Human rights attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti scored an upset over incumbent Theo Stamos in the Democratic primary for the Arlington-Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney race, while veteran incumbent State Sen. Dick Saslaw prevailed in his close Democratic primary race against two challengers Tuesday. The two races were on the ballot in the City of Falls Church and both became unusually hotly contested.
Dehghani-Tafti’s total was 14,828 votes to Stamos’ 13,220 with all of Arlington County’s 55 precincts reporting, and all four (three plus absentee votes) in Falls Church. For State Senate in the 35th District, with all 46 precincts reporting from Fairfax County and Falls Church, Saslaw prevailed with 7,300 votes to 6,871 for Taeb and 852 for Torrent.
In Falls Church, according to the Voter Registrar’s office, 22 percent of active registered voters showed up at the polls, a high number for a usually uncontested primary.
For Saslaw, he considered Falls Church critical to his re-election chances, telling the News-Press that he chose to spend the entire election day greeting voters outside the Ward 3 polling place at the Community Center. Taeb, who resides in the ward, also spent time there, but for Saslaw, it was his only site among 46 voting locations for personal contact with voters even though he campaigned vigorously throughout his district for over a year.
Saslaw carried the ward by a narrow 356 votes to 345 for Taeb and 30 for Torrent. Saslaw carried all three Falls Church wards, winning Ward 1 (Thomas Jefferson school) with 338 votes to 318 for Taeb and 23 for Torrent, and winning Ward 2 (Falls Church Greens apartments) with 286 votes to 219 for Taeb and 22 for Torrent.
Both Saslaw and Dehghani-Tafti are now overwhelming favorites to win their respective races in November, with little or no serious competition expected then.
Normally, this primary is a non-starter, if one happens at all. But this is a big election year in Virginia, with every one of the state delegate and senate seats on the ballot in November and with both houses now having the narrowest of margins for the Republicans.
The heated contests belie differences among Democratic voters in the strongest of Democratic strongholds in the state that some party leaders are concerned will lead to ongoing dissention within their ranks that could weaken chances in November. Others see the robust campaigns this time as evidence of the new-found energy in the party ranks that can only help when it comes to November, and the 2020 Presidential election year following it, as well.
The unusually-prevalent role of outside money in the races leading to this Tuesday’s election was also cause for concern among some for its potential for sewing division. Progressive Democratic billionaire George Soros, contributing through a Washington, D.C.-based political action committee, the Justice and Public Safety Political Action Committee, poured over $583,237 (as of the May 1 reporting deadline) into Dehghani-Tafti’s challenge against Stamos, and another $392,000 into the campaign of a challenger in the Commonwealth Attorney race in Fairfax County, Steve Descano, who like Dehghani-Tafti, was successful by a narrow margin in unseating the longtime incumbent Raymond Morogh.
For Dehghani-Tafti, the Soros money provided her a substantial $744,000 to $546,000 lead in fundraising over Stamos as of the reporting deadline.
But it wasn’t only the money. Dehghani-Tafti enjoyed the endorsements of a wide array of leading Democratic current and former elected officials, including former Governor Terry McAuliffe, former State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple and current Falls Church State Del. Marcus Simon. Stamos, on the other hand, had the support of all three of Falls Church’s commonwealth officers, Sheriff Steve Bittle, Commissioner of the Revenue Tom Clinton and Treasurer Jody Acosta.
Stamos chose a Falls Church location for her election night “watch party,” Clare and Don’s Beach Shack. She told supporters there as the final results came in that she would work to make the transition for her successor as smooth and efficient as possible.
A number of other Democratic primary state legislative races were also contested by newcomers against incumbents in the region, and in all cases, as with Saslaw, the incumbents prevailed against challengers who’ve never held public office before.
In districts adjacent Falls Church, State Senator Barbara Favola defeated challenger Nicole Merlene, 62 percent to 38 percent, in the 31st District, mostly in North Arlington, State Delegate Kaye Kory defeated Andres Jimenez, 62 percent to 38 percent, in the 38th District mostly in the Mason District of Fairfax County, and State Delegate Alfonso Lopez defeated Julius Spain, 77 percent to 23 percent, in the 49th District, mostly in the Culmore area of Fairfax County.
In adjacent Fairfax County, the winner in the hotly-contested Providence District Supervisor race to fill a seat being vacated by Linda Smyth, Dalia Palchik prevailed over four other challengers, and Jeff McKay won over three challengers for chairman of the county board.