VIRGINIA BEACH — Abortion. Rejection of Donald Trump and all his minions. A desire to show their children that, through voting, they can effect change.
Those were the reasons repeated time and time again by voters in Suffolk and Virginia Beach on Tuesday. Local and state candidates were on the ballot. Most said they’ve voted before – including in the 2017 House contests – and will continue to come out on Election Day.
Many, however, said they didn’t factor control of the General Assembly into their choices, even though voters in Suffolk and Virginia Beach played crucial roles in deciding Tuesday’s elections, which saw Democrats capture majorities in the House and Senate, winning control of Virginia government for the first time in 26 years.
Tony Washington thought this off-off year election was all about the president, even if Virginia’s ballot had no federal contests.
“I’m fighting him 1000 percent,” the 54-year-old disabled Navy veteran said, while leaning against his car as his wife and daughter, who also voted Tuesday, looked on. He voted for the Democratic candidates for state House and Senate at his polling place at Colonial Baptist Church in Virginia Beach. That meant Del. Kelly Fowler in House District 21 and Del. Cheryl Turpin, who was running for the open Senate District 7 seat vacated by Frank Wagner earlier this year. Fowler hung onto her seat, but Turpin appears to have fallen just short in her attempt to ascend to the Senate.
“Republicans are being blind to the true issues,” said Washington, who’s African-American. “They stand in line” with Trump. “It all trickles down” – even to the state and local levels.
The intense battle between the two parties – Republicans held slender majorities in both chambers of the Assembly – didn’t matter to 43-year-old Ann Harris, standing outside Suffolk Presbyterian Church, which is the Lakeside Precinct. “Honestly, I try to vote because of my civic duty” every year, Harris said, as her 10-year-old daughter, Emma, looked on.
Harris voted for longtime Republican incumbent Del. Chris Jones, who faced a tougher battle this year after federal judges approved a new map for several districts, including Jones’ House 76th. The judges had ruled the old map was racially gerrymandered. Jones, who has been in the General Assembly since 1998 and was the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee, was ousted by Democrat Clint Jenkins, who manages a real estate company.
Normally, a sick child registering a 104-degree temperature would’ve kept Melanie Nardelli at home and away from the polls. Not Tuesday.
The 43-year-old Virginia Beach resident, who’s white and moved five years ago from Massachusetts to the commonwealth, got someone to watch her son as she cast a straight Democratic ticket, at the Buckner Precinct. GOP candidates representing that precinct, Del. Glenn Davis and Sen. Bill DeSteph, however, seem to have prevailed over Democratic challenges. “Every vote counts, especially in turning Virginia blue,” Nardelli said, dodging the pounding raindrops outside Green Run Baptist Church.
She laments that Republicans in Washington, including what she called Trump’s cronies, are hurting the country in areas like environmental protection. “I want to leave a better world for my son,” said Nardelli. She believes voting for Democrats will do that.
Several citizens declined to give their name to a Virginia Mercury reporter because they said the political climate has become so charged, and so vengeful, they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves.
One who did was Vicky Epps, 57, who brought her 10-year-old son, Blair, to her Colonial Precinct in Virginia Beach. “There’s such a division in the United States right now,” said Epps, who’s white. “There’s so much anger and hatred out there.” She said the mood has put strains on relationships with friends, including hers.
Epps usually supports anti-abortion candidates and thinks of herself as an independent voter.
John Gilliland, 67, sported a red baseball cap as he left the voting booth – but it’s not what you think.
“Making Corvairs Great Again” adorned this car enthusiast’s cap, who’s white. “It’s a play on words,” Gilliland admitted, on Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Yet the right-leaning voter believes purple Virginia would be better off if it “turned back Republican,” he said outside Green Run Baptist Church, in the Buckner Precinct. “I can’t stick with the Democratic program.”
Support for education funding was a key factor for Janice Wiggins, a 60-year-old Suffolk resident. Plus one other thing: The need for a change in Washington.
“We have that crazy man in the White House,” noted Wiggins, who’s black. She declined to say whether she voted for Chris Jones or his Democratic opponent, Clinton Jenkins, or who she voted for in the Senate contest.
Others simply wanted civility and a chance for a better future for their children. They included Mellisa Allen, whose 7-year-old daughter, Jaylah, accompanied her to the polls in the state’s most populous city, in the Buckner Precinct.
Unity would help, said Allen, who’s black and declined to say who she voted for. “We’ve got a generation growing up,” she said.