A key aspect of the legislative elections in Virginia this year is been the unprecedented turnover in both bodies before primaries have even kicked off. 32 Delegates and 11 Senators who started the 2022 term in the body won’t return to start the 2024-25 session. That hasn’t stopped challengers to the left and right of incumbents in both chambers of Virginia’s legislature from taking their shots at knocking out an incumbent through primary challenges.
Here, I’ll be rating how in danger I think incumbents facing primary challengers are this cycle. From “You’re basically safe” to “Time to be Scared”, these are the incumbents facing challengers that may or may not be giving them any trouble.
Note that I won’t be including any incumbent v incumbent races for this (i.e the Wren Williams v Marie March primary or Lionel Spruill v Louise Lucas primary), since an incumbent has to lose that race.
You’re Basically Safe
- Jason Ballard (R), HD-42: After flipping the old 12th district by a stunning 11 points against then-incumbent Chris Hurst, Ballard now faces a much easier seat post-redistricting. His home of Pearisburg was placed away from deep-blue Blacksburg now, and represents more solid GOP territory. However, with a much more Republican seat does come a primary challenger. Luckily for Ballard, it doesn’t seem all that serious. Jody Pyles of Radford, a former aide to controversial State Senator Amanda Chase, is primarying Ballard to his right. Pyles claimed in a March interview with the Roanoke Times that Ballard has not been conservative enough in his one term as delegate. However, you need money to primary an incumbent, and Pyles has none. While he got into the race rather late, he still had a full four weeks to raise money before the filing deadline. In that time, he raised just under $1,200, not nearly enough to gather support for a campaign. Barring a true shocker at the June 3rd convention, Ballard will be renominated and heading back to the House.
- Lamont Bagby (D), SD-14: After easily clearing the way in the special election to replace Jennifer McClellan, Lamont Bagby does face a primary challenge in the new redrawn seat. This was to be expected, as redistricting changed his seat from one much more based in Henrico County to one nearby based entirely in the City of Richmond. However, Bagby avoided a rematch with Alexsis Rodgers, who would have been a much more dangerous foe. Instead Bagby gets a challenge from newcomer Katie Gooch, a pastor from the city. I considered moving Bagby up a spot due to the reconfiguration of this district. It’s not just more of Richmond but also much whiter in terms of demographics. However, I’ve heard or seen nothing yet from Gooch to make me think she’ll be much of a challenge. Bagby should be more than ok in his primary.
- Barbara Favola (D), SD-40,: This is the clearest of the bunch. Favola does not have a serious challenge from James DeVita here in my view. He has little money to compete in the Arlington market and there’s little appetite to challenge Favola. Of these three races, this is the one most likely to be a total blowout.
You Should Be Fine
- Bryce Reeves (R), SD-28,: After a poor third-place finish in the GOP primary for the 7th District last spring, specifically in new areas of his new district, multiple people thought Reeves could be vulnerable to a primary challenge from his right. To his luck though, one has not developed. Reeves’s challenger, Mike Allers, is a teacher from Orange County very clearly running to his right. From issues like abortion, guns and taxes, Allers is trying to hit Reeves for his votes as State Senator. It’s important to remember that Reeves used to represent a district that was drawn to try and get another Democratic seat out of Central Virginia, leading him to take certain votes to keep his office. However, Allers has failed to gain much in terms of fundraising and has started partnering around with gadfly candidates like Phillip Hamilton, who is best known for arguing that Confederate statues should be raised back up in the Charlottesville area. The fact this is being decided by convention and Reeves has performed poorly in some of this district’s western counties in his congressional run keeps me wary. But it would still be considered a major upset if Allers were to pull this off.
- Buddy Fowler (R), HD-59: This is one I pondered moving up a level, but passed on for two key reasons. First, Fowler is dealing with two challengers in this race, splitting the anti-incumbent vote. Unless an incumbent is dealing with scandal, which Fowler is not, it’s hard for them to lose a three-way race. Secondly, the redrawn seat has just enough of Fowler’s old territory to boost him over the line. While I do believe that Graven Craig will put up a strong challenge as a former Louisa County GOP chair, I don’t see it being enough. The Hannover County is as Republican as the Louisa portion and has more people. Craig has the money to make this potentially interesting, but for now I don’t see Fowler in much danger.
- Creigh Deeds (D), SD-11: A possibly controversial take, but one I think makes sense. Deeds is facing a matchup against current Delegate Sally Hudson. Hudson, like most challengers, is challenging Deeds to his left. However, this is as much a generational battle as an ideological one as well. Deeds is a 22-year incumbent at age 65, while Hudson is only 34 and just at the start of her career. All these factors usually translate to some success for the challenger, but, I haven’t seen that develop for Hudson. Part of her issue is a lack of true policy on her website. You can go check it yourself; positions are not there. Surprisingly for Hudson, she seems to have an issue defining why Deeds should be primaried. That seems to be hurting her campaign, as she has not developed the same momentum as similarly styled challengers elsewhere, specifically in fundraising. That’s not everything regarding this race, but its enough for me to believe that Deeds is not in that much trouble.
Be a Bit Worried
- Jeremy McPike (D), SD-29,: This redrawn Prince William/North Stafford seat hosts one of the more intriguing primaries this cycle. Jeremy McPike gets placed in a district where just under 60% of the territory is new to him. He goes against Delegate Elizabeth Guzman, one of the most progressive delegates in the lower chamber. This is a race one could argue belongs one category lower, as Guzman has many of the same issues Hudson does – the lack of a clear reason to primary McPike being the biggest of all. However, I’m putting this race here for McPike just due to the amount of new territory to him. Compared to Deeds, who currently represents nearly 70% of his current district, McPike has significantly more new territory to deal with. That can make a big difference in a primary race and its the wild card factor here.
- Tommy Wright (R), HD-50: One that seemingly came out of nowhere this past quarter, redistricting seems to have potentially put incumbent delegate Tommy Wright in danger. Post-redistricting, Wright only represents around 45% of the new 50th of his old 61st district. That district, which went all the way up to Nottaway and Cumberland counties from Mecklenberg, is now much more compact. The new seat includes all of Charlotte County and chunks of Prince Edward and Halifax counties, which is where Wright has drawn his challenge from. John Marsden, a current attorney from Prince Edward and two time chair of the County GOP, had a strong fundraising period thanks to $60,000 in loans he received, giving him far more monetary resources than Wright currently has. Whether it makes a difference, I’m unsure of yet, but that combined with the new district lines has me believe that Wright should at least be taking Marsden’s challenge seriously.
- Delores McQuinn (D), HD-81: One of only two Democratic Party incumbent Delegates facing a primary, Delores McQuinn has found herself the target of progressive groups across the state. The biggest one being Clean Virgina, the left-wing PAC funded by Charlottesville area billionaires Sonjia Smith and Michael Bills. This is because of McQuinn’s long history of taking money from Dominion Energy, who have provided McQuinn with $6,000 already this cycle. Her opponent, Terrence Walker, a community activist, has focused heavily on energy concerns, paid leave and healthcare as his key issues. However, two things work against Walker. One, McQuinn represented 69% of the new 81st in her old seat, meaning she doesn’t have to do much to introduce herself to the voters of this seat. Two, the Richmond area is very incumbent friendly compared to an area like NOVA, and primary challengers have generally had less success in this part of the Commonwealth. People should be paying attention thanks to Walker’s financial advantage, but alarm bells shouldn’t be ringing yet.
Some Alarms Should be Blaring
- Chap Petersen (D), SD-37: If I had written this a week ago, this race would be a section below. At that point last week, Senator Chap Petersen was facing primary challengers, but he had two of them in Saddam Salim and Erica Yalowitz. However, Yalowitz dropped out late last week, make this a two person race. With that in mind, you might be wondering why Petersen isn’t in the most endangered category. The truth is, while I think Salim is a very serious challenger and alarms should be blaring for Chap, I’m not totally bought in to the idea that Chap is in as significant danger as some of his colleagues. He still has a massive financial advantage, boosted by the fact that Clean Virginia just does not seem to be targeting him as much as some of his other colleagues. He certainly has weaknesses on his left, mainly on guns and labor issues. However, Chap has always been a staunch pro-choice politician, and his stances on environmental issues will keep Clean Virgina mostly out if the race. Chap is certainly still in some danger, but it’s not yet a five alarm fire for him.
- Amanda Chase (R), SD-12: Oh boy, another controversial decision! It’s been very clear that the GOP powers that be want Amanda Chase gone. And there’s reasons to believe that’s a very strong possibility this cycle. Both of her opponents have continued to outraise her and Chase has only continued to alienate herself from her colleagues. The key word in that statement is challengers however. Yes, the reason that Chase is this low is because she has two challengers, not just one. Both former state senator Glen Sturtevant and local activist Tina Ramirez have launched challenges against Chase that are well funded and practical. Both of their messages? “I can be conservative and also be able to get things done – unlike Chase.” However, the fact Chase has drawn multiple challengers means I cant argue that its a five-alarm fire for her. I still think there’s a high chance Chase loses her primary here. But its nowhere near a certainty that she loses and with multiple opponents, it only increases the chances she survives.
Five Alarm Fire-Be Very, Very Scared
- George Barker (D), SD-36: Redistricting was not kind to George Barker. Not in a partisan way mind you, but in a location way. After redistricting, Barker has only represented 7% of his new district under the old lines. That alone opened him up for a challenge, as he goes from representing parts of Fairfax, Prince William and Alexandria to a purely Southwestern Fairfax County seat based around Centreville. This has led to current Sully District school board member Stella Pekarsky to challenge Barker from his left. Specifically, Pekarsky has focused on education, the environment and clean government as three pillars of her campaign. The last two will be of vital importance. Barker is a long time acceptor of Dominion Energy donations and is considered weak on the issue of campaign finance reform. This has led to Pekarsky getting a key financial boost from Clean Virginia and Sonjia Smith in the way of $150,000 last quarter, which allowed her to outraise Barker last quarter. With how much territory he has to introduce himself too, plus the fact Pekarsky will be well funded, should put Barker on real notice with two months to go until Primary day.
- Dave Marsden (D), SD-35: Another long-time NOVA legislator in trouble is Dave Marsden. While redistricting was not as unkind to Marsden as it was to Barker, he still only represented around 30% of his new district under the old lines. That means he has to introduce himself to around 70% of the voters in this district. With that in mind, Marsden has drawn a strong challenger is area activist Heidi Drauschak. Drauschak, who currently works with groups attempting to change Virginia’s campaign finance laws, is running on a similar platform to Pekarsky and is also focusing heavily on environmental and good government issues. Also backed by $150,000 from Clean Virginia and Sonjia Smith, Drauschak has the financial capability to keep up with Marsden and has put him in a tough spot regarding his renomination. Like his colleague Barker, Marsden is on real notice with his primary challenger.
- Joe Morrissey (D), SD-13: I can hear everyone already. “But Joe, Morrissey has beaten the odds before, remember 2019!” And yes, I do and I know that we’ve done this song and dance before with Morrissey. And this is a man who’s won an election from a jail cell. That makes it hard to say that person is in danger from a primary challenge in normal circumstances. However, I think the shine has worn off of Morrissey finally. The high profile attacks from Jennifer McClellan during his run for Congress hurt, and people remember them. And with how crucial abortion is as an issue to the Democratic Party base post Dobbs, Morrissey’s pro-life views may be more damaging then every before. I don’t think Lashrecse Aird is the best candidate to go against Morrissey, she’s strong enough to create energy to beat him. And with 60% of the district new to Morrissey, plus quite literally every Democrat working to beat him, I think this is the time. It’s no certainty, and there’s a very strong argument that George Barker is in more danger currently, and I would agree with that premise. But this time does feel different regarding Morrissey, and I’m willing to put it out there that I think he loses in June.
- Kelly Fowler (D) HD-96: I wondered if I should count this one, but I decided in the end to. For three months, we all thought that Kelly Fowler was retiring, as she said on the House floor in January. However, after a small temper-tantrum, Fowler decided to give it another shot. She is running against three other Democrats in the new 96th, with Susan Hippen (who Fowler endorsed before deciding to run again) being the most prevalent. The fact is, from what I’ve heard from talking to multiple connected Democrats in the Virgina Beach area is that Fowler has burnt every bridge she could with her recent actions. And that doesn’t bode well for her chances. Consider her the most endangered House incumbent not running against a fellow delegate.