New Jersey and Virginia
This year's state elections
In this issue: most states, along with Congress, hold their legislative elections in even-numbered years. Of the four exceptions, Mississippi and Louisiana hold theirs every three years after presidential elections (2015, 2019, 2023, etc), which leaves just New Jersey and Virginia up this year. New Jersey is electing its entire state legislature, while Virginia is only electing its House of Delegates (the lower house of its legislature.) Plus, more news about the LA-02 and OH-11 elections, which we talked about last week.
Also, we’re toying around with Primary School as a name now, since apparently there’s a podcast with our old idea for a name already in existence.
In New Jersey, the same 40 districts are used for the Senate and the Assembly. Each district elects one senator and two members of the Assembly. Because of the overlapping districts, and because of the unique ballot design New Jersey uses, which tends to tie candidates together as slates, we will be covering each district’s Senate and Assembly races as one item. (We will stop doing so if progressive groups’ lawsuit against the ballot design system succeeds, which we fervently hope for.)
Steve Sweeney and George Norcross run South Jersey as a personal fiefdom. They control the county parties, the primary nominations, the patronage appointments, everything. There’s no real equivalent in North Jersey; power up north is far more decentralized, with an ever-shifting roster of bosses fighting for power. Of those many northern bosses, Joe Cryan has lasted longer than most. Cryan, a state senator, has run Union Township (pop. ~50,000) for years; he’s had stints as Assembly Majority Leader and state party chair; he recently lost an ugly war with state Sen. Nick Scutari over the chairmanship of the Union County Democratic Committee because the Norcross orbit backed Scutari over Cryan, who they’ve never particularly liked. He’s larger than life. He seems unbeatable. That’s probably wrong in the abstract: He’s an old white guy in a district that’s not even close to plurality white, relying on machine tactics in an era when those are breaking down, and he has a closet full of skeletons. But we’re not living in the abstract. In the concrete here and now of 2021, he has two opponents.
One is current Assemblyman Jamel Holley, a loyal machine cog for the last decade, who absolutely lost his mind this year and decided to become a leading luminary of the anti-vax movement. The other is Jason Krychiw, Vice Chair of the New Jersey Progressive Democrats of Union County. Krychiw ran for a municipal office in Union Township in 2016 as an independent and got 10% in the 2-winner election. In 2018 he ran again as a Democrat, and got 20% in the primary. Krychiw has been active in Union Township for years, and could be a good candidate on paper, but the line (read this to understand what the line is) is a brutal obstacle to overcome. He’s absolutely the right choice in this primary, but history makes him a clear underdog, even with the line’s power potentially destabilized by Holley’s candidacy. Cryan will presumably be slated up with Assemblywoman Annette Quijano and a replacement candidate to replace Holley on the machine line, while Krychiw will be slated up with fellow progressive challengers Aissa Heath and Ricky Castaneda, both progressive activists like Krychiw. It is unclear whether Holley, who has not formally announced yet, will field an Assembly slate of his own.
It’s rare for voters to choose candidates from different slates, and we’d expect that to hold this year—though if it does happen, we’d expect it to involve a non-machine candidate winning the open Assembly seat while Cryan and Quijano win renomination.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg is finally checking out of politics after 30 years, and creating a rare instance of a serious open primary. Neither candidate is exactly an anti-machine crusader—they’re the district’s two Assembly members—but there’s a clear better choice. Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle has the backing of the Communications Workers of America, the state’s leading LGBT rights groups, and progressive activists; Assemblyman Gordon Johnson is the choice of most of the local Democratic establishment. It remains to be seen whether Vainieri Huttle will run off the line, which is expected to go to Johnson, or drop back down to her Assembly seat; if she does stick with the state Senate campaign, that could set up a rare battle between an established politician in Vainieri Huttle and Bergen County’s vaunted Democratic machine. If anyone could pull this off, it’s Huttle, who’s won off the line before.
Vainieri Huttle’s brother is Hudson County Commission Chair Anthony Vainieri, a top defender of the county’s immigrant detention contract with ICE; she is not without powerful (and concerning) friends. On the other hand, Bergen County’s Democratic machine has overseen that county’s own ICE detention contract (which Johnson has proposed banning, a proposal that rings really fucking hollow when he is the choice of the machine that keeps it going.) Both options are quite flawed. However, the machine is less enthused about Vainieri Huttle, and local progressives are more fond of her; therefore, she is the better of the two candidates, because destabilizing New Jersey’s machines is paramount. Since both Vainieri Huttle and Johnson are incumbents, and since Vainieri Huttle’s continued status as a candidate is in doubt, neither Vainieri Huttle nor Johnson has rolled out their Assembly slate, though Englewood Cliffs councilwoman Gloria Oh and Teaneck Democratic Committee chair Alexandra Soriano-Taveras have been mentioned as potential Johnson slatemates, while Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich (of Bridgegate fame) is out.
While Virginia has long been a swing state, we’re now at a point where the last time a Republican won it was over a decade ago (2009), where it voted for the Democrat in the most recent presidential election by over 10%, and where 5 cycles of consecutive Democratic wins in downballot elections have given them durable majorities of the congressional delegation and state legislature, despite Republican gerrymanders. It’s not safely Democratic the same way that Manhattan is, but it’s good enough that Democrats would really have to fuck up to lose, so we feel comfortable covering statewide races now.
Virginia has term limits for governors that prevent consecutive terms, so every race for governor is an open race. This year’s field is particularly crowded, with 5 real candidates all fighting for the nomination in a state where that may finally be tantamount to the general election.
State Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy might be the best hope progressives have in this election. Carroll Foy, then a public defender, won a stunning primary upset in 2017 by twelve votes against a party-chosen moderate candidate and former cop, and then absolutely bodied a Republican to flip her diverse Northern Virginia district. Since then, Carroll Foy has worked hard to stay on the forefront of progressive causes. She was the lead sponsor of the state's clean energy mandate, which was a weak piece of legislation, but only as a result of it having to make its way through anti-Green New Deal hardliner Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw. When an intra-party debate opened up last year about passing marijuana legalization or decriminalization, she was vocally on the side of legalization. She also fought the quixotic battle to get paid sick leave adopted by the state.
Carroll Foy has emerged as the consensus pick of progressive groups and labor unions. She counts among her endorsers CASA in Action, Clean Virginia (a leading environmental PAC), Democracy for America, Sunrise Virginia, Virginia Justice Democrats (independent from the national org), and the Voter Protection Project, as well a collection of trade unions, who have come to her aid to the tune of $350,000. Progressive and labor groups in the state have consolidated around her and clearly see an opportunity to break out of the Republican/moderate corporate-friendly Democrat ping-ponging of the state’s politics.
State Del. Lee Carter is, by far, the leftmost choice in the race. A DSA member and natural firebrand who still gets legislation passed in a moderate body, Carter has never failed to get attention when he wants it, a useful skill for a candidate. His visible presence during the George Floyd protests could have helped him with criminal and racial justice advocates, his longstanding war against right-to-work could have helped him with unions, and his national profile could have provided him with a large donor base. But so far it just hasn’t worked out like that. Carter jumped into the race in January of this year, months after progressive and labor consolidation around Carroll Foy began. He’s struggled for money (not helped by rules prohibiting fundraising during the legislative session) and media oxygen, his website is currently running as a dual-purpose delegate/governor campaign site, and it raises the question of just how serious he is about this. That’s not a criticism. We like Lee. It’s just that it’s not unusual—in fact, it’s often a good strategy—for politicians to raise their profile by running in an election they’re not really trying to win. We’re not saying that’s the case here, just that it would make a lot of sense as a career move for Carter, and would explain why he got in so late.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is a rapist. Oh, sorry, “alleged rapist”. Fairfax was once the hope of Virginia progressives, but they dropped him in 2019 immediately after finding out that he was a rapist. Oh, sorry, “alleged rapist”. You would think that kind of scandal would end his political career, but Fairfax plunged forward with his plan to run for governor regardless, and is now in the race, just taking up space, and despite polling not-terribly, he’s gotten absolutely no endorsements, because he’s a rapist. Oh, sorry, “alleged rapist.” He won’t win, but he will be at the debates, and will get some votes, so we have to mention him, despite him being a rapist. Oh, sorry, “alleged rapist”.
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is baaaaaack. TMac is every worst stereotype of a Virginia Democrat: a financial investor who utilized his connections with the Clintons to become DNC Chair from 2001–2005 and then governor from 2014–2018. Though, prior to this, we weren’t going to be complaining that much about him. He won a tough race and was constantly at war with the Republican legislature of the state during his time as governor. TMac is, to put it gently, a slimy corporate fuck. This is a man who calls himself “the king of money” and has ambushed, at their homes, donors who he feels aren’t putting in the effort to get him it. He was a gradually-more-unhinged campaign chair for Hillary Clinton during her historic effort to blow the 2008 nomination. Just about everyone in national politics owed TMac a favor, which is why they’re all behind him now, and just about everyone in the country with a net worth over a certain figure has been personally hit up for money by him before, which is why he raised $8 million already without breaking a sweat. TMac was already a product of an older era when he was elected last time, and he’s the worst choice available to Democrats now, aside from the rapist. Oh, sorry, “alleged rapist.”
State Sen. Jennifer McClellan is the most unremarkable choice presented. She’s not as odious as TMac or Fairfax (no one could be), but she’s also uninterested in the sort of progressive politics that Lee Carter and Jennifer Carroll Foy are running on. She’s been as establishment as it gets in Richmond politics for over a decade now, and she isn’t showing any signs of letting up. There’s not much to be said about her, really. Also, did we mention she’s literally a Verizon lobbyist? Virginia doesn’t pay legislators enough to live, so they all have to have day jobs or personal wealth—not only advantaging the rich, but literally encouraging legislators to trade on their titles to get lobbying gigs, because for some reason it’s legal for your day job to be a lobbyist in the state legislature of which one is a member.
The governor’s race is looking like a three-way contest between McAuliffe, Carroll Foy, and McClellan, and it’s totally conceivable that the wins slides in with under 30% of the vote, since Carter and Fairfax have bases and aren’t going to totally belly flop in the low single digits. With that in mind, let’s look at the money the candidates have raised so far. Due to Virginia’s “wild west” campaign finance system, there are no contribution limits
TMac: $5.8 mil raised ($1.6 mil was from a PAC he had before his gov run), $5.5 mil on hand
Carroll Foy: $1.9 mil raised, $1.3 mil on hand
McClellan: $1.1 mil raised, $616,000 on hand.
Fairfax: $200,000 in in-kind campaign help, no money raised
Carter: entered after the most recent fundraising deadline
TMac is planning on winning by deluging everyone in campaign spending on ads, a strategy which failed him in 2009, but might work this time now that he has the name recognition from his last stint as governor and a chorus of national names supporting him. McClellan is from Richmond, that’s really the thrust of her strategy. Everyone else is from the north of the state, and if she can clean up elsewhere, she can win. Her endorser list is full of Richmond and Hampton Roads names. Carroll Foy won’t have TMac’s money, but she has enough to get her name out there, and she’s using it to highlight both her progressive credentials and the historic nature of her candidacy (a line of argument which may be rendered less effective by the presence of another Black woman in the race, McClellan). Carter is pinning his campaign on the strategy of amassing a volunteer army to get his message out despite a late start and (relative) lack of funds.
The rapist—oh, sorry, “alleged rapist”—currently occupying this office is fucking off to his doomed gubernatorial campaign, leaving another wide open contest.
State Del. Hala Ayala is one of the massive 2017 class of delegates who flipped over a dozen suburban seats to turn the Republican majority majority in the state house down to a single seat. She’s also one of the first two Hispanic members of the House of Delegates. The other, Elizabeth Guzman, is also running for Lt. Gov. this year. Ayala has tended towards the progressive half or so of the caucus, but she hasn’t been a standout in that regard.
State Del. Elizabeth Guzmán is also part of that 2017 class. She fought through a tough three-way primary with the help of Our Revolution, and obliterated the incumbent Republican, in her, all things considered, pretty Democratic district. Incidententally, her district borders Ayala’s. It's easy to make some comparisons between the two, even beyond how they would both be the state’s first Latina officeholder, and wonder if they’re cutting into each other’s base. Guzman has distinguished herself in a few ways. For one, she was a state co-chair with Lee Carter for Bernie 2020, a gutsy move in the DC suburbs. She helped kill Prince William County’s 287(g) program (a partnership with ICE to detain immigrants), and in this run, she’s been endorsed by CASA in Action, an immigrant rights group.
State Del. Mark Levine has a pretty cool history in politics before his election in 2015. He was a major gay rights advocate who organized important protests in California, before moving to Virginia to work in DC as legislative assistant for Barney Frank in 2001, then leaving a few years later to start a liberal talk show. He was also apparently a Nazi hunter for some time? Interesting guy, all around. Unfortunately, while he was quite the progressive by the standards of the 90s, that’s still roughly where he is. He favors a public option for healthcare, endorsed Joe Biden in the primary, and takes cop money.
Norfolk City Councilor Andria McClellan is from the Hampton Roads region. That’s it, really; that’s her pitch. She’s tracking down just about every public official nearby for an endorsement, and pushing the Norfolk angle hard. As usual, our rule about being wary of municipal officials holds here. Andria McClellan (no relation to Jennifer), was a major supporter of Ralph Northam, referring to him as “one of the good guys” (Northam voted for Bush twice); an opponent of releasing police use-of-force records in response to BLM protests; and fine with slashing city services instead of raising taxes or cutting the police budget.
Fairfax County NAACP President Sean Perryman is running on a progressive platform that emphasizes criminal and racial justice. He supports a Virginia Green New Deal, and has a campaign platform that’s aiming to be as progressive as anyone else’s. Notably, he wants cops out of schools, and has signaled some openness to the goals of the Defund the Police movement. He seems like he’d be a very good LG, and he does have local support, but oxygen is tough to find in a field as wide as this, especially for someone who’s entering without many political connections.
State Del. Sam Rasoul represents Roanoke, making him the downstate/southwest VA candidate by default. He’d be the first Muslim statewide officeholder in Virginia’s history, and he’s mostly a good progressive, rounding out a number of quite acceptable options in this race. Unfortunately, we have a major bone to pick with him. Virginia Republicans, fearing loss of redistricting control, drew up a complicated plan in 2018 that had “nonpartisan reform” written all over it, but in reality it was a commission where if Republicans don’t get their way they can just tell the GOP-controlled state court to give them what they want. It was a constitutional amendment, so it had to be passed twice, the second time being last year, under a Democratic-controlled legislature. And thanks to 9 turncoats in the Democratic caucus, it did. Rasoul was one of the nine. He generally has good policy instincts, but supporting the Republicans’ gerrymandering plan says he might not be up for the knife fight of governing.
Xavier Warren is as much of a generic businessman candidate as you’re going to get in this race. A once-dominant breed of Virginia politician, they have thankfully receded in prominence in recent years. He’s a lobbyist and NFL agent, and he’s raised a bit of money, but he’s almost certainly not going to win.
This race is mildly insane in just how wide a field we have. Sean Perryman and Elizabeth Guzmán are the progressive choices, Hala Ayala and Mark Levine are broadly acceptable mainstream liberals, and Sam Rasoul has the head of the former group but the heart of the latter. The bad options here are Andria McClellan and Xavier Warren, but only McClellan has a real shot, and even then she’s not really a frontrunner. It could be anyone’s nomination really, and the fact that a lot of outside groups haven’t picked a candidate yet speaks to the uncertainty. The money race doesn’t help clear much up.
Rasoul, partially by successfully tapping a national network of Muslim donors, raised $656K, with $587K still on hand.
Ayala has raised $431K, although over $200K of that was in-kind contributions, and another $59K was moved over from her delegate campaign account. She has $108K on hand.
McClellan has raised $231K, though the majority of that was moved over from her pre-existing PAC. She has $218K on hand.
Perryman managed to raise $206K without any previous money to roll over, and has $171K on hand.
Levine raised $201K. Broken down, that’s $40K from his delegate campaign, $60K from his family, $10K from him, and $90K from anyone else. He’s spent less than $1,000 so far and has $200K on hand.
Guzmán raised $156K, of which $35K was from labor unions and nothing was from her old campaigns. She has $129K still on hand.
Warren raised $64K, but spent $20K on fundraising and now has only $28K on hand.
Unlike the unwieldy, wide open fields for the Governor and Lt. Governor races, incumbent Mark Herring is running for third term. If he wins, Herring would be the first statewide officeholder to get a third term since the 1950s. Herring was a good man for the moment of 2013, when he had to white knuckle it through a brutal campaign against the only Republican who wasn’t an actual nut that year, and won by just a handful of votes. But we can do better now than a man who admitted to wearing blackface, supports unconstitutional additional “second prison sentences” in psychiatric hospitals, and horribly mismanaged the state’s prisons during COVID. His opponent, Jay Jones, is a young, Black delegate from Norfolk. Jones has been a stalwart opponent of private state utility Dominion Energy (which Herring has largely protected) and a supporter of criminal justice reform (even if he stops short at supporting defunding). His campaign is supported by an impressive number of officeholders, including most of his Black colleagues in the House of Delegates, as well as labor unions and perennial Dominion antagonist Clean Virginia.
Jones has played up the historic nature of his candidacy (AG is the only state executive office never held by a Black person), and has accused Mark Herring of politically-motivated investigations of two of his endorsers: Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and State Sen. Joe Morrisey. This is a tough one, because both of those men are slimy as fuck, and they sound quite guilty given the facts of the case, but the AG office waiting until after they’d made endorsements to start the investigations is some interesting timing, if nothing else.
The money situation here currently favors Herring, who currently has about $1.1M on hand, but that’s just the money he brought over from his previous campaign. He hasn’t really started raising or spending yet. Jones “only” had $282K to bring over, but a pair of $100K jumpstarts from Clean Virginia and well-known Dem donor Sonja Smith (wife of the man who runs Clean Virginia), has helped him get to $700K on hand, enough to compete with Herring. This is a race to watch. Jones is an underdog, but not a huge one, and with many Black political leaders getting behind him, he could do quite well with Black voters, a substantial voter base. Herring probably needs to win Northern VA, but despite the region's reputation as a sprawl of wealthy suburbs, the Democratic electorate there is also relatively young and diverse, and they’ve been open to progressive candidates in statewide elections recently.
House of Delegates
In many of the state legislative races where the incumbent is running statewide, the field isn’t quite settled yet (in some, nobody but the incumbent has even filed); however, there are a few state legislative races where we have an early idea of what’s going on.
This seat is being vacated by Del. Elizabeth Guzmán, who is running for lieutenant governor. The leading candidates include former Obama administration official Rod Hall, who has some establishment endorsements; local Young Democrats official Idris O’Connor; and local Democratic activist and businesswoman Kara Pitek. Ideological contrasts are not yet clear in this race, though O’Connor describes himself as a progressive Democrat.
Del. Kathleen Murphy, a fairly generic Democrat, faces a challenge from local Democratic activist and businesswoman Jennifer Adeli, who is running at least somewhat to Murphy’s left (supporting the Virginia Green New Deal, for example.) Adeli, a former congressional aide, has the resources and biography to make this competitive, but Murphy has been in the House of Delegates since winning a hard-fought 2015 special election to succeed Republican Barbara Comstock, who had been elected to Congress, so she’s no stranger to tough campaigns, nor is she an unknown quantity in the district. (The district has since become utterly unwinnable for Republicans, like most of Northern Virginia.)
Del. Patrick Hope faces a challenge from minor Resistance Twitter celebrity Matt Rogers, aka @Politidope. Rogers, a state legislative staffer when he’s not tweeting, has raised over $40,000, which is a decent sum for districts as small as Virginia’s state House districts, but less than half of what Hope has raised. Anyway, here are some old tweets where Rogers uses transphobic slurs and is generally homophobic and sexist. Hard pass.
House Majority Whip Alfonso Lopez, the third-ranking Democrat in the state House, faces a challenge from teacher and democratic socialist Karishma Mehta. Lopez is fairly progressive...except for the minor issue of previously profiting from an ICE detention center, so, yikes. Mehta is great, and has shown impressive strength with small donors, raising $26,527 from 467 donors as of the last filing deadline, meaning her average donor gives just $56.80. (Of her 467 donors, 403 gave less than $100.)
Lopez has a massive edge in fundraising and cash on hand—and as the #3 in the state House, he presumably has the ability to rake in far more if he needs it—but Mehta is going to give him a real race, and she’ll have help. Metro DC DSA made Mehta their first endorsement of the 2021 cycle, and the chapter’s electoral efforts are a force to be reckoned with: MDC-DSA has already played a role in the elections of three state legislators (Lee Carter, in 2017, and Maryland Dels. Vaughn Stewart and Gabriel Acevero, in 2018) and a DC Councilor (Janeese Lewis George, in 2020.)
This one is very much worth watching.
Del. Dawn Adams, who has been dogged by multiplescandals since her 2017 election to a seat representing parts of Richmond and its suburbs, faces former Richmond Assistant City Attorney Kyle Elliott, who counts among his donors moderate Richmond mayor Levar Stoney, so there’s not really a great progressive choice as far as we can tell. Elliott has actually outraised Adams—impressive considering Adams has been through two difficult campaigns, beginning with her 2017 run in which she unseated Republican incumbent Manoli Loupassi. (Like HD-34, it’s very hard to see Republicans winning this seat in the foreseeable future.)
Richmond City Councilman Michael Jones is challenging incumbent Del. Betsy Carr. Jones has been an advocate for defunding the Richmond Police Department, which gained notoriety for brutalizing Black Lives Matter protesters last year, as well as banning its use of tear gas and rubber bullets; Jones, a pastor, contends that Carr has not used her perch in the House of Delegates to push hard enough for racial and social justice. (On the City Council, Jones has also backed removal of the city’s Confederate monuments and opposed the expansion of the Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department’s jurisdiction within the city.) Carr is white, while Jones, like a majority of the district’s residents, is Black.
Del. Jeff Bourne faces a challenge from community activist Richard Walker, a formerly incarcerated man who has led reentry programs for the formerly incarcerated, pushed for the restoration of voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences, and participated in a number of other efforts to assist the homeless, those with substance abuse, and others traditionally neglected by mainstream institutions. Rhetorically, he seems to be running to the left, talking about a government “free of corporate influence,” a potent line in a state where corporations can give directly to candidates and there are no limits on contribution amounts. (Bourne’s second-largest donor is Dominion Energy, one of the state’s utility monopolies. Other large donors include a number of business associations and Appalachian Power, the state’s other utility monopoly. Suffice it to say Bourne does not share Walker’s vision of a corporate-free state capitol.)
Del. Steve Heretick appears to have drawn a challenge from local Democratic activist Nadarius Clark, but Clark does not have a website and has not filed any campaign finance reports, so it’s unclear what the situation is here. Heretick has six figures on hand, so he has the ability to fight hard for his seat.
Special election news
Gary Chambers Jr. announced his campaign has raised over $259,000. With such a short campaign season (fewer than 2 months until the primary now), any candidate without a history in public life is going to need money for a mad scramble to get their name out. By the same token, businesswoman Desiree Ontiveroshas told reporters she plans to self finance “a considerable amount of her personal savings”. It’s totally unclear how much that would actually be, but her company, Badass Balloons, is no corner shop. She could potentially have hundreds of thousands to throw around in this race.
Troy Carter just got hit with his first oppo story of the primary: an article discussing one of his blighted investment properties, the tens of thousands of unpaid fines he has on it, and the reaction of the neighborhood.
Ohio’s Republican senator Rob Portman announced he wasn’t going to run for re-election in 2022, leading to a flurry of speculation about potential Democratic candidates to run for the open seat. It’s probably a fool’s errand, sadly—Trump’s 8% win in the state marked Ohio moving even further right relative to the country in 2020, and this will be a midterm under a Democratic president, which spells doom even in light red states—but with state legislative term limits and limited options overall, many Democrats are still considering it. Nina Turner immediately shot down any and all speculation that she might switch races, but House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes has been mentioned by insiders as a potential candidate, and hasn’t been as quick to say no; in fact, yesterday she indicated that the race had been on her mind. That doesn’t mean she’s not running for OH-11, but it does mean she’s not set on that race. Meanwhile, Turner announced that she had passed $1,000,000 in campaign contributions, a substantial and intimidating sum.