Candidates vying for their party’s nomination in several Virginia General Assembly primary races will learn their fates Tuesday.
While the country’s vitriolic political climate seems to dominate the news on a regular basis, it isn’t expected to necessarily translate into more voters heading to the polls this week. That is often the case when elections lack the big races for president or governor, especially in primaries.
As of Friday, just more than 300 absentee ballots had been cast in Spotsylvania County; 284 in Stafford County; and 88 (not counting mailed-in absentee votes) in Fredericksburg.
By comparison, in the 2017 general election, which included a gubernatorial race, there were more than 2,400 absentee votes cast for two local House of Delegates districts, the 28th and 54th, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
“It’s been pretty slow,” Regan Halkward, an assistant registrar in Spotsylvania, said Thursday. She noted that five precincts (in the Berkeley and Lee’s Hill districts) do not have primaries.
A low turnout wouldn’t surprise Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science and director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington. That’s typical for primaries, he said in an interview last week.
Those low turnouts, typically 10 percent “on a good day,” make it difficult to get a feel for which candidates have the edge, he said.
But with Republicans holding a narrow 2-seat advantage in both the House of Delegates and state Senate, the primaries are important as each party tries to find nominees who can appeal to voters in the November general election.
On the Republican side, with President Trump’s approval rating in that party at 90 percent, Farnsworth believes “the competition is to be the most conservative candidate out there.”
“The Democrats,” he said, “are very optimistic about gaining control of the legislature,” similar to how they felt in 2017, when that party’s voter turnout was high. “They hope for the same this year.”
28th HOUSE DISTRICT
The district that covers parts of Fredericksburg and Stafford County looks like the main event among the four primaries, with incumbent Del. Bob Thomas facing former Stafford Supervisor Paul Milde in a rematch for the Republican nomination.
“You can expect higher turnout in the Thomas–Milde race,” Farnsworth said. “This may be one of the most expensive primary contests for the House this year.”
Milde has raised more than $388,000 and Thomas more than $365,000, according to the latest numbers from the Virginia Public Access Project.
The campaign has become the most heated of the area’s primaries, with each using mailers to attack the other.
Thomas, 42, beat Milde, 51, in the 2017 primary, then narrowly edged Joshua Cole in the general election. Cole is again the Democratic candidate, with no primary challenger.
Farnsworth expects the general election for the 28th District to be one of the key races to determine which party controls the General Assembly in the next session.
“The 28th will be one of the top four, five priorities for both parties,” he said.
17TH SENATE DISTRICT
The 17th Senate District—which includes Fredericksburg, Orange County, and parts of Spotsylvania, Culpeper, Louisa and Albemarle counties—features both Democratic and Republican primaries.
The incumbent is Sen. Bryce Reeves, a Spotsylvania resident who had no opponent in the 2015 GOP primary and rolled to an easy win over his Democratic challenger that year. He faces Rich Breeden, also of Spotsylvania, in the GOP primary.
While both Reeves and Breeden are military veterans and business owners who tout pro-gun and anti-abortion platforms, the candidates have attacked each other aggressively. Breeden calls Reeves a “career politician” while the incumbent has said his challenger has no platform to run on.
On the Democratic side, Ben Hixon, a Culpeper County resident and computer programmer, faces Albemarle County resident Amy Laufer, a former Louisa County teacher and Charlottesville School Board member. Both have said Reeves does not represent what they want in an elected leader.
OTHER DEMOCRATIC RACES
Democrats will also choose party nominees to challenge Republican incumbents for the 88th District House seat and 28th District Senate seat.
Kecia Evans and Jessica Foster square off in the 88th District, which covers parts of Fauquier, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties and part of Fredericksburg, in their campaigns to represent the district.
Evans, a Stafford resident and the first African-American to run in the district, has 18 years of experience in the criminal justice field and is pursuing a law degree. Foster, of Remington, is an attorney whose practice focuses on juvenile clients.
The winner will face Republican Del. Mark Cole, a deputy county administrator for Spotsylvania who is seeking his 10th two-year term representing the district. He faces no primary opponent.
In the 28th Senate District, former Stafford Supervisor Laura Sellers faces political newcomer Qasim Rashid, a Stafford attorney who specializes in human rights law, for the Democratic nomination to represent the district that covers parts of Spotsylvania, Stafford, Prince William, Westmoreland and King George counties.
The incumbent, Republican Sen. Richard Stuart, has no primary opponent.
Polls are open Tuesday from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m.