If politicos and pundits were hoping Tuesday’s primary contests would help explain the intentions of Virginia voters in the upcoming general elections, they probably were disappointed. While there were plenty of surprises, no clear message emerged yesterday.
The biggest upset — one that made national news — was Joe Morrissey’s significant victory over incumbent state Sen. Rosalyn Dance in the 16th Senate District’s Democratic race. The tenacious “Fighting Joe,” whose past has been beset with legal problems and scandals, won in a stunning 56% to 44% victory. We aren’t sure whether he won the primary or Dance lost it because of her anemic campaign. There’s no GOP opposition as of yet.
In another closely watched primary, top state Senate Democrat Dick Saslaw narrowly held on to his seat in the 35th District. He was challenged by human rights lawyer Yasmine Taeb. Saslaw, who far outspent Taeb, admitted that the race was closer than he thought it would be. It was the 79-year-old senator’s first primary challenge in 40 years. He says it shows people want change. Perhaps — although it’s notable that only two reform-oriented candidates were able to oust their opponents (two longtime Northern Virginia prosecutors).
Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta County won his 24th District handily. His opponent, Tina Freitas, tried to use his vote for Medicaid expansion against him, yet the 70-year-old incumbent easily beat her by a 57% to 43% margin. However, GOP voters in Virginia’s 28th District were not so forgiving of Del. Bob Thomas. They voted to replace him with a more conservative candidate.
Virginia’s 2017 elections might have been a clear indicator of what would happen in the 2018 midterms, but analysts are scratching their heads over this primary. Both parties claim to be upbeat about November’s elections. Democrats believe President Trump’s unpopularity will help return both the House of Delegates and the state Senate to their control. Republicans say the scandal-ridden trio at the top of Virginia’s Democratic leadership will help push the GOP to victory. They also say the high turnout of Republicans voters on Tuesday bodes well for their numbers in November.
We look forward to watching democracy in action — and following the fall campaigns. You’ll find the state’s best election coverage in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
— Robin Beres