Editor’s note: The Virginia Mercury launched in July to provide a sustained focus on statewide issues that have fallen through the cracks as traditional news outlets shrink. Here’s part of a holiday-week series looking back on how we’ve spent our time since then.
In 2018, national Democrats had their eye on recapturing the U.S. House of Representatives.
And shifts in key Virginia suburbs helped Democrats flip three seats here, taking the majority in Virginia’s congressional delegation as well as the U.S. House.
It was a grim sign for Republicans, who haven’t won statewide since 2009 and face the prospect of losing their razor-thin majority in the General Assembly in 2019 with every seat in both chambers up for grabs.
Hampton Roads seat flips
In Hampton Roads’ 2nd District, Republican Scott Taylor narrowly failed to win over voters who have edged closer to the Democratic Party in recent years. His opponent, Congresswoman-elect Elaine Luria, was helped along by a signature scandal orchestrated by former members of Taylor’s staff.
Problems first arose for Taylor at the beginning of August, when it was revealed his paid staff members circulated a last-minute petition to get Shaun Brown, an independent, on the ballot in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to siphon votes from Luria.
Among the names his staff collected was Richard Cake, who died in April, his wife said in a radio interview, and two versions of Virginia Beach Republican Del. Glenn Davis’ signature.
Bigfoot ‘erotica’ and alleged anti-Semitism in 5th District race
In one of the more bizarre political attack lines seen in Virginia, Democrat Leslie Cockburn in Charlottesville’s 5th District went after her opponent, Denver Riggleman, over social media posts she called Bigfoot “erotica.”
The two were battling in a district that leans Republican to replace U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett, who decided not to seek re-election.
And while Cockburn, a former journalist who came under fire for a book she wrote with her husband that was critical of the U.S.-Israel relationship, set out on an energetic campaign around the district — with late help from her actress daughter, Olivia Wilde — she lost to Riggleman, a former U.S. Air Force officer, by about 20,000 votes.
Brat loses 7th District seat
In the central Virginia 7th District, Democratic newcomer Abigail Spanberger took on Republican Rep. Dave Brat — who earned national attention in 2014 when he pulled off a big upset of U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, in a primary election — and Libertarian candidate Joe Walton.
Brat’s opponents were hoping to use his old strategy against him, namely that he was too worried about Washington politics and not focused enough on his district.
While Brat chose to keep to himself and his supporters during his campaign, Spanberger got national coverage because her personnel records from her time in the CIA were incorrectly made public.
It was a closely-fought race that went to the wire; Spanberger beat Brat by only about 6,700 votes.
Comstock can’t hang on
U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock was long thought to be Virginia’s most vulnerable Republican lawmaker. Comstock was trying to hang onto her seat in Northern Virginia’s 10th District, a rapidly shifting district that seemed poised to vote for anyone who wasn’t associated with President Donald Trump.
Comstock tried to present herself as an independent Republican voice, while her opponent, state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, mainly campaigned against Trump. That strategy earned her 45,000 more votes than Comstock and a spot in the flipped U.S. House.
Libertarians can’t get over the bar
It wasn’t just the major parties that tried to take advantage of voters’ interest in seeing change.
Four Libertarians ran in Virginia’s congressional races. The party was hoping to finally get 10 percent of the vote in the U.S. Senate race, which would have earned it major party treatment.
In the end, Senate candidate Matt Waters got just under 2 percent of the vote in the race against Sen. Tim Kaine and Corey Stewart.
More of the Mercury’s political and government coverage in 2018:
- U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine in November and Gov. Ralph Northam last year won in 14 Republican-held state House and Senate districts, a troubling sign for the Virginia GOP with every seat in both chambers up in 2019.
- Virginians also approved a pair of a ballot measures, both related to property tax relief, in November.
- Some Virginia lawmakers are pushing changes for how we vote, including “mobile precincts.”
- Photos: Vice President Mike Pence made a curious campaign stop in Richmond to support a longshot congressional candidate.
- The redistricting battle playing out between Democrats and Republicans is a prime example of why the process should be taken out of lawmakers’ hands, reformers and some Virginia politicians say.