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House Call!

Amy Gardner

Hello everyone! And welcome to House Call, the Virginia Politics blog's new weekly feature that will focus on, yep, you guessed it -- the House of Delegates! Call me a geek, but there are few subjects I'd rather blog than the murky depths of this year's down-ballot races.

Where else is a senior appropriator in the political fight of his life (and under investigation) for budgeting state money to his future employer? And where else is the seat of the former chairman of the state GOP one of the Democrats' top targets? And where else did a challenger from the Northern Neck urge supporters to take to the bullet box if the ballot box didn't work out?

Forget about the fireworks, though. There's a lot of serious business at stake in the House of Delegates, the lower house of the General Assembly where all 100 seats are up for election this year. The House is currently controlled by a coalition of Republicans and independents who tend to favor fiscally and socially conservative policies, gun rights and private property rights. That puts them at odds with the Democrat-controlled state Senate, not to mention Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine -- an overall dynamic often blamed for the policy gridlock (transportation, anyone?) that has beset Richmond for Kaine's entire term.

Democrats must win six new seats on Nov. 3 to win back the House for the first time this decade, a task that even Democrats concede is a steep hill to climb. Much depends on factors beyond House candidates' control: the economy, the popularity of President Obama and what happens at the top of the ballot between Democrat Creigh Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell.

But a lot depends on what happens on the ground. Where are the bloodiest battlegrounds likely to be? Who's got the better transpo plan? Who's raising the biggest pile-o-cash? What are the polls saying? And what do YOU think? All tips, opinions and even idle musings are welcome, as there are 12 weeks to go between now and Nov. 3, and that means TWELVE House Calls must be made. Reach me by email at or by telephone, (703) 383-5102.

In the meantime, here are a few quick, Northern Virginia-centric thoughts to get us started:

Will Northern Virginia's last Republican pillars finally crumble? Dave Albo and Tom Rust, that means you. Few will work harder than Democrat Greg Werkheiser, the nonprofit executive who lost narrowly to Albo in 2005 in the southeastern Fairfax County's 42nd District -- and who is back for more this year. But Albo is ready too, and the folks down in West Springfield know him and like him.

Rust, of Herndon, is still Mr. Mayor to his long-time constituents -- an institution who will be hard to bring down even in the 86th District, which straddles Loudoun and Fairfax counties and performs more Democratically than any other Republican-held seat in the state. Stevens Miller is well-regarded for having unseated a Republican two years ago on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. But he is an unknown compared to Rust, particularly on the Fairfax County side of the district.

Is conservative Bob Marshall finally in trouble? People have been saying for years that Marshall, from Loudoun and Prince William's 13th District, was ripe for a challenge because the demographics have shifted so much there -- and because, perhaps, folks have grown a little tired of his perpetual stream of legislation to restrict abortion clinics. That has never been so true as now; the 13th, having doubled in size since the current boundaries were drawn in 2001, is now the largest House district in Virginia. It voted for Obama, reversing its vote for President Bush four years earlier. And a lot fewer folks know who Bob Marshall is, giving Democratic opponent John J. Bell an advantage that past challengers did not have.

And finally (for today), how much does money matter? In the McLean-based 34th District, the question will be put to the test this year. Democrat Margi Vanderhye is completing her first term after winning an open seat upon the retirement of Republican Vince Callahan, and by many accounts she has impressed many with her good nature and moderate, pro-business approach. But Republican challenger Barbara Comstock is raising tons of cash and enjoys the counsel of Tom Davis strategist John Hishta. Comstock had $167,000 in the bank on June 30, compared to Vanderhye's $123,000 (UPDATE: I published the wrong figure for Vanderhye initially; it is now correct). Will Comstock's ties to (and donations from) conservatives help or hurt in moderate McLean? This race is one to watch.

OK, this is really the last thing I'll say: Just to close the loop, I was talking about Republican Phil Hamilton of Newport News up at the top of this post, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee who is under investigation after taking a $40,000-a-year job at Old Dominion University's Center for Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership after securing state funding for the center in the state budget. Hamilton's 93rd District has leaned Democratic in recent elections, but he's got strong backing from a local bipartisan coalition, including Democratic Mayor Joe Frank and Democrat Alan Diamonstein, the former House caucus chairman. Things may break for Democratic challenger Robin Abbott if the ODU scandal builds.

I also referred to Republican Jeff Frederick's 52nd District in Prince William County, which is now an open seat after Frederick's unceremonious dumping as state GOP chairman and his decision not to seek re-election. Republican Rafael Lopez faces Democrat Luke Torian in what is expected by all sides to be a close race in a district that has trended Democratic in recent elections.

And finally (really!) I mentioned Republican Catherine Crabill of the Northern Neck's 99th District, who is challenging Democrat Albert Pollard but who called some not-so-positive attention to herself with her exuberant call to arms.

By Amy Gardner  |  August 5, 2009; 2:46 PM ET
Categories:  Amy Gardner , Election 2009 , General Assembly 2009  
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Next: Beyer's Going-Away Party


Don't forget Jeanette Rishel, 50th District!

Posted by: kgotthardt | August 10, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Rishell, that is. I can't type.

Posted by: kgotthardt | August 10, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

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