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House Call: The Republican Rainbow Ticket

Amy Gardner

Hello, legislative junkies! Yes, the big story in House races this week remains Del. Phillip A. Hamilton, the Newport News Republican fighting for his life amid a bipartisan chorus of calls for his resignation. But by now, the back-room banter among both Republicans and Democrats is that Hamilton is sunk -- and that even if he steps down and the Rs can find a candidate to step in, they'd be hard-pressed to hang on against Democrat Robin Abbott in the ever-bluer 93rd District.

And so, like the Republican Party, I'm moving on -- to an entirely different topic: this year's Rainbow Coalition. Let me explain with a question: Which major party is mounting the most diverse ticket of legislative challengers that anyone can remember? And, in two-thirds of those races, which party is facing a slate of incumbents who could be described with perfect accuracy as bunch of middle-aged white guys? I know, I know, I'm playing to stereotypes. But even the Republicans admit that it's surprising that the GOP challenge ticket is packing such diversity this year. At the very least, it's interesting and worth a closer look. So here are some eye-opening facts on the subject, in no particular order:

Of 41 House races either with Democratic incumbents (30) or no incumbent at all (11), at least nine feature Republican challengers of diverse background. My information comes primarily from the House Republican Caucus and the Democratic Party of Virginia; please alert me if I've missed or mischaracterized anyone. Another caveat: I'm looking today only at major-party candidates or those who caucus with the Rs or Ds.

Of 38 House races either with Republican incumbents (27) or no incumbent at all (11), just five feature Democrats of diverse background.

Of 30 Democratic incumbents facing opposition, 19 are white men over the age of 40. Eight of those 19 are in Northern Virginia. Of 27 Republican incumbents with challenges, 22 fit that description. Five are from NoVa.

It must be stated that among incumbents, Democrats are overwhelmingly more diverse than Republicans. All 11 African-American members in the House are Democrats. And there are many more Democratic women in the House (12) than Republican women (four). Same goes for women challengers: eight Democrats and six Republicans.

And let's not forget that many of these challengers have been given little chance, and are receiving little support, financial or otherwise, from their parties.

Here's the breakdown of diversity among challengers on the Democratic side. Mark Keam, of Korean descent, is facing Republican Jim Hyland in the open 35th District in Fairfax County (Steve Shannon's seat). Jeannette Rishell, facing incumbent Jackson Miller in Prince William County's 50th District, is of Filipina descent. And four Democratic challengers are African-Americans: Luke Torian in the open 52nd District in Prince William County (Jeff Frederick's seat); Robert Barnette is facing John Cox in Hanover County's open 55th District; Sam Eure is challenging Republican Tom Gear in Hampton's 91st District; and Matthew James is facing Republican Jennifer Lee in Portsmouth's vacant 80th District.

Here's the breakdown of diversity on the Republican side. Sasha Gong, who is challenging Charniele Herring in Alexandria's 46th District, is of Chinese descent. Ernesto Sampson, vying against Democrat Betsy Carr for the open 69th District in Richmond (Frank Hall's seat), is African-American. Rafael Lopez, facing Torian in Prince William, is Latino. Jennifer Lee, facing James in the vacant 80th, is from Hawaii and boasts both Spanish and Portugese heritage. Ron Villanueva, facing incumbent Bobby Mathieson in Virginia Beach's 21st District, is of Filipino descent. Vicki Vasques, challenging Del. Dave Englin in Alexandria's 45th District, is Native American. And John Amiral, challenging Democrat Paula Miller in Norfolk's 87th District, is of Azerbaijani descent.

Danny Smith, vying against Democrat Kaye Kory in the open 38th District in Fairfax County, is openly gay.

And this one's for bonus points only: Troy Bird, challenging Onzlee Ware in Roanoke's 11th District, has a pony tail.

By Amy Gardner  |  August 25, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Amy Gardner , Election 2009 , General Assembly 2009  
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all those diverse republicans still add up to being republican. I thought we were beyond " identity politics"

Posted by: pvogel88 | August 25, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

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