In Obscure Virginia Races, a Test of Anger at the President (NYT)

In Obscure Virginia Races, a Test of Anger at the President

http://nyti.ms/2z8Yq8y

“I would expect Democrats to pick up four to six seats,” said Mr. Kidd, echoing other nonpartisan analysts. “If it went to 10, I’d say it sends a loud message across the country about the energy within the grass-roots Democratic base and the lack of energy in the Trump base.” The 40 members of the upper chamber, the state Senate, are not on the ballot.

Republicans are defending 17 House districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, a target list of vulnerable incumbents with similarities to the national congressional map. No one expects Democrats to flip all 17. Turnout in off-year elections is much lower than in presidential years and favors Republicans, whose base is older and whiter.

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Hala Ayala, center, a first-time Democratic candidate in Prince William County, said she decided to run for the House of Delegates after President Trump’s election.

Credit
Al Drago for The New York Times

But in a measure of Democratic enthusiasm, fueled by grass-roots anger at Washington, the party is contesting 88 delegate seats, far more than in recent cycles. They have also out-raised Republicans.

First-time Democratic candidates include Chris Hurst, a former TV anchor in Roanoke whose colleague and girlfriend, Alison Parker, was murdered on camera in 2015, and Danica Roem, a transgender woman facing a social conservative who introduced a “bathroom bill” this year to keep transgender people from using restrooms of their choice.

Republicans also have a chance to flip at least one seat, in populous Northern Virginia, where the challenger, Subba Kolla, a small-business owner born in India, is contesting a district that has swung between the parties.

“The sense of a grass-roots uprising is very, very authentic,” said Delegate Mark Keam, a Democrat from Northern Virginia.

He predicted a “reverse coattails” effect, where the enthusiasm for delegate candidates would bubble up to statewide nominees, especially Ralph Northam, the Democrat in a tightening contest for governor against Ed Gillespie, the Republican.

Hala Ayala, a first-time Democratic candidate in Prince William County, who has raised more than twice her opponent, said she decided to run after President Trump’s election. “People are more determined than ever to fight against these racist tactics, sexist tactics, things you would never think a president would use,” Ms. Ayala said.

Republicans disputed the notion that the delegate races are a referendum on President Trump. Delegate Rich Anderson, who is Ms. Ayala’s opponent, said he had braced for a Trump backlash. But he has not seen it. “I thought I was going to come home and find voters upset with the Republican brand,” Mr. Anderson, a retired Air Force colonel, said. “And I haven’t found that, much to my surprise.”

“To some extent there’s always a backlash against who’s in the White House,’’ said Delegate Todd Gilbert, a Republican. “Democrats have gambled heavily that wave would have built up by now, and we are just not seeing it.’’

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Delegate Todd Gilbert, right, a Republican who is in line to be the majority leader, says Republicans have not seen a significant backlash against the president.

Credit
Steve Helber/Associated Press

Mr. Gilbert is in line to be the next majority leader if his party, as expected, holds the House, where it currently has a 32-seat advantage. Even a Democratic wave is not expected to hand the party control of the House, because there are many safe Republican seats in rural areas, as well as gerrymandered districts that favor Republicans.

Since November, Democrats in special elections around the country have outperformed Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 margins in their districts by an average 11 points, according to the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

But special-election turnout is skewed compared to statewide elections. Turnout in Virginia on Tuesday is expected to better approximate voting patterns in the 2018 midterms, when Democrats are desperate to wrestle control of the House of Representatives.

If Democrats gain five to 10 delegate seats, said David Wasserman, an editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, it would be a signal the party is in contention to take back the House or Representatives next year.

Democrats’ most likely chances to flip seats next week are in Northern Virginia, in affluent and rapidly diversifying suburbs and exurbs.

The Cook report rates five seats there as “probable” Democratic pickups. Another, a tossup, has drawn national attention because the challenger, Ms. Roem, seeks to be the first openly transgender woman elected in the state by defeating Delegate Robert G. Marshall, the General Assembly’s leading opponent of gay rights. His “bathroom bill” was killed by fellow Republicans in Richmond.

Though Ms. Roem, a former newspaper reporter, hoped to focus on issues like traffic (her yard signs exhort “Fix Route 28 Now!”), things have turned personal. Mr. Marshall, a 13-term incumbent, refuses to use the female pronoun for Ms. Roem, and he described his opponent to Breitbart News as “a guy who thinks he’s a girl who wears a dress.”

“Delegate Marshall’s hypocrisy, transphobia and 26-year history of dividing the community is still perpetuating itself,” Ms. Roem said.

Photo
Danica Roem, center, a transgender woman running as a Democrat, is facing a social conservative who introduced a “bathroom bill” to keep transgender people from using restrooms of their choice.

Credit
Al Drago for The New York Times

Mr. Marshall did not respond to requests for comment.

Several election analysts said the Roem-Marshall contest was the one they would watch most closely.

On Sunday, Ms. Roem knocked on doors in Manassas, where she was born, walking in the rain with a small umbrella that was blown off porches when she put it down to talk to voters.

Ms. Roem, who covered local issues as a reporter for years under the byline Dan Roem, dove into long conversations about traffic lights, tolls and mass transit. At the last house on her list, a man said he was not registered. Ms. Roem left a campaign flyer for his wife, who was.

As Ms. Roem was trudging up the street, a van suddenly caught up to her, and Monique Ryan, dressed in pajamas, swung open the door. She had jumped in the van after her husband passed Ms. Roem’s flyer to their 17-year-old daughter, Payton, who exclaimed that Ms. Roem was her hero.

“I’m so glad I caught you,” Ms. Ryan said. “Can I ask a personal question?”

“Sure.”

“Payton said you’re transgender. Are you?”

“Yes.”

Ms. Ryan said her daughter was dating a transgender male, who has “started on her process.”

“I’m running to make Virginia a more inclusive commonwealth,’’ Ms. Roem told her. She offered to go back to the house to take a picture with Payton.

“She’d die,’’ Ms. Ryan said.

“Let’s do it,” Ms. Roem said.

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November 2, 2017 at 11:54AM