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NDP House Rankings

by: Aimee Fausser

Sun Oct 18, 2009 at 11:26:10 PM EDT

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).

Likely Switch

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.

Toss Up

286th - Del. Tom Rust (R) vs. Stevens Miller (D)
Fairfax (part)
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)
Fairfax (part)
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)
Fairfax (part)
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.

Aimee Fausser :: NDP House Rankings

Lean Hold

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.

Likely Hold

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)
Fairfax (part)
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)
Fairfax (part)
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)
Loudoun (part)
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.

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Ron not Rob Villanueva

82nd District: It's Peter, not Steve
Peter Schmidt is the Democrat running in the 82nd, not Steve.

Thanks for the corrections, guys
I guess that's one of the drawbacks of a team effort--can get a little sloppy getting everything together.

3rd - McCain's margin here is irrelevant when you consider Deeds won the district in 2005 and will probably do so (or at least tie it) again.

6th - I think this one will be closer than you think; Crockett-Stark didn't expand her margin much in 2007, and the right Democrat still does well in SWVA. I still think she's favored, but her lackluster fundraising and apparent lack of enthusiasm means she won't be winning by a large margin.

7th - Frank's fundraising has flopped this year, and this is a Republican-leaning district. Probably not going to be close.

14th - Same as above regarding fundraising.

17th - Cleaveland is a weak candidate; pretty much all his fundraising has come from two people, William Fralin and some guy named Peter Via. If this district were more Democratic, he wouldn't have a shot, but McDonnell's coattails will probably be enough for him to win.

21st - Mathieson/Welch was a blowout in 2007; he won by 15, not 5.

35th - I'm surprised you still have this on the list. Keam has looked like a shoo-in for months from my perspective.

50th - Rishell is an awful candidate. The only thing keeping this from being a 2-1 blowout is her money.

73rd - I was going to write this one off, but Shields is getting a lot of support from the Democratic Party, so they must see something there.

86th - I'm glad Miller has upped his fundraising, but I've been much less sanguine about his chances here than pretty much anyone else on the left in Virginia. I also don't think the district is going to go as heavily Democratic this year.

Some comments including disagreements......
I live in 34, and I get the sense, all things considered, that Margi has an edge.  Not a huge one, but a real one.  I'm pretty new to Virginia, having moved here with my wife and kids just over a year ago, but I'm a campaign junkie and have been active in campaigns in my short time here.  I guess I'll find out how well or poorly my learned instincts have progressed.  Margi has run a great campaign without regard to whatever Deeds is doing, and she's done all the things she needs to do.

On Phil Hamilton, I marvel that he's not been written off as a dead duck.  The state GOP clearly wrote him off in September with everyone but Cooch demanding he resign, and that right there suggested it was over.  And yet I get the sense now that the race remains close, and Abbott is no shoo-in at all.  I hope his district's voters don't embarrass the whole state by making him Virginia's answer to Congressman Don Young.  All that said, I can't imagine ranking this seat as the 2nd most-likely GOP-held seat to flip, behind only Frederick's old seat that Torian should win.

I don't know that you can legitimately say Rust and Albo are more likely to lose than Bouchard.  I'm sorry but there's a little bit of Kool-Aid there.  I hope you're right, but the combo of Rust and Albo losing and Bouchard winning would shock me.

And I think you're missing the boat badly on Caputo-LeMunyon.  I get the sense Caputo is in real trouble, and it's a true tossup.  This one was in jeopardy all year anyway, and the possible headwind we'll face doesn't help.  If Caputo wins, it will be because Fairfax County reaffirmed how strongly Democratic it's become, even in the face of Republican victories in the 3 statewide offices.

My great hope is that the fact so many of the close ones are in normally-liberal NoVA ends up helping us protect our incumbents and pick up a couple GOP-held seats.

Follow the money
After the Hamilton scandal broke, there was distancing from 2/3 of the statewide ticket, but money continued to pour into Hamilton's coffers from a number of Republicans in the House caucus. If this weren't such a crappy Democratic year, he'd be toast. At this point I'd say it's a 50/50 shot as to whether Abbott can take him down.

Also, if Stolle wins, it will be the ultimate triumph of money as the biggest factor in politics. He's done nothing to deserve being elected; all he has going for him is being related to Ken Stolle and receiving big checks the Republican State Leadership Committee ($326,092 and counting).

[ Parent ]
Correction in my last comment......
In my paragraph on Phil Hamilton, my last sentence should have read "I can't imagine NOT ranking" the Hamilton seat as our 2nd-best pickup opportunity, behind only Torian taking Frederick's old seat.

VPAP reported that Will Morefield in the 3rd just got a $40k check from the Republicans. Sigh.

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