By Jim Ellis
April 3, 2018 — As March ended, the two most recent filing states of Virginia and South Carolina reached their declaration deadline. We now see a majority of domains (28) posting a final set of political contenders in preparation for the coming primary season.
In Virginia, we again see a familiar pattern, one that has often emerged in the preceding states. That is, a large number of Democrats filing against incumbent Republican House members, the overwhelming majority of whom have not previously run for office.
Against 1st District Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Montross/Fredericksburg), in what should be a safe Republican district, five Democrats filed — including Prince William County School Board chairman Ryan Sawyers — and will be on the primary ballot.
To the southeast, six Democrats, none of whom have ever previously run for public office, are challenging freshman Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Virginia Beach). Democratic leaders are pushing retired Navy Commander Elaine Luria as their preferred nominee. James County former supervisor, Mary Jones, is challenging Rep. Taylor in the Republican primary, but she is not expected to be a major force.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Newport News) is the only incumbent in the 11-member Virginia delegation who will be running unopposed both for his party’s nomination and in the general election.
Fourth District freshman Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) draws two minor Republicans and a Libertarian candidate. He will have little trouble securing a second term in a court-mandated district that was reconfigured before the 2016 election.
The 5th District Democrats are taking advantage of Virginia’s unique election laws that allow party leaders in each CD to choose whether they nominate via primary or convention. Six Democrats, all first-time candidates, will battle for delegate support to determine which of them advances to the general election to face freshman Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Scottsville/ Charlottesville). The 5th District Democratic convention will meet on May 5.
Both parties in the open 6th District (Rep. Bob Goodlatte retiring) will meet in convention to produce nominees. Republicans are scheduled for May 19, while Democrats have yet to announce a schedule. Interestingly, for the first time, the Republicans are adopting a plurality format instead of voting multiple times to ensure the winner receives majority delegate support. The western Virginia 6th District is the safest Republican seat in the state, so the eventual nominee becomes the prohibitive favorite in November.
Going to a plurality system means a very small number of individuals will, in all likelihood, decide the next congressman’s identity. State Delegate Ben Cline (R-Lexington), the co-chairman of Virginia’s Americans for Prosperity chapter, RNC National Committeewoman Cynthia Dunbar, who once served on the Texas Board of Education, and Rockingham-Harrisonburg Clerk of Courts Chaz Haywood appear to be the leading candidates among the eight competing.
Rep. Dave Brat (R-Glen Allen) draws a minor Republican opponent, two Democrats, and a pair of Independents. Democrats hope former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger wins the nomination and constructs a competitive campaign against the two-term GOP incumbent who upset then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) in the 2014 Republican primary.
Incumbents in Districts 8 (Rep. Don Beyer-D), 9 (Rep. Morgan Griffith-R), and 11 (Rep. Gerry Connelly-D) all are secure for re-election.
The signature campaign will be in Northern Virginia’s 10th District, where two-term Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean) sees 10 Democrats competing in the June 12 primary to win the right to face her in November. The only one of the 10 who has run for, or holds office, is state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Leesburg). With about half of the large field of contenders having funding to compete in the June 12 primary, this promises to be an interesting race. Unseating Rep. Comstock is a must-win task if the Democrats are to have a chance of capturing the majority in the 2018 election.
The South Carolina governor’s race leads the Palmetto State ticket, as Gov. Henry McMaster seeks the Republican nomination to win election to a full term in his own right. McMaster, as lieutenant governor, succeeded Nikki Haley when she left the governor’s position to become US Ambassador to the United Nations. Former Haley cabinet official Catherine Templeton is challenging the governor for the Republican nomination along with Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant and former Democratic Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill. Early polling gives McMaster a strong lead, but whether he can avoid being forced to a secondary run-off election remains in doubt.
Incumbents in Districts 2 (Rep. Joe Wilson-R), 3 (Rep. Jeff Duncan-R), 6 (Rep. Jim Clyburn-D), and 7 (Rep. Tom Rice-R) all appear set for re-election.
First District Representative and former Gov. Mark Sanford (R-Charleston) faces primary competition from state Rep. Katie Arrington (R-Summerville) and business consultant Dmitri Cherny.
Freshman Rep. Ralph Norman (R-Rock Hill), who won a close special election against first-time candidate Archie Parnell (D), is unopposed in the Republican primary, but may face his previous opponent again. Parnell is running in the regular election, but must first top three other Democrats, including former York County Councilman Sidney Moore, for the party nomination.
Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-Spartanburg) retirement opens up a major open seat campaign in the Greenville-Spartanburg district. A dozen Republicans filed on Friday, including two sitting state legislators, one ex-state senator, and a current and former county Republican chairman. Four Democrats are on the ballot, but the eventual nominee will not be competitive in the general election. The Republican primary battle is sure to advance to a run-off election.
Both the Virginia and South Carolina primaries are June 12. A run-off election for those South Carolina candidates who do not secure majority support will occur on June 26.