Facing the prospect of a primary challenger for the first time since he first won the race for an open seat in 1979, Virginia State Senate Democratic leader Dick Saslaw used his monthly column in the News-Press this week to formally announce his candidacy for re-election to his 35th District seat this year.
His column concludes, “On a personal note, I am officially announcing my candidacy for re-election as your state senator (Saslaw’s district includes the City of Falls Church–ed.). I am grateful for the opportunity to represent such an engaged and thoughtful constituency and we’ve accomplished a lot together.”
It was announced last fall that Yasmine Taeb, an attorney who recently moved to Falls Church, and to Saslaw’s district, from Arlington, would seek to qualify to run against Saslaw in this June’s Democratic primary. An elected member of the Democratic National Committee, she moved to Falls Church after she failed to get past the first round of a Democratic caucus vote to select a 48th District state delegate candidate in a special election there in 2014.
But despite his lack of primary challengers since 1979, Saslaw has not taken this prospective challenge lightly. He’s been knocking on doors in his district since last May, and told the News-Press in an interview last week that he’s visited 5,400 of the 10,267 homes in the 35th District since then. He’s also done a lot of direct mail and social media.
If the Democrats achieve a majority in the state senate this November, Saslaw stands to become the Senate Majority leader, a powerful position he’s held before when the Democrats were in the majority.
“Next November 5, the entire House of Delegates and State Senate will be on the ballot. The stakes couldn’t be higher with each chamber being one seat away from flipping the majorities now held by Republicans,” he writes in his News-Press column this week.
As the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, he’s clearly popular with his colleagues, and his House of Delegates counterpart Marcus Simon confirmed to the News-Press this week that he’s “done a great job,” noting that he shares a number of precincts with Saslaw throughout Fairfax County in addition to Falls Church.
Among other things, he’s credited with playing a decisive role in winning the extension of Medicaid to 400,000 Virginians in the last session because he deftly blocked a procedural move by the Republicans that could have sent the measure back to a committee where it could have been killed. “That is something that comes with experience,” he said.
After his prospective opponent formally announced her campaign, as reported in the News-Press at the time, Saslaw got a rousing endorsement from former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe at the Falls Church Democratic Committee’s annual Labor Day ice cream social in Cherry Hill Park, and at a Democratic dinner in Arlington in September, former U.S. Rep. Jim Moran was circulating “Another Progressive for Saslaw” buttons, frustrated, he said, that anyone would characterize Saslaw as less than a true progressive.
Recently, according to News-Press sources, it has been rumored that a third candidate could enter the primary fray, as well.
As far as the coming Richmond legislative session is concerned, Saslaw has said his priorities will be to “return to civil public discourse and to get something done by breaking through partisan gridlock.”
His goals, he said, are to stop partisan gerrymandering, saying he has a bill to accomplish it, and to pass, at last, the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in Virginia, which as the 38th state to ratify it, will certify it as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
He is also planning to advance the development of renewable energy resources, “working toward reducing our carbon footprint,” he said. “Science is not a myth. And denial is not a remedy for protecting the environment. I expect to see many bills addressing solar energy during this General Assembly.”
He has received endorsements from conservation groups, NARAL, the gun control “Moms Demand Action” group and others.
He said that a lot of the money he’s raised in his campaigning has gone to support other Democratic candidates engaged in challenges against Republicans in the fight to win control of the legislature this coming election year.
Saslaw will appear with Simon at a public town hall event on Saturday, Jan. 12, at George Mason High School at 10 a.m.