AP NEWS

Ibraheem Samirah beats Gregg Nelson in Virginia House of Delegates special election

February 20, 2019

Democrat Ibraheem S. Samirah handily beat Republican Gregg G. Nelson in a special election Tuesday for a Northern Virginia seat in the House of Delegates, overcoming a series of controversies hounding his party’s state leaders.

Mr. Samirah led Mr. Nelson by 1,576 votes out of 6,283 cast or a 25-percent margin, 59 percent to 34 percent, according to unofficial results from the Virginia Department of Elections.

Independent Connie Haines Hutchinson had 370 votes or 5.89 percent. Another 13 votes or 0.21 percent went to write-in candidates.

The special election in the heavily Democratic district offered the first test of whether the party’s candidates would pay a price for the racism scandals enveloping Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring or the accusations of rape against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, all of whom are Democrats.

Mr. Samirah, a dentist, emerged unscathed.

His win represents a sigh of relief for Democrats in a year when every General Assembly seat is up for grabs in November elections.

He also had to overcome recent revelations that he made anti-Semitic remarks on Twitter while in college. Mr. Samirah, who was born in the U.S. but calls himself a “second-generation Palestinian refugee,” apologized and blamed it on youthful exuberance.

At a polling station in Herndon, Democratic voters said the scandals and the anti-Semitism took a back seat to their disgust with President Trump.

“I will do anything to not vote Republican. I just don’t support this president and his agenda,” said Doreen Wallace, 58, who raised four children as a stay-at-home mom.

She said taking a stand against Mr. Trump “starts at this level.”

“I’m just shaking my head. I don’t know what to do,” she said of the controversies in Richmond, especially the rape allegations. “We have to have zero tolerance.”

Heading into the special election, Virginia GOP officials said coming within 20 points of victory in the heavily Democratic district would show that the scandals took a toll.

Mr. Samirah beat the spread.

The race should be a cakewalk for Democrats. Voters there picked Hillary Clinton over Mr. Trump by nearly 40 points in 2016 and have sent a parade of Democrats to Richmond and Washington.

The 86th District, which includes parts of Fairfax and Loudon counties, has a large population of government workers and has trended Democrat for more than a decade. The region played a major role in realigning the state from Democrat to Republican in 2008.

The seat on the ballot Tuesday has become the first rung on a Democratic ladder to higher offices.

The special election replaced Jennifer Boysko, a Democrat who won the state Senate seat vacated by Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat who advanced to Congress.

Despite the election win, the state’s Democratic leaders are still fighting for political survival.

Mr. Northam and Mr. Herring are accused of racism after both admitted wearing blackface in the 1980s.

Mr. Fairfax, who is black, has been accused of rape by two women, one of whom is pursuing criminal charges alleging he forced her to perform oral sex on him at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.

The scandals have landed like a ton of bricks on the Democratic Party, which frequently levels racism charges against Republicans and has championed the #MeToo movement, including using it to go after Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh with unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misconduct.

Mr. Northam’s problems began last month with his support of a late-term abortion bill and comments about allowing abortions at birth, which critics described as infanticide.

Soon after that, it was revealed that Mr. Northam’s profile page in his 1984 medical school yearbook included a photo of a man in blackface standing with someone in a Ku Klux Klan costume.

The governor at first apologized for appearing in the photo. A day later, he denied taking part in the photo or putting it in the yearbook, though he admitted wearing blackface another time in 1984 to impersonate Micheal Jackson during a dance contest, which he said he won.

Weathering a torrent of resignation calls from his Democratic Party, Mr. Northam insisted he was the right person to help the state heal.

Mr. Herring then confessed that he too wore blackface in 1980 when performing as a rap singer at a college party.

Amid the racism controversies, Mr. Fairfax, who is black, was hit with rape allegations.

First, California college professor Vanessa Tyson came forward to say Mr. Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him when they met as campaign aides at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Next, Maryland resident Meredith Watson alleged she suffered a similar attack by Mr. Fairfax in 2000 when they were students at Duke University.

The party’s state and national leaders moved quickly to distance themselves from the trifecta of controversy in Richmond.

In the weeks since, nearly every Democratic organization and Democratic official, including nearly all the party’s presidential candidates, have called for Mr. Northam and Mr. Fairfax to resign.

Both men escaped impeachment proceedings, however, with Democrat and Republican lawmakers unwilling or unable to take that step.