‘Anyone’s Game:’ LG Democratic Candidates Still Working to Run for Voters in Virginia

Del.Hala Ayala, D-Woodbridge, spoke at a rally in 2019 on the Capitol Steps in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. (Ned Oliver / Virginia Mercury)

If the latest public poll was any indicator, Democrats in Virginia still have a lot of homework to do before they make their primary choice for lieutenant governor.

A Christopher Newport University poll conducted in mid-April found that 64% of likely primary voters were undecided in the race, along with Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, the apparent leader with 12% support.

“We’re happy to see the way things are moving,” Rasoul said in an interview, attributing his leadership status to a “values-based campaign” focused on in-person travel to cities and counties in Virginia, including areas where voters “feel forgotten.” “

The numbers suggest there is still plenty of wiggle room in an open field that once had eight candidates, but has fallen to six as the final month before the June 8 primaries approaches.

The other five candidates still in the running – Del. Hala Ayala, Del. Mark Levine, former Fairfax County NAACP leader Sean Perryman, Norfolk City Councilor Andria McClellan and businessman Xavier Warren – all had 1 or 2 percent support, according to the CNU poll.

“I think it’s anyone’s game,” McClellan said in a recent interview.

With a crowded primary for the governor taking place at the same time, said Bob Holsworth, a longtime political analyst in Virginia, it can be difficult for candidates who come to a downvoting contest to try to stand. build a statewide profile.

“A lot of these people are unknown outside of their own region,” Holsworth said.

Candidates are just starting to roll out their first TV commercials, and the onset of warmer weather gives them more freedom to organize events at social distance rather than campaigning through a computer screen.

Part of the challenge for candidates for lieutenant governor is to explain exactly what the lieutenant governor does. The mostly ceremonial job is to preside over the State Senate and sever ties in the Upper House, as current Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax recently did to pass a law legalizing marijuana. The lieutenant governor can defend certain causes, but his decision-making power is limited. But if the governor is incapacitated, the lieutenant governor steps in to run the state, and the role has traditionally been seen as a launching pad to higher office.

Rasoul, a rare progressive from West Virginia who has at times criticized his party for what he sees as an inability to connect with voters outside mainstream Democratic strongholds, also led the field during the last round of fundraising. fund, bringing in over $ 950,000 on hand in March. 31.

“I know we have many candidates to choose from,” said Rasoul. “We feel like a real voice of the people. This is how I have legislated and voted for the past eight years.

Of the. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke. (Ned Oliver / Virginia Mercury)

Shortly after the release of these campaign finance figures, Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William, one of the two Latinas in the race, announced that she was abandoning her candidacy for a position in the entire State to focus on winning another term in her District of the House of Delegates, where she faces a major challenge from Democrat Rod Hall.

Paul Goldman, former assistant to former governor Doug Wilder, dropped out of the lieutenant governor’s race early last month.

Guzman’s departure appeared to allow Democratic leaders to step in and support Ayala, Prince William, who had previously chosen not to run for another term in the House and could help Democrats avoid an all-male ticket in a year when former Governor Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring try to keep or return to offices they previously occupied. Ayala, who identifies as Afro-Latina and is a member of the Virginia black legislative caucus, is said to be the first woman of color to hold a position in the entire state.

At the end of last month, Ayala was endorsed by Gov. Ralph Northam, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, all of whom back McAuliffe for the governorship over two more. contestants, Senator Jennifer McClellan and former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy both vying to be the first black woman elected governor of any state.

In an Ayala campaign press release, Filler-Corn said Ayala would bring “historic representation at the highest levels of our state government. “

Ayala Campaign Director Veronica Ingham said Ayala was in a strong position as the last month approached, with the big support underscoring the connections Ayala, a former activist, has forged since arriving at the House as part of the 2017 Democratic wave.

“We know voters want to make history and elect the first woman of color to the post of lieutenant governor,” Ingham said.

State Democrats have largely attributed to women, especially women of color, the driving force behind the electoral successes that allowed the party to take full control of the state for the first time in decades.

“They are the backbone of the coalition,” Holsworth said. “In this case, with McAuliffe being what appears to be a relatively clear favorite at the top of the ticket, the diversity, if Democrats are to have it, will have to come from either the LG race or the AG race. Or both.”

In the Attorney General’s primary, Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, challenges Attorney General Mark Herring. Jones would be Virginia’s first black attorney general, but the CNU poll showed Herring maintained a fairly comfortable lead, with 42% support compared to Jones’ 18% support.

Holsworth said he was generally skeptical of the impact of the approvals, but party leaders rallying behind Ayala could give him a boost in an area of ​​relative unknowns with no incumbent in the mix.

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“My feeling is that putting his thumb on the scale over there is likely to have an impact,” Holsworth said of Northam’s support for Ayala. “And that is certainly not good news for Rasoul or for the other candidates in the race.”

Ayala is not the only candidate who could diversify the Democratic slate for lieutenant governor.

Other than Ayala, McClellan is now the only other woman in the race and the only Democrat to run for the job in the Hampton Roads area. Boosting the party base there, she said, could be key to holding the House of Delegates this year. While she would love to “break the glass ceiling” and be the first woman elected lieutenant governor, McClellan said, “I want people to vote for me because I am the most qualified.”

“I think the diversity of experiences, the diversity of backgrounds, the diversity of geography all need to be considered,” she said.

Levine, D-Alexandria, a former radio and television expert who has served in the House since 2016, is said to be the first openly LGBTQ person to hold a position statewide.

Of the.  Mark Levine, D-Alexandria.  (Ned Oliver / Virginia Mercury)
Of the. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria. (Ned Oliver / Virginia Mercury)

Although two black men have previously served as lieutenant governor, Perryman and Warren are also said to assure at least one black candidate on the Democrats’ ticket for 2021.

In an interview, Perryman said he thought it was premature to call a candidate from the favorites given the number of undecided voters.

“They don’t know Sam Rasoul, Mark Levine, me. They don’t know anyone, ”Perryman said. “They sort of live their lives trying to get by.”

Perryman, who has the approval of most members of the voice-rich Fairfax County board of directors, said he doubted the adoption of Ayala by Democratic leaders would have a major impact.

“Everyone, I think, clearly saw that this was an attempt to support a candidate and pick the favorites in this race,” said Perryman. “And I don’t think there is an appetite for it.”

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