Va. Democrats, facing conservative GOP candidates, hope to hold on to Senate
By Anita Kumar, Published: September 4
RICHMOND — Adam Light, a Republican running for state Senate in southwest Virginia, has advocated ending Social Security and Medicare.
Former Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick, a GOP candidate in Northern Virginia, said Darwin’s theory of evolution “was used by atheists to explain away the belief in God.”
Dick Black, running in Loudoun and Prince William counties, was criticized by leaders of his own party in 2003, when as a delegate he sent fellow lawmakers pink plastic models of fetuses as they prepared to vote on an abortion bill.
Democrats, behind in recruiting and fundraising, think the conservative crop of Republican candidates selected last month to run in November gives them the edge they need to hold on to their thin majority in the Senate.
“A lot of them are nut jobs,’’ Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said. “They’ve nominated a group that makes the governor of Texas look sane.”
Republicans are aggressively fighting to take control of the Senate, where Democrats hold a 22 to 18 majority. If the Republicans pick up just two seats, the party would seize control because a Republican — Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling — presides over the state Senate.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and House Speaker William J. Howell (Stafford), both Republicans, hope a GOP Senate will help them pass bills that have died at the hands of Democrats, including those involving school choice, illegal immigration enforcement and pension reform.
But the Senate has always been considered the commonwealth’s more moderate chamber — even when the GOP controlled it — and Republicans there often disagreed more with the House, run by their own party, than with Democrats in the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City), who at a recent news conference sported a “21” pin symbolizing the number of senators his party is seeking for outright control of the chamber, said the Democrats’ insistence that the candidates are too conservative is “political hyperbole bordering on hysteria.”
Voters went to the polls last month to select Republican candidates in seven Senate primaries across the state after previously securing others in mass meetings and conventions.
The State Board of Elections is expected to certify candidates for the November general election this week, following the unofficial start of Virginia’s election season, which begins with parades and barbecues on Labor Day.
Republicans have candidates running in 36 of the Senate’s 40 districts, compared with just 27 for the Democrats, according to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics.
Thirteen of the 16 Republican senators seeking reelection will do so without Democratic opposition. But 16 of the 20 Democratic senators running for another term will face Republicans.
They include Frederick, who is running against Sen. Linda T. “Toddy” Puller (D-Fairfax); and Light, who faces Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell). Black is running against Democrat Shawn Mitchell in a new district that includes Loudoun and Prince William counties.
Most of the districts in which the more conservative candidates are running lean Republican, including Light’s and Black’s. Only a handful are considered more swing or Democratic-leaning, including Frederick’s.
Republicans enjoyed a nearly 2-to-1 cash advantage over Democrats as of June 30, the last reporting period, according to VPAP. They had $13.7 million in the bank, compared with $7.4 million for Democrats, including committees controlled by candidates, parties and leaders.
The General Assembly drew new maps this summer to bring the 140 districts of the Senate and GOP-held House of Delegates into alignment with population shifts listed in the 2010 Census. The plans give Northern Virginia a new senator and three new delegates, all in the Washington region’s growing outer suburbs.
Bolling said Republicans are targeting about a dozen races across the state, and that half of those are considered top tier. They include a pair of new Senate seats drawn because of once-a-decade redistricting — one in Northern Virginia and the other west of Richmond — as well as existing seats in Southside, Southwest and Hampton Roads.
He said that the Republican candidates are diverse, both moderate and conservative, and some of them, including Black and Frederick, have already won elections in similar districts in Northern Virginia.
“What they want to do is paint one or two candidates as part of a broad brush,’’ Bolling said.
Tom Garrett, Louisa County’s commonwealth’s attorney, who is running in the new Senate district west of Richmond against Democrat Bert Dodson, called himself a “Cuccinelli conservative” even before receiving the sole primary endorsement from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, a tea party favorite.
Garrett has proposed mandatory drug testing for all welfare recipients and has advocated abolishing the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which is charged with keeping air and water clean.
Ben Loyola, a businessman and veteran who is running against freshman Democrat Ralph Northam in Norfolk, has said he wants to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and eliminate corporate taxes and the income tax.
Del. Bill Carrico of Grayson, who is running against Democrat John Lamie in the race to replace retiring William Wampler in southwest Virginia, introduced a bill permitting prayer on public property, including schools.
Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (Arlington), who chairs her chamber’s Democratic caucus, said candidates who are “conservative and outside the mainstream” will have a tough time in Virginia.