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February 12, 2023  Political Note #539 Five Competitive Democrats for the Virginia House of Delegates

2023                           General Election

Virginia elects its governor every four years, the year after presidential elections.  The Commonwealth elects its state legislature in odd years.  The State Senate every four years, the year before the presidential elections.  The House of Delegates is elected every odd year.  In 2019, Democrats won control of the State Senate – 21-19. In 2022, a special election expanded that control to 22-18.  In 2021, Republicans regained control of the Governor’s office.  That same year, Republicans gained control of the House of Delegates – 52-48. In 2023, Democrats can regain the majority in the House of Delegates and the State Senate.

Like every other state, Virginia undertakes redistricting every ten years.  Redistricting was completed and, in 2022, Congressional elections were conducted with the revised map and Democrats lost a seat.  In 2023, the state legislature will be reelected with a new map.

As Virginians face this new map and new reality, some saw a kind of chaos.  Several Democratic and Republican incumbents had been placed in districts where they were facing each other.  In effect, new candidates were invited in to the places where there were no incumbents.  Members of the House of Delegates facing other incumbents began to see 2023 as an opportunity to run for the State Senate.

The Virginia Public Access Project brings some rationality to the chaos.  They have rated each of the districts and found 34 were Strongly Democratic, 29 were strongly Republican.  They found 11 leaned Democratic, 18 leaned Republican.  If elections followed those projections, Republicans would lead 47-45.  The VPAP suggested that 8 districts did not lean, were competitive Districts.

Below are Notes on the Democratic candidates and the seats they are competing for in five of the eight “Competitive” districts. A Democratic sweep of these five districts is not out of the question, but a 4-1 division is more likely.   

Josh Thomas for Delegate. Virginia House of Delegates District 21. 

This diverse district is well west of Washington, DC and Alexandria, VA.  Its population is slightly more than 50% white.  12% are Black, 12% are Asian. Without identifying race, nearly 25% are Hispanic.   As the population has grown, the geography of the district had to shrink.  Redistricting shed a large geographic area in what was the western part of the district and a smaller segment in the district’s east. The district is entirely within Prince William County. In 2021, Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin carried what is now the new district by 3 points.

Josh Thomas, a white man married to a Black woman, a former marine, and an attorney is the only Democrat running for Delegate.  Now living in the Bull Run area, he was born in Georgia into a family that worked for airlines.  His family that was affected by 9/11.  His older brother joined the marines.  Josh Thomas left for Vanderbilt on a ROTC scholarship and, after graduation, served in active duty for five years.  He trained in Quantico in Prince William County and was an officer in both Afghanistan and the Middle East.  He transferred to the reserves, went to law school at William & Mary, and made a home in Virginia. After two and a half years with a firm in Norfolk and a year with a DC firm, he is now closer to home in a Manassas firm where his practice has largely been in commercial real estate.  He has done some pro bono work on behalf of veterans dealing with the VA and one project in support of a gay Afghani seeking asylum.

Josh Thomas’s goal in running for office is distinctively his and focused on the district.  “I am committed to keeping our region affordable and maintaining the unique and diverse rural/suburban character of our community that makes the opportunity of the American dream real for all of us.”

Describing his platform, he limits his focus to four issues – affordable housing, which he believes is central to retaining the diversity of the district, healthcare including abortion access (not a small matter in a state where the Republican governor is seeking to limit availability of abortion), and both improving transportation to DC for commuters and moving the region toward reliance on clean energy.

Josh Thomas has had a head start on whoever his Republican opponent will be.  He announced his candidacy in May, 2022.  He has raised over $100,000 and is unlikely to see primary opposition (the filing deadline is in April).  One of the two Republicans running will be selected in the June primary.  One of them has raised $28,000; the other $14,000.  Help Josh Thomas sustain his status as the front runner.

Phil Hernandez Virginia House of Delegates District 94

This district was created from several districts in and around Norfolk and the Virginia Eastern Shore.  Now it includes the northern part of the city.  Almost 60% of the district is white.  More than 20% is Black.  14% is Hispanic.

Phil Hernandez is the only Democratic candidate.  A Gates Millennium scholarship made it possible for him to attend William & Mary and be the first person in his family to graduate from college. From there, he went on to Law School at Berkeley.  Currently, he is the Commonwealth Project’s Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy.  He has analyzed and advocated for raising the minimum wage and increasing public school teachers’ pay.  He had been a Senior Policy Analyst in the Obama White House and an attorney with the National Employment Law Project.  He serves on community and environmental related Boards and was appointed by the Governor to the Council on Environmental Justice.  The principal issues in his campaign for Delegate reflect the issues of his career – support for education, protecting the environment, ensuring access to high quality health care, making a more just society, and improving the economy by strengthening the lot of those who earn the least.

Phil Hernandez has a head start on the three Republicans seeking this position. He has raised $150,000 for his campaign. (Mike Pudhorodsky is a recent Democratic addition running for this seat.) The financial leader among the Republicans reports $25,000.

 Michael Feggans Virginia House of Delegates District 97

Southeast of Norfolk, District 97 was created out of five districts.  The largest of those, about half the district, was District 85.  Republican Karen Greenhalgh, Michael Feggans opponent, is the incumbent for district 85. The new district is almost 60% white and 20% Black.  It is just less than 10% Hispanic.  Republican Governor Glenn Youngkins carried what is now the district by 2 points.

Michael Feggans is Black.  He grew up in Virginia Beach.  His mom taught school in Norfolk.  His dad was a firefighter at the Norfolk airport.  Michael Feggans joined the Air Force after his high school graduation.  He was purposeful in that decision.  He planned to become a technology expert and have the military pay for his college education.

His first assignment at Wright-Patterson taught Michael Feggans as much about community building as he did about technology.  He earned a BA at Virginia Tech in healthcare administration.  His work was in healthcare information.  His new project was learning about politics, interning in Senator Mark Warner’s Norfolk office.

Deployed to Kyrgyzstan, Michael Feggans led aeromedical evacuations from Afghanistan.  Later, near retirement from the Air Force as a Master Sargent, he was the enlisted leader of a team creating a $50 million contingency hospital in South Korea. Stationed back in Hampton Roads, he worked with Governor McAuliffe’s Secretary of Technology and built relationships with Virginia Beach Democrats. He had a final overseas tour in Guam, establishing a team for dealing with natural disasters and completing his Master’s Degree from Norfolk State.

Retiring from the military, Michael Feggans was ready to provide technology and political leadership. He created a business to train veterans in technology and cybersecurity. Redistricting has offered him an opportunity to run for office against an incumbent for only half the district.  He has raised enough money to more than keep pace with his incumbent opponent, leading her fundraising by $20,000.  Help him expand that gap.

The next two candidates do not have announced Republican opponents.  Support them anyway.  The Filing Deadline is in April.  Give these two Democrats a head start against whoever their opponent will be. If you give them enough resources, you might scare opponents away.

Rodney Willett for Delegate. Virginia House of Delegates District 58

Right now, Rodney Willett had a truly fast start.  Initially elected to District 73 and the Incumbent in that District, he has shifted to the new District 58 northwest of Richmond.  Population growth required shrinking the district, eliminating what was the north, east, and south of the previous district.  In a suburban area for Richmond, the district is 70% white, 10% Black, and 10% Asian.

Rodney Willett earned his undergraduate and his law degree from William & Mary.  Board Vice Chair of the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority, Rodney Willett shares oversight of this organization which assists local governments and government agencies in the management of, the technology for, and the legal issues around health care.  As a legislator, he helped pass laws supporting early childhood education, mental health, gun violence protection, voting rights, civil rights for members of the LGBTQ community, and the environment.

Former Governor McAuliffe carried the current District 58 by 5 points in 2021.  That was close enough so that the Virginia Public Access Project sees this as a competitive district.  Do Republicans see it the same way?  Rodney Willett does not yet have a Republican opponent.  That does not absolve us of providing him with support.  He has raised $140,000 for his campaign.  If he has enough funds, it will discourage the Republicans from even attempting to complete.  Help his campaign to keep the Republicans out.  Help his campaign in case a well-funded Republican shows up at the least minute.

Joshua Cole for Delegate Virginia House of Delegates District 65

Here is another district the Virginia Public Access Project could not identify as leaning toward the Republicans or the Democrats for which the Republicans do not have a candidate.  As with Rodney Willett in District 58, that does not suggest the district should be ignored.  Filing is not until April.  The Republicans could come up with a candidate with enough resources to make waves in this swing district.  Our job is to help Josh Cole raise enough money to discourage a late Republican entry or enough to defeat a late Republican entry in the November election.

District 65 includes Fredericksburg, where Josh Cole lives, and parts of Stafford and Spotsylvania Counties. Redistricting chopped off the northeastern part of the district and added the southwestern part of the new district.  The District is 60% white, almost 20% Black.  Glenn Youngkin carried the district by 3 points.

Joshua Cole is a young man, 32 years old, with considerable political experience.  He attended Liberty University for 3 years, a Baptist, evangelical Christian school famous for its founder – Jerry Fallwell.  The University accepts 99% of its applicants; 29% graduate.  Joshua Cole was one of the 71%.  He continued working for Liberty University, qualified as a pastor, was named President of the Stafford County NAACP, and, in 2017, ran for the House of Delegates.  He lost that race by 73 votes in what was not the closest or most controversial election of that fraught year.  He stayed in the House of Delegates, serving as Chief of Staff for Delegate Kathy Fowler.  In 2019, he ran again and won, but lost in 2021.  Bisexual, he has the support of the LGBTQ Victory Fund in his 2023 race.

The legislative achievements that Joshua Cole touts include automatic voter registration for driver’s license applicants and mandated coverage for juvenile hearing aids.  He has raised more than $100,000.  Will that be enough to keep Republicans out of the race or to ensure a victory? That may depend on whether or not you add enough to his campaign funds.

 The following are the three competitive seats that will be reported on after the June primary. 

House of Delegates District 57. – Competitive Democratic Primary

House of Delegates District 84 – Competitive Democratic Primary

House of Delegates District 82 – Competitive Democratic Primary




February 21 and April 4

Virginia Fourth Congressional District Special Election on February 21

Jennifer McClellan is running to replace the only current vacancy in the US Congress – Virginia’s Four Congressional District. A state senator representing the 9th Senate district, she is the child of a civil rights activist and a university professor. She ran Terry’s McAuliffe’s transition team when he was elected governor in 2013, is vice chair of the Virginia Democratic Party and of the legislature’s Black Caucus.  She is the favorite to defeat Pastor and Navy veteran Leon Benjamin, Sr.   See Len’s Political Note #527.

New Hampshire Special Election on February 21

House District 8, Rochester Ward 4

Incumbent Chuck Grassie is running because of a rarity.  In November, he and former mayor Republican David Walker tied.  Because New Hampshire’s House of Representatives is so large, you would not expect that a single seat would matter much.  This election in February will matter.  Republicans have a narrow majority – 201-198.  Make it a little narrower (201-199) by helping to reelect Chuck Grassie.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Multiparty Primary on February 21 followed by a General Election on April 4

Janet Protasiewicz is running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Her win in the February 21st primary and the April 4th General Election would flip the Wisconsin Supreme Court from 4-3 Republican to 4-3 Democrat with enormous implications for issues such as abortion and redistricting.  This is an open seat because a Republican Justice retired.  The election is in the spring rather than November because Wisconsin strives to limit partisanship in judicial elections. See Len’s Political Note #528

Wisconsin Primary on February 21 followed by a Special Election on April 4

Jodi Habush Sinykin is running in the special election for Wisconsin’s State Senate District 08.  She is also running to prevent Republicans from having two thirds of the seats in the Wisconsin State Senate.  If the current State Senator for the District were not retiring, Republicans would have 22 of the 33 State Senate seats.  See Len’s Political Note #529