Cheat sheet: The House and Senate races most likely to decide control of Virginia’s statehouse

By: - September 4, 2019 6:01 am

The sun rises over the Virginia Capitol. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

All 140 seats in the Virginia House and Senate are up for reelection this year. But control of both closely divided chambers will come down to just a relative handful of elections in the state’s populous suburbs.

With campaigns kicking into gear with the passing of Labor Day weekend, here’s a look at some of the races expected to be most competitive. The following guide is based on interviews with Democratic and Republican strategists as well as candidate fundraising and past election results compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project.

The Senate

Republicans were fighting to hold onto their 21-19 majority in the Senate back in 2015. This year, they’ll be playing defense to try to hold onto pretty much the exact same seats. Post-Trump, with Virginia’s map looking decidedly bluer, Democrats feel like they have a solid chance at capturing the Senate. Meanwhile Republicans acknowledge they’ve got a fight on their hands, but say predictions of an imminent Democratic takeover are overblown.

Republican-held districts are shown in red. There are no Democrat-held battleground districts in the Senate.

Republican-held seats Democrats think they can flip:

The top of the pile

Loudoun and Prince William’s 13th District: Geary Higgins (R) v. John Bell (D)

Democrats tried and failed here in 2015, pumping $1.6 million into a campaign to unseat GOP Sen. Dick Black, who is not running for reelection. This year, Bell, a Democratic state delegate, will face Higgins, a Loudoun supervisor. With no incumbent in the way, Democrats see it as their most obvious opportunity to pick up a district that’s been trending bluer for years and Northam won with 55 percent of the vote.

Chesterfield, Richmond and Powhatan’s 10th District: Glen Sturtevant (R) v. Ghazala Hashmi (D)

Another increasingly Democratic district that Republicans barely held onto in 2015. (Democrats have carried the district in every statewide and national election since 2013.) Sturtevant, a lawyer, cast himself as a moderate, breaking with the majority of his party to back the ERA and red flag laws. Democrats say it was too little, too late, noting, among other things, his vote against universal background checks. He’ll face Hashmi, who directs a teaching center at Reynolds Community College.

In the mix

Virginia Beach’s 7th District: Jen Kiggans (R) v. Cheryl Turpin (D)

Another pick-up opportunity Democrats say is made better by a recent retirement, in this case longtime GOP Sen. Frank Wagner. Democrats nominated Turpin, a high school teacher who won election to the House as part of the 2017 blue wave. She’ll face Kiggans, a former Navy pilot and nurse practitioner. Northam won this seat with 54 percent of the vote, but in the words of one Republican operative, it’s “swingy” – Trump narrowly edged out Clinton here in 2016 and Obama won in 2012.

Henrico and Hanover’s 12th District: Siobhan Dunnavant (R) v. Debra Rodman (D)

Democrats say Henrico is solidly blue now. Ergo, they say, it makes sense the district would elect a Democrat. To make their point, they note Dunnavant, who has held the district since 2015, doesn’t note her party affiliation or the fact that she’s conservative in television spots she’s been running. But their margins in the districts are still narrow. Northam won by just 5 points. Republicans counter that Dunnavant’s status as a doctor puts her on solid footing during a year health care is expected to be a major subject of debate. She faces Rodman, an anthropology professor who won election to the House in 2017.

On the radar

Virginia Beach’s 8th District: Bill DeSteph (R) v. Missy Cotter Smasal. Spotsylvania, Orange, Albemarle, Louisa, Fredericksburg and Culpeper’s 17th District: Bryce Reeves (R) v. Amy Laufer (D). And Chesterfield, Colonial Heights and Amelia’s 11th District: Sen. Amanda Chase (R) v. Amanda Pohl (D).

Democrat-held seats Republicans think they can flip:

On the radar

Norfolk, Accomack, Northampton, Mathews’ 6th District: Lynwood Lewis (D) v. Elizabeth Lankford (R). It sounds like a bit of a long shot, but it’s the one place Republicans have said they think they might have an opportunity to pick up a district.

The House

Riding a wave of strong voter turnout driven by a historically unpopular president, Democrats came within two seats of snagging the majority in 2017. This year, with no state-wide races anchoring ballots across the state, Republicans hope they can win a few seats back from Democrats, who themselves are eyeing one-time Republican strongholds made blue by a court-ordered redistricting plan. But even with the boost provided by a more favorable map, turnout during Virginia’s infamous off-off-year elections makes a major shift appear somewhat less likely than in the Senate, and observers from both parties say a repeat of 2017 would be surprising.

Republican-held districts are shown in red. Democrat-held districts are shown in blue.

Republican-held seats Democrats think they can flip:

The top of the pile

Newport News’ 94th District: David Yancey (R) v. Shelly Simonds (D)

You may recall that two years ago this election resulted in a dead tie that was resolved via a random drawing from a bowl. Since then, a court-ordered redistricting plan gave Democrats a much bigger partisan advantage in the district. This year’s rematch once again pits incumbent Republican Yancey against Democrat Shelly Simonds. Democrats see it as their most obvious opportunity to pick up a seat. Money is already pouring in: Simonds has raised $290,000 so far and Yancey has raised $335,000.

Suffolk’s 76th District: Chris Jones (R) v. Clint Jenkins (D)

Once basically invincible, Jones, the Republican chair of the House money committee, was hardest hit by a court ordered-redistricting plan, which turned his reliable red district distinctly blue. Democrats there now hold a theoretical 15-point advantage, a figure calculated as part of the redistricting process based on 2012 presidential election results. Democrats are already spending money there on digital ads to boost Jenkins, a real estate agent. Neither Jones nor his party, however, are writing off the district. Republicans say their candidate is well known and well liked in the area, the result of years of hard campaigning.

 Virginia Beach’s 83rd District: Chris Stolle (R) v. Nancy Guy (D)

Stolle, who has held the seat for nine years, saw his district skew 12 points more Democratic as part of the court-ordered remedial redistricting plan, and Democrats had already been doing pretty well in the district, where Northam won in 2017 with 54 percent of the vote and Kaine won with 57 percent. Guy, a former school board member, has also been outraising Stolle, who Democrats note is one of a handful of Republicans being boosted by national Republican groups – something they view as a sign the party is worried.

Colonial Heights and Chesterfield’s 66th District: Kirk Cox (R) v. Sheila Bynum-Coleman (D)

Cox, the Republican speaker of the House, saw his district shift under the court-ordered redistricting plan from a seat in which Republicans had a 25.5 point advantage to a seat in which Democrats now hold a 6.5 point advantage (again, as calculated based on 2012 presidential election results). But a win for Democrats is far from a sure thing. Cox is well known from years of representing the area and has access to a massive $788,000 fundraising haul, which in typical years he’d use to boost other Republicans in tight races but is already tapping into to blanket the airwaves with television ads.

Hampton’s 91st District: Colleen Holcomb (R) v. Martha Mugler (D)

This is another district that got a significantly bluer under a court-ordered redistricting plan. The Republican incumbent who held the seat, Gordon Helsel, decided not to run for reelection, which Democrats say boosts their chances because the GOP will be starting from scratch in terms of name ID.

Kaine won here with 57 percent of the vote and, so far Mugler, a longtime school board member who ran as a moderate in the Democratic primary, has far outraised Holcomb, a lawyer and lobbyist who represented the conservative Family Foundation.

In the mix

Fairfax and Prince William’s 40th District: Tim Hugo (R) v. Dan Helmer (D)

Now the lone Republican representing Northern Virginia in the House, Hugo held onto his seat by just 100 votes in 2017. His challenger, Democrat Dan Helmer, has already raised more than $400,000 for his campaign. Hugo, who’s represented the seat since 2003, is sitting on $796,000, and his party is bullish, arguing that if the seat was going to go Democratic, it would have happened in 2017.

 Stafford’s 28th District: Paul Milde (R) v. Joshua Cole (D)

Another district Democrats barely lost in 2017, this race has also voted Democratic in recent statewide elections, though by slimmer margins than some of the other districts Democrats are targeting. Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine won the district by 55 points last year and Northam won with 51 percent of the vote in 2017. The Republican incumbent, Bob Thomas, was taken out by former Stafford Supervisor Paul Milde in a nasty primary that saw Milde tack right on issues like abortion and health care, something most Republicans facing tight races have strayed away from and Democrats expect to play to their advantage in a general election.

Norfolk, Accomack and Northampton’s 100th District: Rob Bloxom (R) v. Phil Hernandez (D)

Statewide Democrats have won here, but just barely. Nonetheless, Democrats are particularly enthusiastic about Hernandez, an attorney with the National Employment Law Center who has far outraised Bloxom. But Republicans say money isn’t everything and note that the 53 percent of the vote Northam captured here in 2017 isn’t necessarily all that impressive when you consider it’s the governor’s home turf.

Virginia Beach’s 84th District: Glenn Davis (R) v. Karen Mallard (D)

Davis has represented the district since 2014 and, while it has tilted Democratic in recent statewide contests (Northam won with 54 percent of the vote), Trump still won here with 49 percent of the vote. But Democrats say Mallard, a teacher and the daughter of a coal miner, is a strong candidate. And they say if Republican inaction on gun violence is likely to resonate anywhere, it will be Virginia Beach, where a shooter killed 12 in May.

Chesterfield’s 27th District: Roxann Robinson (R), v. Larry Barnett (D)

Another rematch from 2017. Barnett, a licensed counselor, came within 124 votes of beating Robinson, an optometrist who has represented the district since 2010. Democrats say they’re enthusiastic about his chances this year. As in Hugo’s case, Republicans note that if Barnett couldn’t off Robinson during a historic, anti-Trump wave, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to do it this year, when turnout is muted with no statewide candidates anchoring the top of the ticket.

Orange, Culpeper and Madison counties’ 30th District: Nick Freitas (R) v. Ann Ridgeway (D)

Who knows what will happen here. The deep-red district is without a Republican candidate on the ballot after Freitas, a rising GOP star, messed up his paperwork. He’s vowed to run a write-in campaign and says he’s raised a ton of money to fund the effort. But in either case, Ridgeway, a former juvenile probation officer and substitute teacher, is actually on the ballot, giving her a distinct advantage in otherwise difficult territory.

Democrat-held districts Republicans think they can flip:

The top of the pile:

Virginia Beach’s 85th District: Alex Askew (D) v. Rocky Holcomb (R)

Democrats flipped this district in 2017 by just 389 votes. Holcomb, the Republican sheriff’s deputy who lost in 2017, is back for a rematch, but Cheryl Turpin, who beat him, is not, opting instead to run for Senate. Democrats nominated Askew, a longtime political and campaign aide, to replace her. Republicans say the fact that their candidate is coming to the table with name recognition from a past campaign and a short stint as a delegate boosts their chances.

Henrico’s 73rd District: Rodney Willett (D) v. Mary Margaret Kastelberg (R)

Another district Democrats flipped in 2017 where the winner, in this case Debra Rodman, opted to run for Senate rather than reelection. Willett, an attorney, and Kastleberg, an investment banker, are both making their first runs for office. Of the seats Republicans hope to win back from Democrats this year, Northam’s margins in 2017 were thinnest here, with 53 percent of the vote. Combined with the fact that Democrats won’t have the advantage of running an incumbent,that has Republicans sounding confident.

Loudoun and Frederick’s 10th District: Wendy Gooditis (D) v. Randy Minchew (R)

Another 2017 rematch. Gooditis, a real estate agent, beat Minchew, a lawyer who held the seat since 2012, with just under 51 percent of the vote. Republicans say their candidate is well liked and poised to make a comeback. Democrats say the race will come down to turnout.

In the mix:

Prince William and Manassas’ 50th District: Lee Carter (D) v. Ian Lovejoy (R)

Carter, the state’s only elected Democratic Socialist, flipped the reliably red district in 2017, winning with a 10-point margin. Republicans say they don’t think he’ll do as well now that his views – which can be polarizing even among Democrats – are better known. Democrats aren’t so concerned, saying they think Carter’s bigger challenge was winning the primary earlier this year.

Henrico’s 72nd District: Schuyler VanValkenburg (D) v. GayDonna Vandergriff (R)

VanValkenburg, a teacher, was the first Democrat to even run for this seat in 10 years when he won in 2017 with just under 53 percent of the vote. Though the district has gotten consistently bluer each year, Republicans say they see an opening for Vandergriff, who unsuccessfully ran for school board and serves on a variety of community boards. For now, the money is on VanValkenburg’s side, who had raised $205,000 at last report, nearly twice as much as Vandergriff.

Virginia Beach’s 21st District: Kelly Fowler (D) v. Shannon Kane (R)

Democrats had been angling for this seat for years. Fowler, a first-time candidate, picked it up in 2017, knocking off longtime delegate Ron Villanueva with 52 percent of the vote. This year Fowler, a real estate agent, faces Kane, a former city council member.

Prince William and Fauquier’s 31st District: Elizabeth Guzman (D) v. DJ Jordan (R)

Another district where a Democratic newcomer toppled a long serving Republican last time around, in this case Scott Lingamfelter. Democrats sound confident Guzman, a social worker who won with 54 percent of the vote, has it locked down. Republicans, meanwhile, are jazzed about Jordan, a congressional staffer and one of two African-American candidates the party has recruited this year.

Chesterfield, Richmond and Henrico’s 68th District: Dawn Adams (D) v. Garrison Coward (R)

Adams beat longtime delegate Manoli Loupassi in 2017. This year she faces Coward, a political consultant and the second of two African-American candidates the party has recruited this year. Republicans say they doubt Adams, a nurse practitioner, has been helped by an unusual lawsuit filed by her former legislative aide alleging hacking.

Prince William’s 51st District: Hala Ayala (D) v. Rich Anderson (R)

Huge turnout in 2017 handed this district to Democrats by a healthy 14-point margin, with Ayala, a computer security specialist, toppling Anderson, a former Air Force officer who had represented the area in the General Assembly since 2010. Republicans say they’re going to lean on Anderson’s name recognition as a longtime officeholder, but Democrats say they think that might be to his detriment, noting mail he sent out during the last campaign Ayala criticized as racist.

Prince William and Manassas Park’s 13th District: Danica Roem (D) v. Kelly McGinn (R)

A tougher lift for Republicans, but they say it’s in the realm of possibility. Roem, a former newspaper reporter and the first transgender woman elected to the statehouse, has a nationwide profile and is well liked. She faces Kelly McGinn, a former lawyer and congressional staffer, who opposed the ERA and has a history of opposing same-sex marriage, positions that echo the stances of Bob Marshall – the anti-LGBTQ delegate Roem toppled in 2017.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.