Preview: Special Election in Virginia’s 38th State Senate District

On Tuesday, there will be a special election in Virginia’s 38th State Senate District in Southwest Virginia to replace the late Ben Chafin. I decided to take a look at what a good performance for the Democrats could look like, finding out the best performing Democrat in each precinct in the Trump era.

Tazewell County Board of Supervisors member Travis Hackworth (R) will defeat former Radford City Councilwoman Lauria Buchwald (D); it is the second most Republican-leaning district in the state. However, given that it’s a low turnout special, there’s a decent chance we could see a Democratic overperformance here.

Democrats did not contest SD-38 in the 2019 regular election: Ben Chafin won re-election against Libertarian George McCall with 63.52% of the vote.

As you can see in the first map, there are still some ancestral Democrats left in Southwest Virginia in the counties of Dickenson, Buchanan and Russell, which Trump carried handily last year. If Democrats were somehow able to replicate their best performances in the 38th from 2017-2019, they’d likely get somewhere around 37% of the vote.

2nd House of Delegates nominee Starla Kiser (D) ran an incredible campaign in 2019, easily outrunning those who came second place to her in the precincts she set records in. She carried Dickenson County, which Trump won by nearly 60 points last year.

9th Congressional nominee Anthony Flaccavento (D) also carried a considerable number of precincts, even outrunning Senator Tim Kaine (D) who was winning by 16 points statewide. The most notable pattern here is Flaccavento performing better than Kaine in very ancestrally Democratic areas along the border of Buchanan and Russell. Kaine though, of course, had the best performance in most precincts in the district, particularly in the East.

There are also a handful of precincts where Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax (D) has the record performance, and a single precinct for Attorney General Mark Herring (D). The same year both of these men were elected, candidates for the House of Delegates in districts 1, 3 and 12 were outrunning them, and still hold the record for the best performance.

All in all, it’s not likely to be a close election given the high marks for Democrats here. Given that there is a Democrat in the White House, it’s even less likely (the party that does not currently hold the White House usually does better in special elections). Still, it will be interesting to see if Buchwald sets any new precinct records, though that is unlikely given that the Central Absentee Precincts will likely be quite large due to the pandemic, as we saw last year.