RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - General Assembly races that could set the direction of state policy for at least two years, possibly the next four are just over six weeks off and the pivotal races are taking shape.
All you have to do is follow the money.
Virginia Senate and House elections are the most obscure of all. They come two years after each gubernatorial election with voter attention already straying to the presidential, senatorial and congressional races still a year off.
Few elections will have more immediate or profound impact on Virginia voters. A net gain of just two seats in the state Senate would put state policymaking totally in Republican hands for the first time since 2001. It would green-light the conservative agenda of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell that has been slowed by a Democratic Senate majority during the past two years.
The high stakes of the elections are showing up in campaign finance reports candidates filed last week. Based on where the money has flowed, here is a primer on the races to watch between now and Nov. 8.
House of Delegates
With the GOP in charge of 61 of the House's 100 seats, a Democratic takeover is not a concern. But results of one clash in southwestern Virginia will shout louder than all the others.
Stripped of his old 10th District after 20 years by Republican reapportionment earlier this year, Democratic Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong decided to take on two-term Republican Del. Charles Poindexter in Poindexter's 9th District.
Armstrong has more than doubled Poindexter in fundraising, according to candidate filings compiled into a database by the Virginia Public Access Project , a nonprofit and nonpartisan tracker of cash in Virginia politics. And Armstrong entered September with $485,000 on hand. But it's a district where voters in 2009 voted 2-to-1 for McDonnell. In the last 20 days of August, Armstrong raised $83,289 to Poindexter's $36,146.
The only House district where the campaign cash quest was larger was in Armstrong's old district, the 10th, now transplanted into the Washington, D.C., exurbs of Loudoun, Clarke and Frederick Counties. Wealthy Republican attorney Randy Minchew and Democrat David Butler together raised $208,234 from Aug. 11 through Aug. 21, or an average of more than $10,000 a day.
The decisive battlegrounds are a half-dozen races in the Senate, and the marquee race pits two sitting senators against each other.
After redistricting moved the boundaries of first-year Republican Sen. Bill Stanley, he chose to move about 10 miles into the 20th District of 15-year Democratic Sen. Roscoe Reynolds. Gov. Bob McDonnell's Opportunity Virginia political action committee, with nearly $3 million on hand, has already bet heavily on Stanley, giving him $83,000 in a district where voters went 60 percent for McDonnell two years ago. The Virginia Senate Republican Caucus and neighboring Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, also kicked in $25,000 each. Reynolds and Stanley are about even in fundraising. A wild card is tea party activist Jeff Evans running as an independent with the potential to take votes from Stanley in a close race.
McDonnell is also betting heavily on Republican Bryce Reeves' bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Ed Houck in the 17th District, a race where the two candidates together have already raised more than $1.1 million. McDonnell gave Reeves $50,409. But Houck has raised nearly $800,000 and reported $467,000 on hand to start February.
In the 1st District, Republicans are trying to take back the seat Democratic Sen. John Miller won four years ago. McDonnell has given GOP challenger Mickey Chohany $50,409 in a centrist Peninsula district. Miller ended August with a 2-to-1 edge in cash on hand.
In the Roanoke-area 21st District, four-term Democratic Sen. John Edwards is trying to ward off a challenge from Republican Del. David Nutter, who has received $40,000 from McDonnell and $25,000 each from the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus and from Newman.
Ordinarily, Republicans might forgo running in the Democratic-voting 31st District that retiring Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple has held for four terms. But a vicious Democratic primary fight with Jaime Areizaga-Soto forced nominee Barbara Favola to spend $242,000 and emerge gassed and bruised. Thus, Republican Caren Merrick began September with $125,464 in the bank to Favola's $14,659.
Two Republican former House members are making credible comeback efforts in the Senate.
Dick Black, an anti-abortion stalwart who dismayed House and Senate colleagues in 2003 by sending them life-size plastic fetus replicas in the midst of the legislative session, has raised about $166,000 in his bid for the open 13th District seat. Democrat Shawn Mitchell has raised about half that amount. The new district, transplanted from Suffolk into northern Virginia by reapportionment, voted overwhelmingly for McDonnell in 2009.
Jeff Frederick, ousted by as state Republican Party chairman in April 2009, has raised nearly $180,000 in hopes of denying
Democratic Sen. Linda "Toddy" Puller a fourth four-year term. But Puller, widow of a decorated Marine veteran who chronicled his Vietnam War injuries in the book "Fortunate Son," has raised nearly three times more money in a middle-of-the district that is home to the Marine base at Quantico.
Virginia Public Access Project: http://www.vpap.org.
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