Virginia residents wait in line in the pre-dawn hours to vote in the Virginia primary at a historic property called the Hunter House at Nottoway Park in Vienna, Va., on March 1, 2016.
Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Why a special election in Virginia raised so many eyebrows


Ordinarily, state legislative special elections don’t generate national attention, but more than a few campaign watchers had their eyes on Virginia for a good reason yesterday.

When Jennifer Wexton (D) won a competitive congressional race last fall, it was the first in a series of electoral dominoes. The Democratic lawmaker gave up her state Senate seat to go to Congress, and soon after, Jennifer Boysko (D) won a special election to replace her, giving up her seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates.

That led to another special election to fill Boysko’s seat, and as the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, that election was yesterday.

Democrats recaptured a Northern Virginia seat in the House of Delegates Tuesday as Ibraheem Samirah won a special election for the seat formerly held by Jennifer Boysko, now a state senator.

Samirah, 27, a Palestinian-American dentist from Herndon, topped Republican Gregg Nelson and independent Connie Hutchinson to win the seat, which has been vacant for most of the General Assembly session that is scheduled to adjourn on Saturday. In unofficial results Samirah received about 59.5 percent of the tally to 34.4 percent for Nelson and about 5.9 percent for Hutchinson.

The margin of victory wasn’t too surprising. This district is in the northern part of the commonwealth, just west of the Washington, D.C., beltway, and is generally seen as a Democratic stronghold. Under normal circumstances, a Democratic victory would be assumed.

Except, given recent developments in Virginia, these weren’t exactly normal circumstances.

As many have no doubt noticed, each of the top Democratic officials in Virginia – Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, and Attorney General Mark Herring – have been caught up in scandals in recent weeks, and Republican officials have suggested that GOP candidates are positioned to benefit from a public backlash.

Indeed, two weeks ago, Donald Trump, utilizing his idiosyncratic approach to English grammar, wrote via Twitter, “Virginia will come back HOME Republican) in 2020!”

With this in mind, yesterday’s House of Delegates race was something of a test case. Would Democrats wholly unrelated to the controversies surrounding Northam, Fairfax, and Herring feel adverse effects at the ballot box?

Perhaps not. In the last election cycle in Virginia’s 86th House of Delegates district, the Republican candidate received 32% of the vote. Yesterday, that total reached 34%.

In recent years, voters just don’t seem to punish the parties of politicians caught up in scandal. Republicans in Missouri excelled despite Eric Greitens’ scandal, just as Democrats in Minnesota were unaffected by Al Franken’s recent resignation. Eliot Spitzer’s scandal didn’t hurt Dems in New York, and Rod Blagojevich’s incarceration didn’t affect Dems in Illinois.

If Trump and his allies are counting on Virginia to move sharply to the right, they may be disappointed.