Virginia’s primary elections delivered a bit of shock, a little awe and a big dollop of wow Tuesday night.
Thanks for the shock, Paul Milde. He nailed a narrow GOP primary win over 28th District incumbent Del. Bob Thomas despite having a criminal record. That’s pretty amazing. It will be much more amazing if the GOP is able to keep this district, once the stronghold of former House Speaker Bill Howell.
The awe? That came from two of the Senate’s most senior incumbents, Republican Emmett Hanger and Democrat Dick Saslaw.
Hanger committed the sin of shepherding Medicaid expansion through the GOP-controlled Senate in 2018. He earned a spirited, if ultimately conventional, challenge from Tina Freitas, wife of once and future statewide Republican candidate Del. Nick Freitas.
Hanger won rather comfortably. Barring an unforeseen calamity between now and November, Hanger will win a seventh Senate term and continue to torment the increasingly unhinged “liberty Republicans” (who nurtured fantasies of buses “full of Democrats” voting for Hanger).
For Senate Democratic leader Saslaw, Tuesday’s primary was the first contested affair he’s had since 1979.
Yasmine Taeb gave him a run for his (Dominion Energy) money. And that displeased the already acerbic Saslaw to no end. But thanks to spoiler candidate Karen Torrent, Saslaw gets to return to the Senate’s friendly confines and what he hopes will be a return to the majority leader’s post.
And then there’s the wow.
Former delegate Joe Morrissey defeated incumbent 16th District Sen. Rosalyn Dance handily. He’s the guy who went to jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was disbarred — twice. His run for mayor in 2016 gave Richmond’s Democratic and business establishments a nearly terminal case of the vapors.
Absent an independent or write-in effort, he is heading back to Capitol Square, where he is almost certain to be a thorn in the side of both parties.
Overall, that’s a good thing. The Senate needs to be shaken up every now and then. And Morrissey just might push Senate Democrats to take seriously issues such as refurbishing the state’s public school infrastructure.
Then again, Morrissey could also fall into his old routine — relying on stunts instead of substance. That’s great for getting headlines, but it makes few friends.
Which brings us to the minor primary tidbits.
Included on that list: The fallout from the Hanger-Freitas race. Worth noting is that Hanger’s Republican colleague Sen. David Suetterlein endorsed Freitas, saying the Senate needed “strong, reliable conservative leadership.”
It’s rare, indeed, for an incumbent to endorse the opponent of a fellow incumbent of the same party. The next Senate GOP caucus meeting ought to be lit.
How did the Democratic scandals play in the primaries? That’s a mixed bag. Christopher Newport University professor Rachel Bitecofer tweeted that the two Democrats who embraced Gov. Ralph Northam (D) — Dance and 7th District candidate Kim Howard — both lost.
But it wasn’t all bad for the governor. Democratic Del. Debra Rodman, who won the 12 District nomination to take on incumbent Republican Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, got a boost from Northam’s “The Way Forward” PAC.
Rodman might not have needed the nudge, as she won the primary easily. As for the other Democrats who have received assistance and who took contributions from Northam’s PAC, we’ll have to wait and see.
Bottom line: The primaries offered some good stories but no big narrative.
The July special session, ostensibly about gun-control measures, might provide some substance to the November elections. But mostly that effort will offer up sound bytes for TV ads and out-of-context quotes for direct mail.