Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of Mark Levine, the Democratic nominee for the 45th House of Delegates seat. It also incorrectly described his occupation.
Virginia’s top Republican easily withstood a tea-party primary challenge Tuesday, signaling that a deeply fractured state GOP may be finding its footing at a crucial time when national Republicans are preparing for the 2016 presidential race.
With all precincts reporting, House Speaker William J. Howell (Stafford) defeated challenger Susan Stimpson, a former Stafford County supervisor and onetime Howell protege, by a 2-to-1 ratio, according to unofficial returns.
Stimpson was inspired, in part, by the stunning GOP primary defeat one year ago of then-U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by unknown economics professor Dave Brat. But Howell, who was nominated for his 15th term in the Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday, was well prepared for the challenge, raising vastly more money and waging an aggressive campaign in his Fredericksburg-area district about 50 miles south of Washington. He did so despite opposition from the national group Americans for Tax Reform and prominent conservative donor Foster Friess.
“This is a time for the party to unite and find out what we can do together,” Howell said at his victory party at the Paradise Diner in Fredericksburg. “We can’t win if we don’t work together.”
Gary F. Snellings, chairman of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors, said “tea party tactics” didn’t work in Stimpson’s challenge to Howell — even though they did last year.
“That was Eric Cantor’s fault, not Dave Brat’s,” Snellings said. Of Howell’s race, he added: “It just did not make sense to get rid of the speaker of the house.”
In an e-mail to supporters, Stimpson thanked the 2,700 voters who cast ballots for her — who wanted, she said, “Republicans to actually lead on conservative principles.”
A second victory for the GOP establishment materialized in Augusta County, in western Virginia, where Republican state Sen. Emmett Hanger, under fire from conservatives for supporting Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, beat back two challengers on the right.
And closer to Washington, in the Shenandoah Valley, conservative Del. Mark Berg fell to a more moderate Republican, Christopher E. Collins, according to preliminary results with all precincts reported. However, in a suburban Richmond Senate race, longtime Republican state Sen. Stephen H. Martin lost his three-way primary to tea-party-backed challenger Amanda F. Chase.
“Having served with Senator Martin for the entirety of his tenure in the Senate, I know how disappointed he must be,” said Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City). But he said Chase would be a “fantastic senator.”
In Portsmouth, former City Council member Steve Heretick won a surprise victory in a Democratic primary challenge to longtime state Del. Johnny Joannou, whom Heretick called “our tea party delegate” — a reference to Joannou’s conservative positions on some issues.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) helped recruit Heretick, a longtime supporter, for that race. But he was more focused on the state Senate, which Republicans control by a single seat. Taking back the chamber is the governor’s top political priority this year. He has said that doing so would build momentum in a crucial swing state for his close friend Hillary Rodham Clinton if she is the Democratic nominee next year.
McAuliffe’s preferred candidate also won in a race for an open Richmond-area Senate seat that is expected to be among the most competitive in Virginia in November. In that race, Chesterfield County Supervisor Dan Gecker defeated environmental activist Emily Francis and former delegate and businessman Alexander McMurtrie with help from McAuliffe, who did television and radio ads and robo-calls for Gecker. The seat is currently held by retiring Sen. John C. Watkins (R-Powhatan).
Farther north, in a Prince William County district, state Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D) is vacating a seat Republicans hope to take. They nominated Manassas Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II, whose father was both mayor and a longtime state delegate. On the Democratic side, with nearly all precincts reported, Jeremy McPike, who works for the city of Alexandria, defeated math teacher Atif Qarni and state Del. Michael Futrell.
A tight race is also expected in the fall in neighboring territory, where Republican Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) will square off against Democrat Jill McCabe, a pediatrician. Neither faced a primary, leaving the candidates free to focus on raising money for the fall. McCabe has outraised Black this year, but for the moment the incumbent still has far more cash on hand.
In Roanoke, southwest Virginia’s only Democratic senator could be imperiled by an independent bid. Prosecutor and former Democrat Don Caldwell decided this week to run as an independent against both incumbent Sen. John S. Edwards (D) and Republican Nancy Dye.
“I believe that we can both agree that our community deserves better representation than what we have had for the past 20 years from John Edwards,” Dye said in a statement.
Another independent bid has been launched by former delegate Joe Morrissey, who recently announced plans to marry the teenaged former intern and mother of his child — and to run for a state Senate seat in Richmond.
To face him, incumbent state Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance (D) first turned back a primary challenge Tuesday from freshman delegate Joseph E. Preston.
A four-way primary in Henrico County to replace retiring Sen. Walter A. Stosch (R), another proponent of Medicaid expansion, likewise pitted the GOP establishment against conservatives.
Former delegate Bill Janis is a longtime foe of conservative activists, and many of them backed Newt Gingrich staffer Vincent Haley. But the victor was Siobhan Stolle Dunnavant, a doctor from a political family, who outraised Janis, Haley and party loyalist Edward S. Whitlock III.
Mark Levine prevailed in a crowded field of five Democrats competing to replace Alexandria’s Del. K. Robert Krupicka Jr. (D), who decided to retire so he could focus on his doughnut shop. All five agreed on nearly every issue; Krupicka backed Julie Jakopic, 54, owner and operator of a leadership and strategy consulting firm.
Many people said they couldn’t tell the difference between delegate candidates. At Alexandria’s Mount Vernon Recreation Center, Cathy Melanson said she voted for Levine because of his “inclusive” policy on gay men and lesbians. David Lipwick said he, too, liked Levine’s “sexual orientation” stances.
In the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax, Paul E. Krizek, chief counsel for Christian Relief Services Charities, easily defeated Justin Brown, a Navy veteran who works on Capitol Hill, in the Democratic primary to replace Del. Scott A. Surovell (D), who is running for Senate.
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.