As Virginia election returns rolled in Tuesday night, Republican campaign manager Daniella Propati quickly realized two things: Her candidate for the House of Delegates, GayDonna Vandergriff, would lose, and calling their opponent a “socialist” hadn’t worked.
North Richmond and the tony suburbs of Henrico County had once been a dependable backstop for the GOP, a place where statewide candidates found votes to offset Arlington and Alexandria. But the suburbs have undergone a metamorphosis in recent years — growing more socially liberal, more diverse, less interested in the red meat of the tea party and Donald Trump.
GayDonna Vandergriff has spent much of the year running for the House of Delegates with Hillary-blue campaign signs and a website that touts public schools and the environment but makes no mention that she’s a Republican.
But days before Tuesday’s state election, Vandergriff is executing a hard right turn toward her GOP base. She is blasting her opponent, Democratic incumbent Del. Schuyler T. VanValkenburg, as a “socialist”
Three Republicans had represented the 73rd House District in the General Assembly over a 35-year span. Two GOP delegates had held the neighboring 72nd House District seat in succession for 27 years. But in 2017 the GOP lost its dominant grip on the two western Henrico County districts in a crashing blue wave that gave both seats — and nearly party control of the House — to Democrats.
Two years later, Republicans are pushing hard to regain both seats
Candidates vying for seats in the 72nd and 73rd House Districts engaged in a fast-paced debate and fielded constituent questions Tuesday at the Libbie Mill Library in Henrico County.
GayDonna Vandergriff is running against incumbent Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, hoping to reverse the county’s recent switch to blue. Henrico’s 72nd and 73rd Districts both shifted from Republican to Democrat in the 2017 election.
Virginia Democrats are seeing a surge in campaign donations ahead of the November elections, including some regional races in Richmond.
The most recent campaign finance reports show House Democratic candidates now have a $1 million advantage over House Republicans. In July and August, Democratic candidate Schuyler VanValkenburg of Henrico raised more than $150,000. That was more than five times the amount raised by his Republican opponent GayDonna Vandergriff who only raised around $29,000 in that same period.
A note home from his daughter’s Henrico County elementary school last September surprised Kurt Wolfe.
Maybeury elementary had conducted a lockdown drill that day and the first-time school parent didn’t know about it.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” the father of two, including a kindergartener at the school, said. “It’s a conversation I’d like to have with my child if I choose to.”