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Virginia Lawmakers Could Run for Two Seats at Once

Virginia's Capitol
The Virginia State Capitol. (Photo: Craig Carper/VPM News)

At least five Democrats and two Republicans in Virginia’s House of Delegates are running for higher office. But that doesn’t mean they’re out of a job if they lose.

Virginia law allows candidates in statewide primaries to simultaneously run for their House seats.

The rules matter because Republicans need to flip six seats to retake the House. Stephen Farsnworth, a politics professor at the University of Mary Washington, says all those potential vacancies from statewide candidates could leave Democrats more vulnerable.

“I think it would be wise for the Democratic candidates not to overestimate the extent to which Republicans can be effective in Virginia,” Farnsworth said. 

Farnsworth said, however, that the strategy of running for two seats at once is less than ideal.

“I don’t think voters take too kindly to that kind of public office shopping,” Farsnworth said.

That doesn’t mean it never works. Del. Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) went that route in 2017; he lost a run for lieutenant governor but held on to his local seat. 

Gubernatorial hopeful Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said in an interview last week that there was no chance he would run for his current seat. But other candidates have hedged, arguing it’s too soon to make those calculations. 

Kaylie Hanson Long, a spokesperson for Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Prince William), made that argument for the gubernatorial candidate. 

“Her plan is to be Virginia's next governor and she’ll make a decision about her Delegate seat in 2021,” Long said.

Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) said his priority was the attorney general’s race, which he said he was confident he would win. Katie Baker, a spokesperson for Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-Prince William), said Guzman was focused on taking the crowded lieutenant governor’s race and was already in discussions with candidates interested in her House seat. Del. Lee Carter (D-Manasas) said potentially giving up his House seat factored into his decision to run for governor. 

Another uncertainty for House candidates is the boundaries of their districts.

The lines are supposed to be redrawn early next year by a new redistricting committee. Pandemic-related delays at the Census Bureau will likely push that process back at least a month.

The delay means candidates won’t know the new outlines of their districts for at least half a year. In past years, the redistricting process has pushed back legislative primaries until August. Under that scenario, statewide candidates who lose those races or drop out early could potentially run for their House seats in the separate, later primary.

Jones said it was too soon to say how the process could play out.

“No one knows what the lines will look like or if and when they’ll change based on Census data and this new commission so I think it’s a little premature to even think about that,” he said in a text message.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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