Virginia Primaries Offer Good Stories But No Big Narrative

Virginia’s primary elections delivered a bit of shock, a little awe and a big dollop of wow Tuesday night.

Thanks for the shock, Paul Milde. He nailed a narrow GOP primary win over 28th District incumbent Del. Bob Thomas despite having a criminal record. That’s pretty amazing. It will be much more amazing if the GOP is able to keep this district, once the stronghold of former House Speaker Bill Howell.

Thomas won the mistake-prone 2017 general election by 82 votes over Democratic nominee Joshua Cole. Cole is running again and should be considered the favorite.

The awe? That came from two of the Senate’s most senior incumbents, Republican Emmett Hanger and Democrat Dick Saslaw.

Hanger committed the sin of shepherding Medicaid expansion through the GOP-controlled Senate in 2018. He earned a spirited, if ultimately conventional, challenge from Tina Freitas, wife of once and future statewide Republican candidate Del. Nick Freitas.

Hanger won rather comfortably. Barring an unforeseen calamity between now and November, Hanger will win a seventh Senate term and continue to torment the increasingly unhinged “liberty Republicans” (who nurtured fantasies of buses “full of Democrats” voting for Hanger).

For Senate Democratic leader Saslaw, Tuesday’s primary was the first contested affair he’s had since 1979.

Yasmine Taeb gave him a run for his (Dominion Energy) money. And that displeased the already acerbic Saslaw to no end. But thanks to spoiler candidate Karen Torrent, Saslaw gets to return to the Senate’s friendly confines and what he hopes will be a return to the majority leader’s post.

And then there’s the wow.

Former delegate Joe Morrissey defeated incumbent 16th District Sen. Rosalyn Dance handily. He’s the guy who went to jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was disbarred — twice. His run for mayor in 2016 gave Richmond’s Democratic and business establishments a nearly terminal case of the vapors.

Absent an independent or write-in effort, he is heading back to Capitol Square, where he is almost certain to be a thorn in the side of both parties.

Overall, that’s a good thing. The Senate needs to be shaken up every now and then. And Morrissey just might push Senate Democrats to take seriously issues such as refurbishing the state’s public school infrastructure.

Then again, Morrissey could also fall into his old routine — relying on stunts instead of substance. That’s great for getting headlines, but it makes few friends.

Which brings us to the minor primary tidbits.

Included on that list: The fallout from the Hanger-Freitas race. Worth noting is that Hanger’s Republican colleague Sen. David Suetterlein endorsed Freitas, saying the Senate needed “strong, reliable conservative leadership.”

It’s rare, indeed, for an incumbent to endorse the opponent of a fellow incumbent of the same party. The next Senate GOP caucus meeting ought to be lit.

Continue reading here.

Cover: Sen. Emmett Hanger (left) talks with a constituent at the polls during the June 11 Primary with Augusta County Supervisor Pam Carter (right). Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell