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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Virginia primaries: Why this year’s race holds national implications

Highlights include a Trump-off between two candidates, a famous whistleblower and a Republican Senate candidate who referred to an important small city as podunk.

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — Washington’s neighbor to the south is preparing for federal primaries that could provide a window into how elections will shake out in November. 

Virginians will vote on June 18 to choose the primary candidates for the Commonwealth's 11 House seats and one Senate seat.


Democrat Tim Kaine, who has served in the Senate since 2013, faces a field of five Republicans hoping to be the state's first GOP senator since John Warner retired in 2009. Kaine was tapped as Hillary Clinton's running mate in the 2016 presidential election and has held various important posts, including governor from 2006 to 2010. 

Kaine won reelection comfortably in 2018, defeating Corey Stewart with 57% of the votes. Polling released on May 29 from Roanoke College pegged Kaine as 43% favorable compared to 39% unfavorable, representing ratings lower than when he first ran for reelection.

Rich Meagher, political science department chair at Randolph-Macon College, said it would be difficult for a Republican to win a state-wide seat. 

"The Democrats are favored in Virginia, just, I think, because of the demographic advantage," Meagher said. "And if a Republican wins, I just think it shows that in that particular election, there were enough countervailing factors that the demographics didn't override."

Navy veteran Hung Cao holds a sizeable fundraising advantage over his Republican competitors. Cao unsuccessfully ran for Virginia's House District 10 in 2022 but secured former President Donald Trump's endorsement for the coming primaries. 

"Trump's endorsement makes his good prospects in the primary even better since primaries involve only the most activist Republicans, many of whom are supporters of the former president," professor of political science and international affairs and Director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington Stephen Farnsworth said in an email.

Cao came under fire when the Super PAC Unleash America, where he serves as honorary chairman, was accused of misleading donors into believing their money would go towards supporting Virginia candidates. He added gasoline to the fire when he called the outlet that reported on the allegations, the Staunton Newsleader, a "podunk local newspaper."

Election money updates roll in slowly in Virginia, but the Virginia Public Access Project reports that Cao raised over $2 million by March 31. Other notable candidates include Jonathan Emord and Scott Parkinson, who have raised over $800,000 each. 

House District 5 

House District 5, encompassing Central Virginia with cities like Charlottesville and Lynchburg, pits two Trump loyalists against one another. What should have been a slam dunk for incumbent Bob Good flipped on its head when Trump endorsed his challenger, State Senator John McGuire. 

Good has voted hardline conservative consistently since his election in 2020. He chairs Congress's farthest right bloc, the Freedom Caucus, and was instrumental in supporting the ousting of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in October 2023.  

Instead of sailing smoothly as one of Congress's most conservative voices, Good complicated things when, in a miscalculated move, he endorsed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for the party's presidential nomination.

"Congressman Good, a highly conservative Republican, would have been heavily favored to be renominated if he had backed former President Trump in the party's presidential primaries," professor Farnsworth said. "In all honesty, there shouldn't have been much competition."

Despite Good flipping his allegiance back to Trump in January, the damage was already done. On May 28, Trump delivered a devastating blow, endorsing Good's competitor.

"Bob Good is BAD FOR VIRGINIA, AND BAD FOR THE USA," Trump posted on his social media platform Truth Social. "He turned his back on our incredible movement, and was constantly attacking and fighting me until recently, when he gave a warm and 'loving' Endorsement - But really, it was too late."

McGuire is a former Navy Seal who has served as a delegate and state senator. He is as loyal a Trump supporter as they come. In 2021, he attended the Jan. 6 insurrection and even took a selfie from the west gate of the U.S. Capitol, although he claims not to have entered the Capitol building. 

Associate professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University Alex Keena said the race will be an interesting study regarding how much weight the former president's endorsement holds. Good has delivered for his Republican constituents over his tenure in Congress, but McGuire has the all-important endorsement. 

"I think that'll tell us a lot about Trump standing in a very important part of Virginia that Republicans are going to need," Keena said.  

Good has nearly doubled funds raised compared to McGuire, but both candidates are far ahead of the three Democrats vying to flip the historically Republican district blue. 

"There's no daylight between those two guys in terms of policy in terms of their approach to politics, in terms of how conservative they are," Meagher said. "It really is against this test of personal loyalty to Trump."

McGuire released internal polling in early May that gave him a 14-point lead. 

House District 7

House District 7 represents one of Virginia's most economically and socially diverse districts. Stretching from the rural farmland of Culpeper and Orange County to the highly developed Washington D.C. suburb of Stafford and Prince William County. 

"The proximity of Virginia's Seventh District to Washington, and its mixture of more liberal and more conservative communities, makes this district a top national priority for both parties," Farnsworth said. "It has a history of close contests and huge spending because both parties want the bragging rights for having won one of the most evenly divided districts in the nation."

Democrat Abigail Spanberger won reelection in the district that moved dramatically following redistricting. The former CIA officer decided to run for governor, leaving the district needing a new Democrat. 

On the Democratic side, Eugene Vindman is ahead in fundraising with over $3 million in donations. Vindman and his twin brother, U.S. Army Col. Alexander Vindman, rose to national prominence when they testified against Trump in his first impeachment trial. 

"You know, it's really living up the the oath of office against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and literally put his own career and ended his own career by doing the right thing and standing up to what they heard and what they saw in the Trump White House," chair of the Stafford County Democratic committee Howard Rudat said. "It is a uniquely diverse, but uniquely qualified group of seven candidates."

The other six Democrats running are state and local legislators and veterans, including Guzman, Carl Bedell and Margaret Angela Franklin. 

"Money does not necessarily win campaigns. You really need that energy and enthusiasm," Keena said. "You can't discount the fact that they actually have won votes. They've won elections."

On the Republican side, former Green Beret Derrick Anderson hopes for better luck after losing the nomination to Yesli Vega in 2022. 

Vindman released internal polling, giving him a 33-point lead, with Bailey coming in second. 

With a slim, 217-to-213 Republican majority, the parties will fight tooth and nail for each seat.

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