A day before primaries for Virginia’s statewide offices and House of Delegates elections, Attorney General Mark Herring spoke with canvassers in Sterling on behalf of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. Herring’s morning appearance continued a busy few months for high profile candidates in Loudoun, underscoring the county’s importance in the races.
“Loudoun has been a battleground county in a battleground state for a dozen years now,” Herring said. “It’s going to be important again in November, but it’s going to be important in the primary.”
Every major party candidates on the ballot as well as many current elected officials have made appearances in Loudoun in the months leading up to the June 13 primary. Tom Perriello, Northam’s opponent in the Democratic primary, has held multiple town hall and canvasing events in Loudoun in the days and weeks leading up to the election. Fellow gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, the front runner for the Republican primary, will hold a rally in Loudoun the day before the primary.
Loudoun residents, as will all Virginians, have the opportunity to vote for candidates for the Commonwealth’s three statewide offices in the party of their choosing on June 13. At the polling place registered voters can choose cast their ballot for either one of the two major parties, regardless of their party affiliation. On the ballot are candidates for governor, lt. gov. and attorney general.
Voters will also have a chance to select their preferred candidate in the primary for the House of Delegates.
In the Democratic gubernatorial primary, voters will choose between Northam and Perriello. After declaring his candidacy last year, Northam was quickly endorsed by Virginia Democratic leaders like Herring, incumbent Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. He was expected to cruise through the primary season but was challenged by a surprise run from Perriello beginning in January of this year.
Considered a progressive outsider to his opponent’s establishment figure, Perriello has used a wave of liberal political opposition following Trump’s election to catch up on Northam’s head start in fundraising and party support. Recent polling showed a toss up in the days leading up to the primary.
For the Democratic lt. gov. race, voters will have a choice between three candidates including former congressional staffer Susan Platt and attorneys Justin Fairfax and Gene Rossi. Herring, the incumbent attorney general, is running unopposed for his party’s nomination.
In the Republican gubernatorial primary, Gillespie faces Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner. For the lt. gov. race, state Sens. Jill Vogel and Bryce Reeves are facing off against Del. Glenn Davis. Attorney John Adams is running unopposed for the Republican attorney general nomination.
As one of the Commonwealth’s most populated swing districts, Loudoun is a major target for both parties. The county voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election but only narrowly supported Democratic congressional candidate LuAnn Bennett in that same cycle. In the General Assembly, Loudoun sends a split delegation between Republicans and Democrats.
Virginia also has an increased national focus on its race as one of two states, along with New Jersey, with elections in the year following presidential elections. Historically considered a referendum on the president’s first year in office, the Commonwealth’s elections are even more prominent following the dominating role Trump has played in American political discourse leading up to and through his election.
Complicating things for Democrats is a long history of low turnouts in non-presidential elections. Primaries themselves typically draw significantly less than general elections to begin with, and many traditional Democratic voting blocs have disproportionately low turnouts.
However in this cycle Democrats are excited about a new wave of liberal energy at the local, state and national level following the election of Trump last November. Already saddled with low approval ratings nationwide, Trump’s numbers are even worse in Virginia, which Clinton won comfortably in the 2016 election.
That has helped spark a dramatic increase in early and absentee voting compared to the same election four years ago, and politicians are expecting an increased turn out on the day of the election itself.
“There’s a lot of energy. I see it everywhere I go. The same is true here in Loudoun,” Herring said. “I’m hearing local community members saying there’s 300 and 400 people showing up to committee meetings. There’s a lot of energy, a lot of concern for the direction the country is going in.”
In Loudoun, Trump has become especially unpopular following policies like a temporary ban preventing travel from several predominantly Muslim Countries. The chaos following the ban at Dulles Airport in January, where several travelers with green cards and passports were detained and questioned for hours, became a rallying point of opposition to Trump for many Democrats.
Trump’s actions overall have helped inspired a new wave of candidates to run for House of Delegates seats and statewide offices in 2017. House districts across the Commonwealth that have historically been noncompetitive or seen incumbents re-elected without opposition are seeing an influx of new candidates. That includes the 33rd District, which includes western Loudoun County, where Democrats Mavis Taintor and Tia Walbridge are running to oppose incumbent Republican Dave LaRock.
There are more than a dozen Virginia House of Delegates districts currently represented by Republicans that Clinton won in 2016, leading Democrats to believe they can make a sizable dent in the GOP’s 66-34 advantage in the chamber, if not flip it outright.
Perriello, a former one-term U.S. congressman from Virginia’s fifth district, was one of many former and current elected Democrats at Dulles in the immediate aftermath of the ban. He has made an organized opposition to Trump a centerpiece of his campaign and has called for Virginia to be a firewall as well as a turning point to combat the president’s policies.
Platt has also cited Trump’s election as a reason she entered the race. She and her two Democratic primary challengers have all routinely criticized the president while they’ve been on the campaign trail.
Trump also plays a major role for the Republicans. Stewart, who was fired as Trump’s Virginia campaign director after leading a protest outside GOP headquarters for what he perceived as a lack of support from the national party, has continued to wholeheartedly embrace Trump. In interviews Wagner, who also worked on Trump’s campaign, has also come out in support of many of Trump’s policies.
The two candidates, as well as many Democrats, have pressed Gillespie on his support, or lack thereof, for Trump. Gillespie, who has led in nearly every poll since announcing his campaign last year, has taken a more calculated approach toward Trump, tepidly offering support for controversial positions like the immigration ban while keeping a distance for much of the campaign.
Stewart and Wagner have used this to question Gillespie’s conservative credentials. Though Gillespie has shown significant support in polling, his two opponents are hoping that Republican primary voters, who tend to be more conservative than general election voters, will come out to vote for them. They are banking that the increased energy on the Democratic side to oppose Trump will be reflected by conservative voters looking to support him.
Elected officials from both parties say this has helped shape an active primary campaign season that will be reflected by energy at the polls on June 13.
“It’s really important, especially now that people see how important it is to be engaged in the political process at every level, whether its federal, state or local,” Herring said.