State Elections

Published — June 8, 2015

11 things to know about Virginia’s legislative primary

Virginia State Capitol in 2003 Anderskev/Wikipedia

Candidates spent more than $30 million ahead of June 9 primary


Correction, June 8, 11:53 a.m.: This story has been corrected to update the margin that Democrats need to effectively have a majority in the Virginia Senate. The party currently needs just one seat to win control because the lieutenant governor, now a Democrat, serves as tie breaker under the state constitution.

Virginia Democrats are hoping to win at least one additional Senate seat in the commonwealth’s legislative elections this year to regain the majority, with Tuesday’s primary setting the stage for the bigger battle ahead.

All 140 seats of the state legislature are on the ballot in November, however only 18 of those seats — 10 in the House and eight in the Senate — face contested primaries on June 9.

The most expensive fight so far this year is a Republican primary in the Richmond area, where House Speaker William Howell, a 14-term incumbent, faces a challenge from his former protégé and tea party darling, Susan Stimpson.

Here are 11 things to know about the money behind Virginia’s legislative races:

  • Candidates for seats in the House of Delegates have spent $10.7 million campaigning since January 2014 while those seeking Senate seats have spent more than $20.8 million since January 2012
  • Incumbents began 2015 with nearly 10 times more cash in their campaign accounts than challengers, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
  • The top donor to legislative candidates’ campaigns this cycle is the Democratic Party of Virginia, which gave just over $1 million since January 2014.
  • Giving more than $439,000, the top non-party donor is Richmond-based electric utility Dominion Resource’s political action committee. Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw received $50,000 of it, more than any other candidate since 2014, VPAP reports.
  • By June 1, more than $128,000 worth of political TV ads aired about the races, mostly from Senate candidate and obstetrician Siobhan Dunnavant, one of four Republican candidates vying for retiring Republican Sen. Walter Stosch’s seat, according to estimates from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
  • One of the only House of Delegates candidates to air broadcast TV ads this cycle is Democrat Preston Brown, who is challenging Del. Betsy Carr in the primary, according to Kantar Media/CMAG.
  • Howell, the House speaker, more than doubled his campaign war chest in the past two months, raising more than $500,000, as he faces a challenge in the Republican primary from Stimpson.
  • Stimpson, by comparison, raised $104,000, about a tenth as much as Howell during the whole campaign period, according to VPAP.
  • But Stimpson’s efforts have been backed by tea party leaders such as Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, and former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.
  • Paul’s nonprofit, the Campaign for Liberty, sponsored mailers attacking Howell, according to The Washington Post. Neither Stimpson’s campaign nor the organization has disclosed the cost of the mailers to either the state or the Federal Election Commission.
  • Stimpson also received $5,000 worth of mailers from the Pittsburgh-based Freedom and Opportunity PAC, state records show. The group, tied to a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was initially established to support fellow Pennsylvania Republican and U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster.

Sources: Center for Public Integrity analysis of TV ad data from Kantar Media/CMAG through June 1, Virginia Public Access Project and Virginia campaign finance reports through May 27, Federal Election Commission, The Washington Post, PoliticsPA and the Associated Press.

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