When the sun rose Nov. 7, six Republicans represented Prince William County in the House of Delegates — by the time night fell, five Democrats had taken their place.
In a result outpacing even county Democrats’ wildest expectations, all of the party’s contenders in contested delegate races seem to have emerged triumphant Tuesday. The party now stands at the precipice of regaining a majority in the House as Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam assumes the governorship; Republicans started the day with a 66-34 advantage, but as of Wednesday morning, Democrats had won 15 seats (with several others seat for recounts).
That result was largely powered by the massive gains in Prince William; House Majority Caucus Chair Tim Hugo, R-40th District, was the lone Republican in the area to survive, beating Donte Tanner by 15 votes.
Yet Hugo’s partner in the leadership, House Majority Whip Jackson Miller, R-50th District, fell in one of the most shocking results of the night, losing 54 percent to 45 percent to Lee Carter in theManassas-area race
“It’s a blue tidal wave,” said county school board Chairman Ryan Sawyers, a Democrat whose win in 2015 represented the party’s first countywide victory in an open seat in years. “It’s one thing to hope for good turnout, but this is a daydream...We could imagine it would happen, but we didn’t know it would come true.”
Democratic turnout swamped
the GOP both statewide and in Prince William during the June primaries, and county Democrats repeated that result in the general election — about 71,550 people in Prince William voted for Democrats this year, compared to the 50,400 or so who came out for the last gubernatorial race in 2013. In a round of elections closely watched nationwide as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s early performance in office, Prince William Democrats think Tuesday’s result was loud enough to reach Washington, D.C.
“Prince William County sent a message to the president tonight,” said state Sen. Scott Surovell, D-36th District. “This is what happens when Republicans play with nuclear waste; bad things happen...Republicans have depended on Prince William County for years. This changes everything.”
The county’s results also included a bit of history — not only did Danica Roem become the first transgender woman to hold state office with her win over Del. Bob Marshall, R-13th District, but Prince William Democrats singlehandedly tripled the number of people of Hispanic descent in the General Assembly. Elizabeth Guzman
managed a 53 percent to 44 percent win over Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-31st District, while Hala Ayala
earned a 52 percent to 47 percent win over Del. Rich Anderson, R-51st District.
In the state’s only majority-minority county, the significance of that bit of history isn’t lost on people like Guzman, herself an immigrant from Peru who settled in Woodbridge years ago.
“Our delegate never stood up for the Latino community, and I wish he had,” Guzman said. “But I hope tonight sends a message loud and clear; everyone is welcome in Prince William County.”
Guzman also said she hopes that message reaches the ears of one prominent Republican whom she’ll now represent in Richmond: Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, whose embrace of hard-right immigration policies (and President Trump) have earned plenty of headlines over the years.
“I can’t wait to introduce myself to him as his delegate,” Guzman said. “I am going to stand up to his rhetoric in this county.”
Jennifer Carroll Foy will add a bit of diversity to the county’s slate of delegates in her own right, after she bested Republican Mike Makee by a 78 percent to 21 percent margin in the 2nd District. She’ll replace retiring GOP Del. Mark Dudenhefer, and she and Tanner will become the second and third African-American members of the Prince William delegation — Del. Luke Torian, D-52nd District, ran unopposed and earned 100 percent of the vote.
“This is an example of people wanting elected officials to look like the people they represent,” Foy said. “This is what happens when you attack women and minorities, and bring racism and xenophobia to our country and to our state. This is how we respond.”
With the Democratic wave sweeping Virginia, Foy noted that her party will suddenly be in a “much stronger position” to fight for long-unthinkable initiatives in the GOP-dominated chamber, particularly the expansion of Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act.
Or, as Ayala puts it: “We will have a lot of negotiating to do.”
Indeed, with a potential tie in the House, the two parties would have to work out some form of power-sharing arrangement between now-House Minority Leader David Toscano, D-57th District, and the Republican pick to replace outgoing House Speaker Bill Howell: Del. Kirk Cox, R-66th District, who also won Tuesday. A recount in the 94th District, which currently favors Republican Del. David Yancey by 12 votes, is the main race leaders are watching to determine the chamber’s status.
Yet the party wouldn’t be in such heady territory without wins from a candidate like Carter widely seen as a hefty underdog to powerful Republican incumbents.
Carter was facing a particularly uphill climb, both because he broke with Democratic party leaders onsome policy issues
and due to Miller’s huge cash advantage
— he pulled in $487,000 in the race while Carter managed about $243,000 for the whole cycle.
But Carter notes that he refused any donations from for-profit corporations during the race, while Miller largely depended on corporate money, which Carter believes “sent a message that we were not going to be bought.”
“Voters saw that and responded,” Carter said. “I knew it was possible, but I didn’t allow myself to entertain the thought until tonight.”
Carter’s win stands as another example of the city of Manassas’ increasingly blue tint in high-turnout elections — the city voted 52 percent to 47 percent for Carter over the long-term incumbent, even after its voters backed Miller in his failed bid to become Prince William clerk of circuit court this spring.
At the time, Democrats were ebullient
about Jackie Smith’s resounding win over Miller in the April special election, predicting that it would be a harbinger of major gains to come in the House elections. While those claims might have seemed a bit hyperbolic in the moment, they look downright prescient.
“This is what local Democrats started this spring when we got Jackie elected,” Sawyers said.
The party still faces a Republican-controlled state Senate (albeit by just a 21-19 margin), and there is no guarantee that Democrats will be able to deliver on their big promises with plenty of Republican delegates left in the House.
But, when taken in tandem with Northam’s hefty win, Prince William’s newest delegates feel optimistic about the next two years in Richmond.
“We have opportunity to drive the agenda,” Carter said. “But we can’t rest on our laurels. We were elected to make change in the lives of working people.”