Photo: Rasoul for Lieutenant Governor, Davis for Lieutenant Governor
The race to replace scandal-plagued Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is a clown car: there are currently 6 Democrats running for the position and 6 Republicans, for a total of 12 candidates. 4 current members and 2 former members of the House of Delegates are running for the position: Delegate Hala Ayala (D-Prince William), Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke), Delegate Mark Levine (D-Arlington), Delegate Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach), former Delegate Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax), and former Delegate Winsome Sears (R-Norfolk).
Of those who have not served in the House, there is former Fairfax NAACP Chairman Sean Perryman (D), Councilwoman Andria McClellan (D-Norfolk), Xavier Warren (D-Arlington), business consultant Puneet Ahluwalia (R-Fairfax), air force veteran Lance Allen (R-Fauquier), and CEO/attorney Maeve Rigler (R-Alexandria).
The frontrunners (and by that we mean leading by a hair) for both party nominations are Delegate Rasoul for the Democrats and Delegate Davis for the Republicans. Davis will not be competing in a primary unlike Rasoul: he and his fellow Republicans are competing in the statewide drive-thru conventions on May 8, which you can learn more about in our podcast episode titled “What Will the 2021 VA GOP Slate Be?” here.
The Lieutenant Governor position is the most competitive office in Virginia this year. It’s hotly contested in the Republican convention, Democratic primary, and general election; the early contests are extremely volatile and the general will not have an incumbency advantage for either side. The Republicans will nominate either Davis, Hugo, or Sears, and the Democrats will nominate Rasoul, Ayala, Perryman, or McClellan. The other candidates we have not listed here who are also running for Lieutenant Governor don’t stand a chance in their respective contests.
Let’s take a look at the longshots (emphasis on long). First, the Democrats.
Levine is a standard white Arlington liberal with a campaign that’s mostly financially reliant on his $360,000 loan, the $55K he transferred from his Delegate committee and another $110K from his family. Warren is another Arlington liberal who has the misfortune of having the weakest campaign in the race, both in pitch and finance. Neither of these candidates will win the Democratic primary, but it’ll be interesting to see how much of the vote they get, particularly in their backyards.
On the Republican side, there’s Puneet Ahluwalia, Lance Allen, and Maeve Rigler. Allen’s is the only decently run campaign among these three, but not decent enough for him to have a shot at the nomination. The other two have incredibly weak campaigns and will assuredly not win the Republican nomination. Rigler’s the most rightward candidate in the Lieutenant Governor race, as she has made the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump the centerpiece of her campaign. In small Republican contests like these, being the most ideologically extreme is usually a helpful trait; however, Rigler is an unserious candidate whose campaign is put together with qualities of comprehension and coherence akin to a kindergartner’s macaroni arts and crafts project.
Now, on to the actual candidates in the race.
On the Democratic side, there are two candidates angling to be the most progressive in the primary: Rasoul and Perryman. The two recently went head-to-head in a debate in which Perryman went on the offensive (this is campaign 101: attack the frontrunner). McClellan and Ayala aren’t adopting the race-to-the-left strategy, but that doesn’t mean that they’re to the right of center in the slightest.
When it comes to building an electoral coalition in the primary, McClellan and Rasoul hold the advantage, seeing as they’re the only candidates from their respective areas. Rasoul will do well in the Roanoke Valley and McClellan should do well in Norfolk compared to her statewide performance. However, if they want to become the nominee they have to dominate not merely in their own localities, but in their general regions: Rasoul has to do exceptionally well throughout the Southwest and McClellan would have to make a meal out of Hampton Roads. Of course, they have to clean up well in the other parts of the state to actually win the nomination.
The other four candidates in the race are all from Northern Virginia, which may seem advantageous at a first glance given that it’s a firmly blue region. However, these candidates will need to find areas outside of NoVa where they can position themselves as the frontrunner as well. The obvious area is Greater Richmond: none of the candidates have roots in this area, so it’s fair game for all. If any of these candidates can sweep their home base region as well as win over Richmond, that candidate is likely going to be the nominee.
On the Republican side, Delegate Sears has earned the endorsement of Senator Amanda Chase and has positioned herself as the serious go-to conservative candidate in the race, which is important in a Republican contest where the most conservative voters will register as Delegates. However, Glenn Davis has a respectably adept campaign and this isn’t his first rodeo; he ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2017 but ended up placing 3rd in the primary. Hugo has a reasonably strong campaign as well, but having a home base in Northern Virginia may end up undermining his chances.
What’s unique about these candidates is that they’ve all won blue territory, a good sign for Republicans in their prospects in November. Sears, who left the chamber in the early 2000s, represented a district that is majority Black and voted for Biden by a country mile. Hugo, who lost re-election in 2019 after Virginia Democrats bankrolled an enormous campaign to unseat him, represented a seat that voted for Biden by about 14 points last November. Davis, who narrowly won re-election in 2019, represents a seat that voted for Biden by a mere 5 points.
Davis is definitely a paper-thin frontrunner in the race, but a frontrunner regardless. Rasoul is a slightly stronger frontrunner in his respective race for several reasons: his campaign’s strong financial networking, his goal of being the most progressive candidate in the race, and his maintaining residence in an area where he can dominate. If his campaign continues to plow ahead with the same momentum it displays presently while earning enough of the votes from elsewhere in the state to win the overall contest by a plurality, he will likely be the Democratic nominee.
Republicans will select their statewide nominees on May 8th, and Democrats will vote on June 8th in their primary.