawyer. So, this seat, while competitive, stays set in the Leans Democratic category for now and may stay there.

Now HD-85 is a bit different. Askew has a similar story to the aforementioned Willett. He came in 2019, where he replaced the delegate who flipped this seat in 2017, which was Cheryl Turpin, and kept the seat in Democratic hands. However, this seat hasn’t moved as far left as 83. The margins between Northam 2017 and Biden 2020 are small, with Biden only doing .7% better than Northam. That means that this seat seems more likely to swing towards Republicans in this election, especially if Glenn Youngkin’s statewide margin is better than the five points Donald Trump lost by in 2016.

That makes the 85th arguably the most competitive race in the Virginia Beach area this cycle, and Republicans like their candidate in Karen Greenhalgh, a local businesswoman. Greenhalgh is also the type of candidate that worked well for Republicans in congressional and legislative elections in 2020. Time will tell if that formula translates for them in 2021 however. But the 85th does seem to be the most competitive seat in the Virginia Beach area, and is one that could be put back in the tossup column before we make our final calls.

The Tossup Seats

Elections Daily currently has six seats in the tossup category. Where we think no one party is favored in these races as of now. As is Elections Daily policy, any race that is in our Tossup category at the time of our final ratings change will be moved in favor of one party.

For now though, the six seats we have as a Tossups are HD-10, HD-12, HD-27, HD-28, HD-66 and HD-75. Two of those seats are currently Republican-held, while four are held by Democrats.

Republican Seats

I’ll start with the two tossup seats held by the GOP, HD-27 and HD-66. Both are located in the Richmond area and based in Chesterfield County.

HD-27 is currently represented by Roxann Robinson, who has held this seat since a 2010 special election. Robinson has had some incredibly close races her last two elections. She barely held off Larry Barnett in both 2017 and 2019, winning by only 124 and 189 votes respectively in those races (surprisingly though, neither of those two races were the closest races in those year). Her survival in worse years in 2017 and 2019 may make some wonder why this isn’t in the Leans Republican category with Davis and Bloxom. However, Robinson faces a considerably stronger challenger than those two.

The Democrat here is Debra Gardner, an African American woman with long-time local and state government experience. Gardner has also built up a strong campaign to face off against Robinson, bringing in the necessary funds to build that structure. She may also be able to turn out the African American precincts in the district that could push her over the top. No matter what, the 27th is shaping up to be one of the closest delegate races in 2021 and will likely be decided by a slim margin once again.

The 66th is a bit of an odder race then. One of the court ordered redrawn districts from a 2018 suit, this seat went from a safe Republican seat to a competitive seat. This was a high target for democrats in 2019, especially since it was Speaker Kirk Cox’s seat. While Democrats made sure that Cox wouldn’t be called “Mr Speaker” again, Cox won by an unexpected 4.5 point margin over Democrat Shelia Bynum-Coleman.

If Cox were running again, strong cases could be made that this seat would be in the Likely or even Safe Republican categories. But, he has decided to retire after over 30 years of service as delegate. Bynum-Coleman was also expected to make a run, but decided to drop her comeback race back in the spring. That leaves us with two new candidates: Depublican Mike Cherry and Democrat Katie Sponsler.

Both Sponsler and Cherry have their considered weaknesses. Some have seen Cherry as potentially too right-wing for this district, emphasizing his positions as a conservative Christian pastor that Cherry has put out there. Others see Sponsler as potentially even too left-wing for this district, even in its current state and as disorganized to run a strong campaign.

While Cherry refocused his early campaign messaging to his time as principal at a local Christian private school, Sponsler has honed in on a heavy pro-union messaging, making repealing right-to-work a key issue in this race. This continues to be a close race, even with the district’s current lean, and privately Democratic strategists are concerned about Sponsler’s campaign, with many believing that Cherry might have a slight edge. That doesn’t stray from the fact that keeping this seat is key to a GOP majority, and it’s one that is incredibly tight right now.

Democratic seats

Moving on to the Democratic-held tossups, starting with HD-10. Based in parts of Loudoun, Clarke and Frederick counties, this was not a race I expected to be a Tossup at this point in the cycle. But Republicans may have gotten their best recruit of the cycle in this race in Nick Clemente. Clemente, a local of Leesburg and a member of the city’s planning commission, has used his local connections to build a strong campaign. It arguably caught incumbent Democrat Wendy Gooditis flatfooted, and she just recently turned up her campaign.

Of all the Democratic-held seats above the Richmond line, the 10th is the one most clearly in danger. People on both sides have said that Clemente is running the type of campaign a Republican needs to in a seat like the 10th. The seat’s top of the ticket Democratic lean has also yet to translate down the ticket, and might be what puts Clemente over the top if he were to succeed. For now, consider this seat the most competitive in NOVA.

Then there is HD-12. Held by Democrat Chris Hurst, who flipped this seat in 2017, this is the only competitive seat in Southwest Virginia. That is because this seat is a attempted gerrymander of the Blacksburg area, trying to split up the blue parts of the city. It broke in 2017 however, when Hurst blew by incumbent Joseph Yost by nearly 9%. This seat wasn’t considered a key race in 2019, unlike most of these other races, but Hurst actually ended up doing a bit worse in 2019 than 17, and against a supremely underfunded opponent.

This time Hurst has a legit challenger in Jason Ballard, a lawyer and Army veteran from Pearisburg. Ballard has run a much more active campaign and has gotten the backing necessary to make Hurst sweat. The key to this seat is student turnout from Virginia Tech, and if that is down, Hurst could be in danger (Radford University also is located in the district, though its turnout is slightly less crucial than Tech’s). Expect to see a lot of spending here as we inch closer to election, as both parties know that

Next is HD-28, based in Stafford and Fredricksburg City, this seat is a Trump-Biden seat. Flipped by Joshua Cole in 2019 after Republicans kicked out moderate incumbent Bob Thomas for the more conservative Paul Milde (where have we heard that story before), the swingability of this district makes it a crucial hold for either party.

The Republican candidate here is Tara Durant, a local activist. Many have doubted Durant’s campaign, with some calling it a bit too far-right for the district. However, with polls showing a still close race at the top of the ticket, that heightens the likelihood of Stafford County swinging back to the GOP. That could mean that, depending on the margin, this is a seat that Glenn Youngkin wins. And even though I and my Virginia team do have doubts about the Durant campaign, the ability for it to be a Youngkin won seat puts it in the range of tossups. This is another race where each side will be heavily invested in for the final month.

Finally, we end with HD-75. This Southside based district is represented by Roslyn Tyler, who’s been in office since 2003. This was a seat that used to be safe for democrats, but forced redistricting and with some of the few right trending areas in Virginia located in this district, this is a close seat.

Like HD-63, this is also one of the few seats that trended towards Trump in 2020, with it going from a Clinton +10 seat to a Biden +7 seat. The other issue here for Tyler is that this seat is heavily dependent on African American turnout, which as I explained earlier, goes down in these off-off year elections for Virginia. Adding on top of that, Otto Wachsmann, a local pharmacist who also owns a farm in the district, is back for a rematch after only coming 500 votes away from knocking off Tyler in 2019. Of all the tossups, this is the one where it’s the most likely that would move into the Leans republican column.

However, Tyler is not backing down this year. The incumbent has built a strong campaign, focused on turning out as many voters as possible for this election. Again, this is one to stay focused on, as are all of these tossup races, as we head into the final month of the Virginia campaign.

Joe is a college student studying Public Administration at George Mason University while also minoring in Journalism. Joe is the Head of the Interviews Team at Elections Daily, while also Deputy Director of the Elections Team. If you would like your candidate to be interviewed by Joe, you can DM him at his Twitter account @JosephSzymanski or email him @[email protected]

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