RICHMOND — If anyone should be a shoo-in to win his party's nomination for a House of Delegates seat during the primary elections on Tuesday, it would be Republican Chris Stolle of Virginia Beach.
The outcome could be a measure of how Virginia politics have been scrambled after four years of the Donald Trump administration.
Stolle, 63, a doctor, is the Virginia establishment — a quieter conservative, respected on both sides of the aisle. His family is a GOP dynasty: One brother is the sheriff of Virginia Beach, another is the city’s prosecutor and sister Siobhan Dunnavant is a state senator for the Richmond area.
Opponent Tim Anderson, a 46-year-old lawyer, is on the Trump track — slinging high-profile political lawsuits against Democrats and standing up for state Sen. Amanda Chase (Chesterfield) when her colleagues censured her, in part, for calling the Jan. 6 insurrectionists “patriots.”
The other opponent, Philip M. Kazmierczak, 37, is a real estate broker and political novice who says he represents a younger generation of Republicans — tired of both the entrenched old guard and the Trumpian culture warriors — and who also happens to be gay.
“Any of the three of them would be an outstanding delegate. I’m just so pleased and proud we have the ability to field candidates like that,” said Bill Curtis, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach.
The choice that district voters ultimately make will say something about where the party sees its future, said Quentin Kidd, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.
“This may be a mini case study,” he said.
One Virginia Beach GOP official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the candidates frankly said each has merits, but that voters will have a pragmatic bottom line: “Republicans are tired of losing,” the official said.
Republicans haven’t won statewide in Virginia since 2009. Virginia Beach, home to major military bases, saw three state House districts flip from red to blue during the last two election cycles. The 83rd — in the northwestern corner of the city, facing the Chesapeake Bay and including a sliver of Norfolk’s Ocean View — was one of the most surprising. Republicans would be unlikely to reclaim their majority in the House this fall without picking up a district as closely divided as this one.
With so much on the line, the Republican official said, party voters in this swing district might be in the mood for a harder line. “A message that’s saying ‘We’re going to take the fight back to Richmond’ is appealing even if you don’t agree with all the elements of the fight,” the official said.
That was a reference to Anderson, who splashed onto the political scene last year by seeking a recall of state Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), who as president pro tempore of the Senate is arguably the most powerful Black woman in Virginia. Lucas was briefly charged with a crime last summer after she appeared at a Confederate statue protest in Portsmouth and then, hours after she left, demonstrators pulled down the statue and it landed on a man’s head, seriously injuring him.
Though the charges were dropped, Anderson spearheaded a crusade saying Lucas was unfit to serve. She has sued him for defamation.
Anderson also has filed multiple suits against Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and his administration, including over coronavirus restrictions for weddings, the date of a special election to fill a state Senate seat and on behalf of a now-former state employee who raised questions about the Virginia Parole Board’s actions. The first two suits were rejected by judges and the third was withdrawn after the employee was fired.
And it was Anderson who helped Chase sue the state Senate — also unsuccessfully — over her censure earlier this year.
“Virginia does not need more politicians. It needs fighters with spines of steel,” an announcer intones in a flag-drenched video on Anderson’s website. He regularly posts videos in which he explains — in friendly, neighbor-next-door tones — how the state is attempting to shut down individual liberties.
In one, Anderson points to a sign listing what he calls the Democrats’ “radical agenda” of defunding police, critical race theory, unlimited government and more. As orchestral music swells in the background, Anderson picks up a flamethrower and incinerates the sign, yelling “Woooo!”
“He’s saying things that people think but don’t necessarily say out loud,” Curtis said.
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In an interview, Anderson said bluster is just part of being a lawyer — “full contact,” he called it. But he added that his goal in running for office is to work with others to “reform the system” — term limits for lawmakers, restrictions on campaign finance, making it easier to carry a firearm.
Anderson praised Chase and Trump for their policies, but said both are too combative. “Amanda Chase is not extremely effective because her colleagues just don’t like her,” Anderson said. “She’s a very fine person, her heart is right, but I think it has to be a hybrid of Amanda’s politics and being able to get along with your colleagues.”
Anderson has trailed Stolle in fundraising, with a total of just under $87,000 raised to date compared with a little more than $118,000 for Stolle, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. Anderson has a far greater number of small donations from individuals, though, signifying his grass-roots appeal, while Stolle is pulling in more from big business interests.
Kazmierczak lags, with just over $31,000 raised, according to VPAP.
Stolle declined to be interviewed for this article, but his campaign manager emailed a statement: “Chris has been on the doors talking to voters for months, and he keeps hearing the same thing — we need to break up the total control that liberals have over Richmond.”
Stolle was known during his years as a delegate for his expertise in health care. A former nuclear engineer in the Navy, Stolle also worked on issues related to sea level rise and transportation — both big concerns in Hampton Roads.
He was one of a handful of Republicans who voted to expand Medicaid in 2018, an act that won praise for bipartisanship but drew fire from conservative Republicans.
“Stolle is a much more kind of Rockefeller Republican — he is adequately socially conservative enough, but he’s not banging down the doors of the culture wars,” Kidd said.
His campaign website is a far cry from Anderson’s militaristic flag-waving, featuring Stolle family photos and touting that “Chris has spent his time in Richmond building constructive, thoughtful legislation that improves the lives of his constituents and the citizens of the Commonwealth.”
Kazmierczak, who has been active with the Young Republicans but is otherwise a political novice, said he decided to run because neither Stolle nor Anderson seemed right for the moment.
“We’ve had enough firebrands,” he said. “And we’ve had enough of the establishment candidates that focus more on reelection than they do on the issues.”
Neither emphasize things that ordinary people care about, Kazmierczak said — getting a job, being able to afford health care, taking advantage of the free market.
He worries that Republicans are “not focused on the issues that are the most popular. People are not talking about abortion, they’re not talking about the Second Amendment as much. None of that matters if people don’t have a job,” he said.
Though he knows he faces opponents with far more name recognition, Kazmierczak said he has gotten a good response from shoe-leather canvassing. And his campaign manager, Ben Dixon, said Kazmierczak being a gay man with a husband has not been an issue at all.
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“I think we’re really breaking the stereotype of, ‘Oh, because you’re in the LGBT community you have to be a Democrat,’” Dixon said.
In what could be a low-turnout primary — the campaigns estimated it could draw as few as 2,000 votes in a district of about 53,000 — Kazmierczak figures he stands as good a chance as either of the others.
Guy, the Democratic incumbent, said she hasn’t paid close attention to the Republican primary race. She has no primary opponent and enjoys a comfortable war chest, having raised more than $258,000. She pointed out that Virginia is in the midst of a redistricting process based on U.S. Census Bureau data that could cause her district to become far more red or blue and lead to new elections as soon as next year.
“I’m actually a little surprised that with redistricting looming, the Republicans are so intent on battling each other for this seat. Because it could all change next year,” she said.
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