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Hot and Heavy House Races This Year

Amy Gardner

The paperwork is in and the names are filed, and it's official: 2009 will be the most competitive election year in Virginia in more than a decade.

According to an analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project, 57 of 100 House districts in Virginia feature major-party challenges -- a higher number than any other year going back to 1997. It's not saying much in a state with a pretty sorry record on such matters -- i.e. 33 competitive races two years ago -- but it's something.

Democrats, just six seats shy of taking back the House after a decade in the minority, are gunning for the usual suspects this year: Dave Albo and Tom Rust in Fairfax; Bob Marshall and Jeff Frederick's open seat in Prince William; Phil Hamilton in Newport News; and others. (They missed challenge opportunities in the 31st and 33rd districts, though, where Scott Lingamfelter of Prince William and Joe May of Loudoun run unopposed.)

Republicans say they are just as eager to make gains themselves, mounting campaigns in 15 of 17 House seats in Fairfax County alone and assembling most of those candidates at a pep rally-cum-barbecue Saturday at Mason District Park in Annandale

"We're competitive," House Speaker William J. Howell told about 200 party activists at the picnic. "We can speak to the issues in Fairfax. We're going to do well."

Republicans say their strategy in Fairfax will not only force Democrats to spread their resources thin, but it takes advantage of a few key circumstances, notably two unexpected open seats.

With the primary defeat of incumbent Bob Hull in the 38th District, Republican Danny Smith now faces Kaye Kory in an open-seat contest.

Another unexpected open-seat contest in the 44th District emerged just last week, when incumbent Kristen J. Amundson announced her retirement. Republican James E. McConville is likely to face Democrat Scott Surovell, who leaves his post as Fairfax County Democratic Committee chairman to hit the campaign trail.

Republicans also have their marks on David E. Poisson of Loudoun, Onzlee Ware of Roanoke, and Joe F. Bouchard and Bobby Mathieson, both of Virginia Beach, among others.

Ken Plum of Reston, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, acknowledged that some of the challenges would force Democrats to spend money, and he predicted that some of the highest-dollar races would be in Fairfax County, featuring Republican incumbents Albo and Rust and Democratic incumbents Margie Vanderhye and Chuck Caputo.

But Plum said that the long slate of Republican challengers actually helps his party raise money. He was so tickled to have a Republican opponent after eight years without one, he said, that he put out a fake news bulletin to supporters, prompting one of the largest turnouts at a recent fundraiser that he's experienced in years.

Responses like that will help Democrats turn out voters, which will help the party in statewide races for governor, lieutenant govenor and attorney general, Plum added.

"I've always had trouble raising money, because everybody recognizes I've been here a long time," Plum said. "I'm going to be able to get more people out to vote for the top of the ticket."

By Amy Gardner  |  June 29, 2009; 8:15 AM ET
Categories:  Amy Gardner , Election 2009 , General Assembly 2009  
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