Four years ago, the last time Prince William County voters selected a full set of state legislative representatives, county supervisors and school board members, along with a sheriff and a commonwealth’s attorney, the election was downright underwhelming.
Republicans cruised to a 6-2 majority on the Board of County Supervisors, with three Republican members running unopposed.
And although Democrat Jeremy McPike defeated Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish, a Republican, in a hotly contested state Senate race, Republicans in the House of Delegates also had a pretty good night.
But the story changed two years later.
In 2017, Democrats offered challengers in House races that hadn’t been competitive in decades and busted fundraising records across the region, leading to an Election Night “blue wave” that swept four local incumbent delegates out of their once-safe seats.
Suggesting that 2017 wasn’t a fluke, congressional and municipal races in 2018 found Democrats picking up more seats up and down the ballot, including the 10th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, along with two other congressional seats in Virginia, and flipping control of the Manassas City Council for the first time.
The stakes have only climbed ahead of Election Day, Nov. 5. Republicans are hanging on to control of the state’s Senate by 21-19 and the House of Delegates by 51-49, with competitive races across Prince William potentially determining which party will control the General Assembly.
Even in the minority, Democrats found success on campaign promises like expanding Medicaid, but a Democratic majority would mean control of the committee process that sidelined a wide range of progressive bills, including workers’ rights and broader criminal justice reform.
“No one expected we’d flip 15 seats. All of us ran on Medicaid expansion and teacher funding. They were killed year after year,” said Del. Elizabeth Guzman, who defeated an eight-term incumbent in the 31st District in 2017. “It took the 2017 delegates to be elected and tell Republicans there is a breath of fresh air in this legislature and we came here to get things done.”
This year’s elections will be pivotal in terms of the future direction of Virginia, said Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington.
“There is a lot of pent up Democratic policy preferences that will be considered far more seriously than has been the case in the past,” Farnsworth said, pointing to gun legislation as an example.
Because Virginia is one of the few states to hold elections in odd number years, it’s seen as a leading political indicator for national trends, Farnsworth said, adding that means both parties are hoping to brag about the results of this November’s election.
As of Oct. 28, more than 7,110 people had cast their ballots during absentee voting, according to the Prince William County Office of Elections.
Locally, voters will be picking candidates in six open races, including a successor for Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert, who has held the position since 1968.
On the Board of County Supervisors, at least four seats will be filled by new members, including the four-way-race for chairman. Republican Corey Stewart won the countywide election with 56.8% four years ago, but that was before recent elections proved no Republican seat was safe.
In 2016, county voters backed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump 57% to 37%, and when Stewart was back on the ballot in 2018 as a U.S. Senate candidate, Prince William soundly rejected the board chairman and instead supported Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine 65% to 33%.
Similarly telling, this year’s uncontested supervisor races are safely in Democratic hands, with Republicans defending each of their six seats. The Prince William Chamber PAC, a group focused on business priorities, endorsed six Democrats for the county board, including Democrat Ann Wheeler for board chairman.
The races for the Prince William School Board are nonpartisan by design, but the parties support their slate of candidates.
Former chairman Ryan Sawyers resigned in early 2018 and was replaced in a special election by ophthalmologist Babur Lateef. That three-person race is back on the ballot in November, with the same candidates running for a full four-year term.
Voters will also decide the fate of $355 million in proposed funding for road projects, including $200 million for Va. Route 28, along with $41 million that would be spent on park improvements.