| With Democrats falling into a panic over Creigh Deeds' poll numbers, downballot candidates are eyeing the Coordinated campaign nervously. We still find it unlikely that Republicans will gain seats, but Democrats are limited to, in an optimistic scenario, three net pickups at the moment. It is possible that Democrats will lose up to two seats, leaving the House of Delegates in an oddly stable trench-warfare configuration. Still, slightly more Republican seats are in the toss-up category, meaning Democrats have more upside potential. But it won't be much.
Note how every toss-up seat is in an urban/suburban district. In the last two gubernatorial cycles, the urban-suburban/rural divide was clear-cut, with an urban Democrat eventually vanquishing a rural Republican. This year, however, an urban Republican is using his roots to cut into the still-new Democratic base in the suburbs, with no real indication that the rural Democrat is making the same progress in the rock-solid rural Republican base. Remember that the suburbs have not been Democratic for very long--Democratic suburbs in Virginia were, up until early into this decade, white-flight bastions of conservatism.
New Dominion Project rankings by Aimee Fausser and Kenton Ngo follow. Races are ranked by likelihood of party switch (Republican seats tinted red, Democratic seats tinted blue).
152nd - Matt Lopez (R) vs. Luke Torian (D)
Prince William (part)
Obama won here with over 20 points, and Democrat Luke Torian has a 5:1 cash on hand advantage. Virginia Republicans only have a chance here if they burn through Democrats like Sherman through Georgia.
286th - Del. Tom Rust (R) vs. Stevens Miller (D)
Stevens Miller crowed in late August about being tied in an internal poll. Rust's time may be up. Even if Deeds goes down, this is still a fundamentally Democratic district, and legacy moderates like Tom Rust can't hang on forever. This race edges out the 42nd race below by sheer force of its partisan makeup--unlilke the slightly Democratic 42nd, the 86th is full of Democrats who have voted for Rust year after year, and it might be the year they switch.
342nd - Del. Dave Albo (R) vs. Greg Werkheiser (D)
Werkheiser and Albo are neck and neck in terms of cash on hand. They're running a close race that will come within a couple hundred votes. It's a great chance for a progressive, young, candidate to win this year, and Democrats in NOVA should not sit this one out (just because Albo is a ridiculous excuse for a legislator doesn't mean he can't turn out his voters--especially in an off year where the Republican base is motivated). Unlike in 2005, Werkheiser has managed to get on the air, enabling him to potentially seal the deal for loyal Albo voters who have been wavering lately in their favorable opinion of him.
493rd - Del. Phil Hamilton (R) vs. Robin Abbott (D)
James City (part), Newport News City (part)
Del. Phil Hamilton can take solace in the fact that questionable ethics are never a guarantee of a loss--at least he didn't put the $40,000 annual salary he is accused of slipping himself through an appropriation for Old Dominion University in his freezer. Unlike Bill Jefferson, however, Hamilton isn't sitting in an effectively single-party district. Robin Abbott has money in a district which Obama carried by double digits--but with significant Democratic turnout issues in off-years. She's caught an incredibly lucky break due to Hamilton's hubris.
583rd - Del. Joe Bouchard (D) vs Chris Stolle (R)
Virginia Beach (part)
The calvary has come for the younger Stolle, who joins elder brother Ken Stolle, heavily favored to win his bid for Virignia Beach Sheriff on the ballot. Bouchard has a second headwind to deal with--Bob McDonnell bringing out his hometown crowd in Virginia Beach. In mid-September, the Republican State Leadership Committee dropped $60,000 (on top of the $26,000 they already gave), and followed it up right after the filing deadline with another $160,000. Still, we hear that Bouchard is just barely hanging on by the skin of his teeth--and with conditions like this, that's remarkably good news.
634th - Del. Margi Vanderhye (D) vs. Barbara Comstock (R)
Vanderhye only won by a few points in 2007, and it's hard to say what voters will do this year. She's got a well funded opponent and this will be a close one. The district includes McLean, Great Falls, and small parts of Herndon and Reston. This will largely come down to seeing if the voters in McLean/Great Falls will perform close to how they did last year, along with how much of the (Democratic) Herndon/Reston parts of the district turn out. Vanderhye doesn't have to deal with a double whammy of hometown upticket candidates helping her opponent out like Bouchard does, which places her just below him on this ranking.
77th - Del. Dave Nutter (R) vs. Peggy Frank (D)
Montgomery (part), Pulaski (part), Radford City
Peggy Frank surprised us all in 2007 by coming extremely close to beating Dave Nutter. However, it looks like 2009 may not be as good of a year for Frank, with the governor's race on the top of the ticket. She has done decently in terms of fundraising for a race in southwest, but Dave Nutter has nearly twice as much cash on hand.
817th - Bill Cleaveland (R) vs. Gwen Mason (D)
Botetourt (part), Roanoke (part), Roanoke City (part)
This Roanoke-area open seat was always going to be a longshot for Democrats, who wouldn't have stood much of a chance had Fralin decided to run for another term. Longshot open seats are more dependent on top-ticket performance compared to incumbent-challenger races, where the personalities that drive the race are much stronger and better known. Still, Gwen Mason is hardly a nobody as a city council member, and has remained competitive on the fundraising front.
958th - Del. Rob Bell (R) vs. Cynthia Neff (D)
Albemarle (part), Fluvanna (part), Greene, Orange (part)
Rob Bell is one of the most regressive members of the House of Delegates, and one of the best funded this year. Special interests (for example, over $20k from the coal industry this year alone) are pouring money into his race to try to send him back to Richmond. And they're scared for a reason. Cynthia Neff, a businesswoman and former senior executive at IBM, is running on a platform of cutting waste in a district that is trending blue. In her own right, Neff has excellent cash on hand numbers and is running a very active field program. Neff's cash on hand figure of over $109,000 would be a extremely strong in any district, but Bell has over $500,000 to play with! This one will be closer than most people realize, but is a likely hold for the Republicans.
1013th - Del. Bob Marshall (R) vs. John Bell (D)
Loudoun (part), Prince William (part)
Bob Marshall has gotten away with sponsoring bills that make even Republicans blanch. His base loves him, and will always and forever love him with a near religious fervor. In spite of this, the exurbs, while trending Democratic, have not flipped in the same way the inner suburbs have. Luckily for Bell, he has the resources to compete--but he is down here because he is a first-time candidate. Each of the upper-tier Democratic challengers is either returning (Frank, Werkheiser), facing an ethically-challenged opponent (Abbott), or currently holding some form of office (Miller, Mason). Bell, while well-funded, has none of those initial advantages.
1114th - Del. Danny Marshall (R) vs. Seward Anderson (D)
Henry (part), Pittsylvania (part), Danville
Anderson trails Marshall 2:1 in cash on hand. Still, Anderson's won elections here before, and hasn't had any scandals which would ding his popularity. Name recognition from being a former mayor is name recognition that can't be bought.
1273rd - Del. John O'Bannon (R) vs. Tom Shields (D)
Henrico (part), Richmond City (part)
Shields is the first serious challenger to Del. John O'Bannon...well, ever. As such, we don't really have a baseline for how well a challenger will do. Shields is running hard, dropping 7 mailers in the span of September. Shields is a promising candidate who should be encouraged to take another shot if O'Bannon prevails.
1321st - Bobby Matheison (D) vs. Ron Villanueva (R)
Virginia Beach (part)
Villanueva never really caught fire, and he enters October trailing 3:1 in cash on hand. Even though Bob McDonnell is expected to drive up Republican turnout in his hometown, Matheison was never in the same danger that fellow Beach Democrat Joe Bouchard was. Matheison won by a close, but much more comfortable margin (5 points) and hails from a district a few points more Democratic than the 83rd. It won't be comfortable, but Matheison should pull through.
1467th - Del. Chuck Caputo (D) vs. Jim LeMunyon (R)
Fairfax (part), Loudoun (part)
After winning his seat decisively in 2005, Del. Chuck Caputo (D) only managed to defeat his rather lackluster 2007 opponent by 6 points. Caputo is in an even weaker position now, with his district overlapping with State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli's 37th Senate base--as such, Caputo faces the unenviable threat of being swamped by thousands of Cuccinelli conservatives flooding the polls. Cuccinelli won the 11 precincts that he has in the 37th in 2007 by 420 votes. One shining light for Caputo: he won those same 11 by 419. Republican Jim LeMunyon has been running hard and raising money, which will bring him close, but Caputo is still personally popular enough to pull through.
1523rd - Del. Shannon Valentine (D) vs. Scott Garrett (R)
Amherst (part), Lynchburg
Shannon Valentine shouldn't be escaping a tough challenge so easy--bloody hell, her district has Liberty University in it--but her enormous fundraising advantage is nothing to be laughed at. With nearly $200,00 to play with, Valentine should easily be able to squash any last-minute effort Garrett puts forth.
1650th - Del. Jackson Miller (R) vs. Jeanette Rishell (D)
Prince William (part), Manassas, Manassas Park
Third time in a row for the 50th district to face the same two candidates. Many candidates win on the second go-round. Few even attempt a third.
17 82nd - Del. Bob Purkey vs. Peter Schmidt
Virginia Beach (part)
Schmidt has around $50,000 on hand and is on the air, but ads won't make a 20-point plus Republican advantage go away.
1835th - Mark Keam (D) vs. Jim Hyland (R)
Republicans are making noise about pilfering the seat vacated by Steve Shannon, but even in the event of a McDonnell blowout it isn't going to happen. Keam has seen some of his donors go elsewhere, believing that he is safe. In spite of this, he still leads in cash on hand 4.5:1.
196th - Del. Annie Crockett-Stark (R) vs. Carole Pratt (D)
Bland, Giles (part), Pulaski (part), Tazewell (part), Wythe (part)
McCain won this district by 25 points. Still, it seems that Democrats haven't completely abandoned the race, as Rick Boucher seems to have chipped in for some mail.
2044th - Scott Surovell (D) vs. Jay McConville (R)
Judging by the vast amount of funds both candidates are sitting on, you'd think this race is much closer than it actually is. McConville has cash, an open seat, and pockets of diehard Republicans scattered across the district to give him hope, but this is still a district Democrats routinely win with over 20 point margins.
2151st - Paul Nichols (D) vs. Richard Anderson (R)
Prince William (part)
Nichols seemed initially vulnerable, but he has a 3:1 cash advantage. Coupled with incumbency and a slight Democratic bent, Anderson has little going for him.
2294th - Del. Glenn Oder (R) vs. Gary West (D)
Newport News (part)
After some initial buzz it seems Gary West hasn't caught fire, and has less than $20,000 on hand.
233rd - Del. Dan Bowling (D) vs. James Morefield (R)
Buchanan, Russell (part), Tazewell (part)
Just like Northern Virginia has Republican legacies clinging to districts that have swung violently the other way in their time in elected office (Herndon's Tom Rust immediately comes to mind), Southwest Virginia has Democratic legacies who won their seats before Appalachia abandoned the Democratic Party on a presidential and state level. Congressman Rick Boucher is the best example of this, and he is joined in the House of Delegates by Joe Johnson, Bowling, and Bud Phillips. These Southwest Democrats have been largely unopposed--but Bowling's opponent, James Morefield, is a cash-poor neophyte who won't be able to capitalize on this district's double-digit Republican bent (McCain won with 59%).
2432nd - Del. Dave Poisson (D) vs. Tag Greason (R)
Tag Greason's campaigning skills have improved since he ran for School Board in 2007, when he bungled his ballot petitions and failed to make the ballot. That isn't saying much, and it doesn't mean he's going to win. Poisson will win in a walk.