Saturday, July 13, 2024

What to Watch in Virginia’s Congressional Primaries this Week

Voters in suburban Henrico’s Short Pump precinct cast their ballots. The area saw a surge in Democratic voters after Trump’s 2016 election. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND — In Virginia’s congressional primaries Tuesday, Republicans will be picking a nominee to run against U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, while Democrats will be picking would-be successors for two Northern Virginia congresswomen who aren’t running for reelection.

Recent polls have pointed to a close presidential race in Virginia between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Those early polls indicate there could be several hard-fought congressional contests further down the ballot, particularly in three suburban districts — the 2nd, the 7th and the 10th — that Democrats and Republicans battled over in 2022.

This week’s primaries will set the table for those races and settle a hard-right grudge match between warring MAGA factions in central Virginia’s Republican-leaning 5th District.

Here’s what to watch on primary night:

A referendum on Rep. Bob Good

Incumbent Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., is facing primary challenger Sen. John McGuire, R-Goochland, in a contest that’s been attracting national attention. In a safe Republican district, the winner of this week’s GOP primary will be a strong favorite to win the seat in the fall.

Good is a two-term congressman first elected in 2020. He spent nearly 20 years working in finance before becoming an associate director in Liberty University’s athletics department. He also served as a member of Campbell County’s board of supervisors and led efforts to declare it a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” in 2019.

McGuire, who declared his candidacy against Good days after being elected to the state senate, has previously run for the 7th Congressional District and spent three terms in Virginia’s House of Delegates. He’s a former Navy SEAL and owns a physical training business. 

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., joins Virginia Sen. John McGuire, R-Goochland, in Louisa County on June 5, 2024 to support his bid to represent Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. (Charlotte Rene Woods/Virginia Mercury)

Both men have traveled around the 5th district — which sprawls from Albemarle County westward towards Richmond and down to Danville near the North Carolina border — connecting with voters. Sometimes they’ve been flanked by high-profile Republicans in the national spotlight.

Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene joined McGuire at a few events in the district and posted videos of her support for him on social media. Former President Donald Trump has also endorsed McGuire.

Meanwhile, Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, headlined an event for Good recently. Texas congressman Chip Roy and Florida congressman Matt Gaetz have also joined Good on the campaign trail.

While each candidate shares similar stances on several conservative Republican issues, it’s Trump’s backing that is a litmus test in the race.

Though Good has been a longtime cheerleader of the once-and-possibly-future president, his brief endorsement of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last summer before he dropped out of the race has haunted him.

Trump’s campaign has since endorsed McGuire and sent a cease and desist letter to Good’s campaign for signs that include Trump’s name that imply an endorsement he doesn’t have.

McGuire, meanwhile, attended January’s Iowa caucuses to support Trump — and missed some presentations and votes during this year’s General Assembly session to do so.

While Good and his allies assert McGuire doesn’t have what it takes to serve on the House Freedom Caucus — Congress’ most conservative group that Good chairs — McGuire and his allies call Good a “liar” who is a “Republican In Name Only.”

A scramble to replace two departing Northern Virginia congresswomen

After being diagnosed with a severe and incurable brain disorder, incumbent U.S. Rep Jennifer Wexton announced she wouldn’t run again for the 10th District seat she first won in 2018.

With her eyes on Virginia’s 2025 race for governor, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger also isn’t running for another term in the neighboring 7th District.

That left two competitive Northern Virginia districts without incumbents and set off a surge of candidates hoping to succeed Wexton and Spanberger.

In the 10th District — based mostly in Loudoun, Prince William and Fauquier counties — the biggest names in a field of a dozen Democratic primary contenders are Sen. Suhas Subramanyam, Del. Dan Helmer, Sen. Jennifer Boysko and former House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn.

Wexton, who defeated a well-funded Republican challenger by more than six percentage points in 2022, has endorsed Subramanyam for the seat.

Also in the Democratic mix are Del. David Reid, Del. Michelle Maldonado and former Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, who served under former Gov. Ralph Northam.

The winner of the 10th District Democratic primary will face whomever emerges victorious from a four-person Republican primary happening Tuesday.

The GOP field in the 10th includes attorney and technology executive Mike Clancy, Marine Corps veteran and former Youngkin administration official Aliscia Andrews, retired military officer Alex Isaac and defense contractor Manga Anantatmula.

In the 7th District, seven Democrats and six Republicans are competing for the chance to replace Spanberger, who’s currently the only candidate from either party actively running a 2025 gubernatorial campaign.

The top Republican contenders in the 7th are Derrick Anderson, a former Green Beret turned lawyer who worked in the Office of National Drug Control Policy during the Trump administration, and Cameron Hamilton, a former Navy SEAL who more recently worked at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Despite their remarkably similar profiles, Anderson and Hamilton have traded blows over who gives the GOP the best chance to flip a seat that’s winnable for the party under the right conditions.

Democrats in the district are facing a choice between experience in state and local politics and national star power.

Eugene Vindman — a career military officer who rose to fame during the Trump era when he and his twin brother, Alex Vindman, raised alarms about a phone call Trump made to Ukrainian officials — has raised more than $5 million to run in the district as a Democrat. His fundraising has dwarfed the other six Democratic candidates he’s competing against, many of whom have longer backgrounds in Virginia politics.

Competing against Vindman are Dels. Elizabeth Guzman and Briana Sewell, as well as Prince William county supervisors Margaret Angela Franklin and Andrea Bailey.

The 7th District, based largely in Prince William, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties, covers a big enough swath of rural central Virginia that it’s seen as more competitive for the GOP than the 10th. In 2022, Spanberger defeated Prince William supervisor Yesli Vega by 4.6 percentage points.

GOP picks a statewide challenger for Kaine

U.S. Sen Tim Kaine, D-Va., kicked off his 2024 reelection bid this week with a campaign stop in Richmond. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)

Kaine has a long history in electoral politics, serving in local, state and federal office before being tapped as Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate in 2016. Facing challengers is nothing new for Kaine, but running for office is new to some of his five would-be challengers competing in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

While they overlap on various policy stances, it’s the resume and personal flair of the GOP candidates that make each stand out for different reasons.

After challenging Wexton in 2022 and coming up short, Navy veteran Hung Cao appears to be a top contender in the GOP’s crowded U.S. Senate primary after winning Trump’s endorsement. Cao’s political action committee, Unleash America, has come under scrutiny for not supporting other Republican candidates as he’d initially announced the PAC was created to do.

Former Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis staffer Scott Parkinson also has a fundraising background as a senior official at the Club For Growth political action committee. Additionally, he’s worked for various representatives on Capitol Hill.

Lawyer and Navy veteran Chuck Smith has mounted unsuccessful campaigns to include Virginia Beach city council and a run for attorney general. He also spent time as the local chair of Virginia Beach’s Republican Party chapter.

Lawyer Jonathan Emord represented Alex Jones when the conspiratorial radio host was ordered to stop selling products that claimed to cure COVID-19. Previously, he worked for the Federal Communications Commission during President Ronald Reagan’s term.

Eddie Garcia touts his background as the “son of a ranch hand” in Texas who went on to serve in the Army for over 20 years and be a congressional liaison for the Army.

The candidates share a desire to “retire” Kaine from office and overlap on many policy stances — such as being fiscally conservative and supporting tighter security at the U.S – Mexico border. They dislike abortion and some refer to themselves as “pro-life,” but several have said they won’t implement a national ban on the procedure.

The Cook Political Report ranks Kaine’s senate seat as a “Solid D” — meaning he would likely be able to fend off whoever emerges from the primary when they face him in November. But given the polls showing a close presidential race in Virginia, a stronger showing of Trump voters in November could translate to higher support for whomever Republicans pick to run against Kaine.

Democratic leaders look to lock in pick against Kiggans

As she prepares to defend the Hampton Roads-based 2nd District for the first time, Rep. Jen Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach, is considered a top target for Democrats who want to flip back a seat they lost in 2022.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is backing Missy Cotter Smasal, a Navy veteran who now serves as the executive director of a veteran-focused nonprofit. The DCCC named  Smasal to its “Red to Blue” program, which focuses resources on districts where Democrats have the greatest chance to knock off a Republican incumbent.

Smasal is facing competition in a Democratic primary from Jake Denton, an attorney who focuses on civil rights and constitutional law.

Denton trails in fundraising, and  Smasal has notched big endorsements from U.S. House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, all six of Virginia’s Democratic representatives in the U.S. House and former Govs. Ralph Northam and Terry McAuliffe.

Kiggans, a former state senator and Navy veteran herself, defeated former congresswoman Elaine Luria two years ago by 3.4 percentage points. The district has alternated between Democratic and Republican representatives over the years.

A Democratic primary with a Unite the Right angle

In the 1st District, two Democrats competing in a primary have been sparring over the violent Unite the Right rally that took place in Charlottesville during the summer of 2017.

Attorney Leslie Mehta — seen as the frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination against GOP Rep. Rob Wittman — worked for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia when the organization lent legal representation to Unite the Right organizers as they battled Charlottesville officials over the terms of a rally permit.

A federal judge sided with the ACLU, ruling that the city didn’t have a legal basis to move the rally to a more distant location and allowed the rally to proceed in a park in the heart of the city.

Mehta, endorsed in the primary by Spanberger and other prominent elected Democrats, says she and the ACLU stood up for the principle that people should be free to peacefully express unpopular political beliefs without government interference.

Her primary opponent, former New Kent County treasurer Herb Jones, has argued she and the ACLU should have been more clear-eyed about threats of violence that day and has warned Democrats against nominating someone with a connection to the infamous event.

The district represented by Wittman leans Republican and runs from the Richmond suburbs to the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula and outskirts of Hampton Roads.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Samantha Willis for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and X.

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