The Reach: March 30-April 5, 2023

Petersen Fails to Appear or Perform at Straw Poll Event.

On Sunday, Fairfax County Democrats (FCDC) hosted their Pick Your Pony Straw Poll, where Northern Virginia Democrats meet candidates and cast an unofficial vote for the upcoming June primaries, at Mustang Sally Brewing Company in Chantilly.

195 voted in F.C.’s new Senate District 37 race, ranking the three candidates (Saddam Salim, Erika Yalowitz, and “incumbent” Chap Petersen) in order of preference.

After just one round of voting, Salim won with 51.8 percent of the vote. Yalowitz placed second with 26.7 percent, while Petersen, who did not show up for the event, came in third with 21.54 percent.
“Democrats made it clear they want someone new in SD-37, as shown by the FCDC Pick Your Pony straw poll.” said Salim, whose victory was received with surprised cheers by the largely progressive crowd. “I was excited to receive almost double the votes of the second-place candidate and more than twice the votes of the ‘incumbent.’”

SADDAM SALIM, CANDIDATE for F.C.’s new Senate District 37, won Sunday’s straw poll with 51.8% of the vote, with “incumbent” Chap Petersen coming in a distant third with 21.54%. (Photo: Brian Reach)

As has been stated many times in this column and elsewhere, despite redistricting most Virginia districts strongly favor the incumbent party, so the primary is the real contest.

Petersen is a frequent source of lament from progressives due to his voting history, especially regarding gun control and LGBTQ+ rights, but also inflammatory stunts on hot-button social topics like forming the “Redskins Caucus” or fighting mask mandates in schools.

Petersen is also well-funded, with enough money in the bank already to run one of the most expensive primary campaigns in Virginia history. Many predicted Petersen to sail into the new seat as an “incumbent,” even though 60 percent of its voters live outside his current district.

This year, however, a different past may be providing the prologue to this June’s primaries. Though first elected in 2001, Petersen has only run against a fellow Democrat in 2005, when he ran for Lieutenant Governor. Petersen spent $920,000 in that race, nearly as much as the three other candidates combined — and came in third place with under 22 percent of the vote. Sound familiar?

Senate Primaries rarely draw 10,000 total voters — with only two candidates getting more than 10,000 votes in a single contest in the past decade. With more progressive and highly engaged voters, Petersen’s incumbency is looking far less safe.

“For Senate District 37, the choice is clear, and the momentum is on our side” finished Salim.