Virginia’s post-2020 census redistricting followed a different philosophy than many other states’ approaches. While other systems attempt to create districts in a non-partisan manner, Virginia’s new legislation explicitly required that a bipartisan commission be established to divide the state in a way fair to both parties. Although the commission ultimately failed to reach a conclusion, a court-ordered set of experts divided the state according to the same principles. Because the Senate itself was separated from the process, the final product threatened the seats of many incumbent politicians. A number of districts now have no incumbents and others have two; many incumbents have moved or retired in response to the shift.
This year, the state senate will be having its first election under the newly drawn district lines. Of the 40 state senate districts, 19 lean Democrat, 18 lean Republican, and 3 are highly contested according to VPAP. Here are some of the races, for both the primary and general elections, where incumbents who are only familiar to part of their new districts are now facing serious competition.
In Senate District 12, Sen. Amanda Chase’s old district comprises 53% of the new one, and she is joined in the primary by two other Republican contenders, Tina Ramirez and Glen Sturtevant. Sturtevant was formerly senator of the old Tenth Senate District (from which comes 40% of the new district 12) until he lost his seat in 2020. The three candidates have sparred over conservative social issues, and Chase has identified herself strongly with Trump. In this race, though, it is the challengers and not the incumbent who have the financial advantage: while Chase has raised just about $300,000, both Sturtevant and Ramirez have around $550,000.
Senate District 13 has a hotly contested Democratic primary, with incumbent State Senator Joe Morrissey (whose old district contributes to 44% of the new one) facing off against former Delegate Lachrecse Aird. Morrissey is currently embroiled in another family scandal, but in the past he has survived scandals and even imprisonment while in office. He will face a tough battle from a well-funded challenger with institutional support. Aird’s funding surged in recent weeks to $1,555,000, more than double the amount Morrissey has raised.
Senate District 18 features two seasoned Democratic incumbents, Lionell Spruill (Old District 5, 44% of the new SD18) and Louise Lucas (incumbent to 38% of the new district). The district is heavily Democrat aligned, so the winner of the primary will be favored in November. Both are African American, along with 44% of the district. Lucas has gathered over $1.45 million in funding to Spruill’s $1.31 million. Lucas’s seniority in the Senate means that she would traditionally be expected to lead the Senate Finance Committee next term, and she is already president pro tempore of the Virginia Senate. She has sparred with party leadership recently and campaigns as a fighter and combative opponent to Republican Governor Youngkin. Spruill, by contrast, describes himself as a dealmaker and handshaker. Both have been running attack ads in the primary campaign.
General Election Showdowns
One incumbent directly impacted by redistricting is Senate District 16’s Siobhan Dunnavant. Although familiar with winning in a competitive district, Dunnavant’s task is now more difficult after the redistricting brought in 17,000 voters from a blue district. With that change, former Democratic House Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg has chosen to challenge Dunnavant for the seat. However, Dunnavant has a war chest of $1.35 million campaign funds, a substantial fundraising lead over VanValkenburg’s current $605,000.
The stage is set in District 24 for a competitive race where Democrat Monty Mason previously won his old district with 89% of the vote. Running against him is Republican candidate Danny Diggs, a former 23-year county sheriff from York County, the central and largest county of the new district. Diggs is running on a pro-law enforcement, pro-tax cut, anti-critical race theory platform. Mason has raised roughly $931,000 to Diggs’ $639,000. While 66% of the new district comes from Mason’s prior constituency, the rest comes from red-leaning areas. Had the new boundaries existed prior to this election, SD24 would have favored Youngkin with 51.33% of the vote in the 2021 governor’s race while voting for Democratic candidates in other statewide and federal races since 2016.
After the contentious national elections of recent years and political upheavals in response to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade, state politics have frequently become heated battlegrounds. With many incumbents retiring, moving, or running in harder races, the State Senate’s makeup next year may be determined by just how large of an advantage incumbency gives a candidate – especially if they’re only incumbent to a fraction of their new district. The results of these elections may not only shakeup which party controls the chamber but will influence which ideological wings dominate their parties.