Virginia scandals’ fallout to test special election
The extent of the damage Virginia Democrats suffered from rape and racism scandals will be put to the test next week in a special election for the House of Delegates.
The race should be a cakewalk for the party in the solidly Democratic district in Northern Virginia, where voters picked Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by nearly 40 points in 2016 and have sent a steady stream of Democrats to Congress and the State House.
But Republicans now think they’ve got a shot, with the Democratic governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general tangled in a bizarre web of controversies.
Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring are accused of racism after both admitted wearing blackface in the 1980s.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, has been accused of rape by two women, one of whom is pursuing criminal charges alleging that he forced her to perform oral sex on him at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
“We’ve seen a drastic change in the overall disgust with Virginia politics. It’s upset a lot of people,” said Chad Brown, campaign manager for Republican candidate Greg Nelson.
He’ll find out Tuesday if the disgust translates into a boost for Mr. Nelson, an Air Force veteran, against Democrat Ibraheem Samirah, a dentist, in their House race.
Joining them on the ballot is independent candidate Connie Hutchinson, a former Herndon Town Council member.
Democratic and Republican party leaders will closely watch Tuesday’s returns for clues about whether the mess in the state capital will impact General Assembly elections in November or possibly the 2020 presidential race.
The big question is whether the racism and rape controversies turn off black voters and women voters who are the lifeblood of the Democratic Party.
“If we get anywhere close in that election, that’s a huge, huge signal that the scandals are having an impact,” said Shaun Kenney, executive director of the Virginia Republican Party.
If Mr. Nelson finishes within 20 points of Mr. Samirah, that’s “bad news” for Democrats, Mr. Kenney said.
The Northern Virginia district, which has a large population of government workers, has trended Democrat for more than a decade. The region played a major role in realigning the state from Republican to Democrat in 2008.
The Virginia GOP increased its support for Mr. Nelson after the scandals. The party provided mailings and other resources to deliver the message that the mess in Richmond underscores the choice on the ballot between stable Republican leadership or more of the Democratic circus.
State Sen. Scott A. Surovell, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Fairfax County, said he is confident the scandals would not hurt his party’s candidates.
“I’ve been saying from the beginning that most voters base their decisions on the candidates in the race and local issues,” Mr. Surovell said.
Still, the party’s state and national leaders moved quickly to distance themselves from the trifecta of controversy in Richmond.
In the two weeks since the scandals began piling up, nearly every Democratic organization and 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 Democratic and Republican lawmakers unwilling or unable to take that step.
Mr. Samirah joined calls for Mr. Northam to step down, but he largely avoided the other controversies. He is presenting himself as the cure to the societal ills represented by the governor.
“Let’s IMMEDIATELY start the healing, get a new Democratic doctor in Richmond that fully centers equity in their platform, is not a Trump-supporting Republican nor a Tea-party sympathisizing Independent, and, lastly, is not Ralph Northam,” he said in a Facebook post.
Mr. Samirah refused to answer repeated emails and phone calls from The Washington Times.
Amid the turmoil, Mr. Samirah had to apologize for anti-Israel comments he made earlier this decade.
“I am so sorry that my ill-chosen words added to the pain of the Jewish community and I seek your understanding and compassion as I prove to you our common humanity,” said Mr. Samirah, who was born in the U.S. but calls himself a “second-generation Palestinian refugee.”