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Candidate Contests, Northam's About-Face in the Polls, and Spanberger's Prospects: Political Analysis for Friday, October 11, 2019

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Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include House Speaker Kirk Cox facing a challenge in his newly redrawn district, Glen Sturtevant's race against Gazala Hashmi, Northam's recovery from a racist scandal in February, and Spanberger gets attention from the White House.

Yasmine Jumaa:  Virginia’s Republican Speaker of the House Kirk Cox is facing reelection in a district that now trends democratic in statewide elections.  Here to discuss that and more are VPM News Director Craig Carper and Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist and VPM analyst Jeff Schapiro.  Good morning to you both.

Jeff Schapiro:  Good morning.

Craig Carper:  Good morning, Yasmine.  Yes, Speaker Cox faced his first general election challenger this Wednesday evening in our studio on Sesame Street against Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman.

Schapiro:  And it was a learning experience.  I guess the only one who was missing was Elmo. [laughing] Clearly the candidate skills a very sharp contrast - Kirk Cox, crisp, to the point, Sheila Bynum-Coleman skills clearly wanting.  But what was evident in that debate is what we are seeing in the campaign itself.  Because this district has been redrawn, because of this great hostility for Donald Trump, Cox is not running as a Republican.  He's running as a friend and neighbor.  And Bynum is making the argument that Cox is only looking after, if you will, his deep-pocketed friends.  That might include the NRA.  And he does so at the expense of his neighbors in this, this new district.  One of the things you heard in that debate and you're hearing in campaigns around the state, particularly in the urban-suburban crescent, Cox's role in gaveling to a close after 90 minutes that special session of the general assembly called by Governor Northam in response to the mass slaying in Virginia Beach.  And this is an issue that played out as well in a debate between Glen Sturtevant and Gazala Hashmi.

Carper:  Gazala Hashmi, mmmhmm.

Schapiro:  But before we get to guns in that race, we heard as well Sturtevant going after Hashmi for taking a big contribution, $25,000, from the governor after insisting he resign because of the blackface scandal. This is perhaps another reminder, and I think Democrats make this point that Sturtevant is in, in some trouble.  This is a must-win seat for the Democrats.  Why talk about the issues on which he is perceived to be vulnerable, healthcare and gun control, when he can talk about this embarrassment for the, for the Democrats.  Firearms, a very tricky issue for Sturtevant, having been elected on a strong pro-gun stance in 2015.

Carper:  That's right, and guns are also an issue in another closely watched senate race in the Richmond-metro area.  These candidates will be joining us next Friday.

Schapiro:  Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, a Republican from Henrico who is as pro-gun as they come, has an “A” rating from the NRA, is suddenly in favor of doing away with bump stocks, which of course allow firearms to mimic automatic weapons.  She had opposed a ban in the legislature in 2018.  Debra Rodman is not letting Dunnavant forget that.  And of course these candidates have been quarrelling as well over abortion.  PolitiFact, on your air . . .

Carper:  That's right.

Schapiro:  . . . rated false a Dunnavant claim that Rodman favors abortion over adoption.

Carper:  That's right, and Jeff in early February it looked like doom for the Northam administration.  Then things turned around.  He's rebounded in the polls, and Republicans thinking he would be just a toxic plague on the Democratic candidates running around the state are finding that's not the case.

Schapiro:  And according to the Wasson Center poll, the governor's clawing back.  He's over 50% in terms of his approval rating, 51% in that survey.  Donald Trump remains underwater; 38% approve of his performance.  That means more people disagree with the president in this Clinton-carried state than approve.  Northam, of course, is doing what you would expect from a governor in a high-stakes election.  He's raising money, maybe not as much as his immediate predecessors did at this point in their administrations.  Northam has raised about $230,000. We'll see a little bit more, I'm sure, by next week.  But that's about, it's less than half what Tim Kaine and Bob McDonald collected in their second years as governor and 20% of what Terry McAuliffe raised.

Carper:  And Abigail Spanberger, the new democratic congresswoman from a Trump-carried district anchored in suburban Richmond is getting attention from the White House.

Schapiro:  Yes, as Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing that's worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”  Mike Pence, according to Politico, is going to be visiting Trump-carry districts with democratic congresspeople to try to hold them accountable for their support of impeachment.  That includes Abigail Spanberger, but until the Republicans come up with a credible opponent for Spanberger, and maybe that's John McGuire, the delegate, she should be in pretty good shape in 2020 with Chesterfield County, that big anchor, becoming even more democratic.

Carper:   Thanks again to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Jeff, we will catch up again next week.

Schapiro:  Good weekend to you.

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