The experts on both sides of the aisle and in non-partisan “experts” land, as well, were genuinely shocked at the outcome in the 37th District Democratic Primary election last month. Its boundaries having been modified by redistricting last year, nonetheless everyone, including those with access to polling, genuinely thought it was going to be a cake walk for State Sen. Chap Petersen to extend his unbroken 20 year winning streak of state legislative victories (his only loss over that span came in a failed effort to win his party’s nomination to run for lieutenant governor in 2005). Like in 2005, when he massively outspent ($920,000 to $394,000) former U.S. Congressman Leslie Byrne in a losing effort, Petersen last month outspent his far less well-known rival Saddam Salim, $856,000 to $151,000.
Petersen even got the endorsement of the powerful Washington Post, generally considered a king maker in the wider region. But he did not get the endorsement of the mighty Falls Church News-Press, and apparently that counted for more. Many local politicos in Falls Church, the city of 15,000 recently moved into his new 37th District, backed Petersen if only because he was considered a shoe-in to win, and they wanted to be on their projected new state senator’s good side. Many of those people were angry at the News-Press for the same reason, feeling it would make it harder to get bones from Richmond tossed their way if relations were anything less than silky smooth.
After all, veteran State Sen. Dick Saslaw has done so much for little Falls Church. Saslaw, by the way, remains the City’s senator in Richmond until the end of the year when he officially retires, something that might be a cause of some confusion since Petersen had gone around town in the last year so convinced he’d be Saslaw’s successor that more than a few people thought he was the City’s incumbent up until the June 20 election day. That carried over to an invitation to speak at Falls Church’s Memorial Day ceremony last month.
Barely noted in all this was the fact that Falls Church’s man in the state House of Delegates was unopposed, so he had no primary last month. That man, Del. Marcus Simon, since being first elected in 2014 continues to climb the leadership ladder within his party in Richmond. He will be on the ballot in November, opposed only by Libertarian Party candidate David Crance, who has been active in the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce and as a parent in the F.C. Kiwanis Little League.
But without a major party opponent this year, Simon told the News-Press in an interview at the paper’s weekly pow wow lunch, he and other “safe” Democrats will focus their attention this summer and into the fall on winning back Democratic control of the House of Delegates.
Currently, Democrats are four seats short of retaking control of that body which, given a Republican governor, has put them at a real disadvantage.
Key downstate races include the hotly contested one facing Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg outside of Richmond. He is leaving the House of Delegates to seek election to the state senate. A fundraiser has been organized for him in Arlington next week with state senators from this area – Barbara Favola and Adam Ebbin – as co-hosts, and Del. Simon will be there.
For Democrats, the issues will center on abortion rights, Simon said. By contrast, for Republicans, they will focus on “parental rights.”
In a recent GOP post, Republican Governor Glen Youngkin was cited appearing on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News last week, saying the “parental rights issue” will determine this November’s election.
A equal number of 14 Democrats and 14 Republicans are not seeking re-election in the November election.
Democrats fighting to gain a majority in the House of Delegates will be working with their new House minority leader Del. Don Scott, just a year into his role after replacing Del. Eileen Filler-Corn. As area lawmakers Del. Kaye Kory, Ken Plum and Filler-Corn are retiring, numerous others besides VanValkenburg are seeking to advance to the state senate, including Danica Roem and five others (Sally Hudson, Elizabeth Guzman, Clint Jenkins, Sunas Subramanyam, and Angela Williams Graves).
Kory was redistricted into the same 53rd District as Del.Simon, so she chose not to compete with him for the seat.
As for Chap Petersen, his stunning defeat last month will allow him to focus more on his law practice. “As the world knows, I was defeated for re-election in the Democratic primary and will not be serving as a State Senator in 2024,” he wrote in an email to supporters this week. “When I was elected to the Senate in 2007, Virginia was a very different place. I know because I helped change it.”
He cited a dozen bills he played a key role in passing, including successfully taking on Dominion Power and concluded, “I came from a family with a long history in Virginia, through good times and bad. I did my best to live up to that legacy.”