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Aird ousts Morrissey, Chase defeated as redistricting scrambles Virginia primaries

State Sen.–elect Lashrecse Aird does a little fist pump while celebrating
Ryan M. Kelly
For VPM News
Lashrecse Aird celebrates during a primary election night party at IBEW Local 666 on June 20, 2023 in Highland Springs, Virginia.

Updated 10:23 a.m. Wednesday: Multiple state Senate races are still too close to call.

Incumbents, challengers and newcomers duked it out Tuesday in a series of primary elections that saw the downfall of two of the Virginia Legislature’s most polarizing figures: state Sens. Joe Morrissey (D–Richmond) and Amanda Chase (R–Chesterfield).

Morrissey was among the first contenders to bow out Tuesday night, conceding to former Del. Lashrecse Aird within an hour of polls closing. Aird ran a campaign heavily focused on Morrissey’s willingness to support certain abortion restrictions. His loss comes after his estranged wife, Myrna Warren, filed for divorce and alleged abuse — which the Democrat has repeatedly denied.

Chase, a self-described “Trump in heels,” was defeated by former state Sen. Glen Sturtevant. Chase hasn’t caucused with her fellow Senate Republicans since 2019. She was censured by a majority of her colleagues in 2021 after referring to the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol as “patriots.”

Sturtevant occasionally voted with Democrats during his last term in 2019, but ran as a conservative standard-bearer during this campaign.

For the first time in recent history — if not the commonwealth’s history — the races took place on maps that weren’t drawn by the politicians running for re-election.

Two court-appointed experts drew new maps from scratch that didn’t take into account where current lawmakers live, instead favoring keeping “communities of interest” intact. That decision meant some lawmakers were paired against each other, leading to a wave of retirements, tense showdown in Hampton Roads and southwest Virginia between current lawmakers and a crop of well-funded challengers ready to take on long-standing politicians on new turf.

In the battle of two Virginia political titans that turned negative in recent months, state Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D–Portsmouth) edged out Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr. (D–Chesapeake).

In an at-times bitter (and physical) showdown between two acolytes of former President Donald Trump, Del. Wren Williams (R–Patrick) handily defeated Del. Marie March (R–Floyd).

At least two fixtures of the Senate Democratic caucus went down in primaries, too.

In one of the night’s biggest upsets, state Sen. Chap Petersen (D–Fairfax), an attorney who has occasionally worked with Republicans on issues like ending mandatory masking in schools, lost to financial consultant Saddam Azlan Salim. Petersen spent more than five times as much money as Salim on the race.

And one of the senior budget negotiators in the General Assembly, state Sen. George Barker (D–Fairfax), was defeated by Fairfax County School Board member Stella Pekarsky, according to the Associated Press.

A number of Central Virginia incumbents won their primaries and will remain in the General Assembly, including:

  • State Sen. Lamont Bagby (D–Richmond), chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, defeated community activist and pastor Katie Gooch. It’s Bagby’s third election win of 2023.
  • Del. Delores McQuinn (D–Henrico), a former member of the Richmond City Council who has served in the House of Delegates since 2009, easily won her primary against mental health administrator Terrence Lavell Walker.
  • State Sen. Creigh Deeds (D–Charlottesville), who has served in the General Assembly since 1992, beat out Del. Sally Hudson (D–Charlottesville) in a new district anchored in the college town.

Two tight Virginia Senate primaries in the same, Democratic-leaning Prince William County and Stafford County–area district, remained too close to call as of Wednesday morning:

State Sen. Jeremy McPike (D–Prince William) maintained a narrow, 46-vote lead against Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D–Prince William) in the Democratic-leaning 29th Senate District. The winner will face Republican Maria Martin or Nikki Rattray Baldwin; Martin was up by 10 votes as of 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Outgoing state Sen. Joe Morrissey in profile at Brothers Pizza in Dinwiddie
Connor Scribner
VPM News
Outgoing state Sen. Joe Morrissey held his election night party at Brothers Pizza in Dinwiddie.

Political analyst Bob Holsworth said Morrissey and Chase’s defeats were enabled in part with help from their parties establishments. Aird, Morrissey’s opponent, had the backing of top state Democrats like U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, while Sturtevant was supported by a slew of GOP politicians as well as conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity.

Holsworth said Democrats took notice when Morrissey ran for Congress last year and was resoundingly defeated by now-Rep. Jennifer McClellan.

“I think it gave impetus to those who said that grassroots support that he'd been able to generate for so many years really was on the wane,” Holsworth said.

The parties are already looking ahead to November’s general election. House Democrats scheduled a press conference Wednesday where they were scheduled to discuss their work “to curb Republican extremism.”

Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert said in a statement that Democrats “refuse to hold violent criminals accountable, want higher taxes, and parents uninvolved in their children’s education.”

Democrats have a built-in advantage based on the new maps, which were drawn to reflect recent partisan trends. The party holds a 23–17 edge in state Senate races and 53–47 edge in the House of Delegates, according to the redistricting experts’ calculations drawn from the results of the 2017 attorney general race.

Republicans currently have a 50–46 majority in the House (with four seats vacant), while Democrats control 22 out of the 40 seats in the Senate.

Updated: June 21, 2023 at 10:23 AM EDT
This article was updated to include new election results.
Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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