Virginia Democrats think they’ve found a strongly competitive candidate for a new state Senate district in the Lynchburg area, giving them a chance at a pick-up in an election in which the party will likely be playing defense.
Democrats are working to keep their razor-thin 22-to-18 majority in the Senate. Republicans believe that at least five Democratic incumbents are vulnerable.
But Democrats could shore up their majority since the recent redistricting if they win either of two new districts. Former Lynchburg city council member Bert Dodson Jr. will run in District 22 in central Virginia created with the collapse of two Republican-held seats farther west, Democrats say.
Dodson, who sat on the council for 12 years, runs an extermination business that was founded by his father in Lynchburg in 1944. He would face one of five Republicans who are competing for the GOP nomination in the area.
“That company is one of the biggest ones around — it’s in five states,” said Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax).
“His signs are all over that district already,” Saslaw joked, a reference to the pest control company’s advertising. “We’re going to win that seat.”
Saslaw said he expected Dodson to win the party nomination and that he knew of no other Democrats in the district who are likely to run.
In a brief interview, Dodson said he had no comment at this time about a possible run. But Democrats believe Dodson could pick up the seat, which includes the more Democratic precincts of Lynchburg, a sometimes Democratic-leaning Prince Edward and a swath of heavy Republican areas, including Amherst and Appomattox counties.
Jeff Ryer, spokesman for the Senate Republican caucus, noted that the district has been trending toward the GOP in recent elections.
“The combination of that, combined with the fact that I’m confident we have solid candidates, and I’m confident,” he said. “It’s an open seat. We’d expect the Democrats to contest it. We’re not going to take it for granted. But we feel confident.”
The five Republicans who have filed to run are Brian Bates, a Buckingham County supervisor and Longwood College professor; Tom Garrett, the commonwealth’s attorney in Louisa county; Mark Peake, an attorney from Lynchburg; Bryan Rhode, who lives in Goochland and works for the commonwealth attorney’s office in Richmond.; and Claudia Tucker, an Amherst County supervisor who once worked for former Virginia House Speaker Vance Wilkins (R-Amherst).