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Aird tops Morrissey, Sturtevant beats Chase in wild Virginia primaries

There were several surprises and upsets, and two of the more bombastic voics in Virginia politics were ousted.

Virginia Mercury

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By Graham Moomaw

As she started her tour of polling places Tuesday morning, former Virginia delegate Lashrecse Aird said she hasn’t forgotten that Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, initially brushed her primary challenge aside by acting like he didn’t know who she was.

“We’re getting ready to show him,” Aird said outside Petersburg High School. When the polls closed 10 hours later, she was right.

Aird handed Morrissey his second stinging primary defeat in seven months, a major win for the progressive favorite who had drawn support from many in Democratic politics hoping to once again oust the scandal-ridden but enduringly popular Morrissey from public office.

“She’s just an overall better human being,” said Ashley Johnson, a 43-year-old Petersburg teacher who voted for Aird.

Morrissey’s defeat was also a victory for abortion-rights supporters, who heavily backed Aird and saw Morrissey’s “pro-life” rhetoric as unacceptably out of step with the party’s renewed priority of preserving abortion access.

In a statement, Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said the voters of the district “were loud and clear.”

“They demand to be represented by an outspoken advocate for reproductive rights,” Lockhart said.

On an unusually busy day for General Assembly primaries, both Republicans and Democrats were choosing nominees for a high-stakes legislative election year. The 2023 contests are the first to take place on district lines that were redrawn without taking incumbents’ existing districts into account, a process that scrambled Virginia politics and pushed many longtime lawmakers into retirement or competitive elections.

In another closely watched primary between two veteran Hampton Roads Democrats, Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, triumphed over Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake. Known for her combative and occasionally offbeat Twitter presence, Lucas posted an image of herself Tuesday night with boxing gloves and the text: “MOMMA SAID KNOCK YOU OUT!”

Republican primary voters also ousted one of the most controversial figures in GOP politics, Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield. Establishment-backed former state senator Glen Sturtevant prevailed in a three-way GOP primary in the Richmond suburbs against Chase and former congressional candidate Tina Ramirez. Chase, a self-styled “Trump in heels” who stopped caucusing with Republicans over clashes with leadership, was formally censured by the Virginia Senate for appearing to support the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Kristin Rider, a 53-year-old toy and gift sales representative from Chesterfield County, said she voted for Chase in the last election but felt the senator hasn’t gotten much done. As a mother, Rider said, the top issue on her mind was the “broken” public schools, and Sturtevant seemed like the more serious candidate who would be “toughest on what’s going on with the schools.” She said she tells her kids to reject meanness and bullying but doesn’t believe schools should be teaching pre-teens about gender and sexuality or nudging them toward political activism.

“I don’t look to the schools to raise my children; that’s my job,” Rider said. “What I don’t know how to do is teach math and history and foreign languages.”

Like Chase, other anti-establishment GOP figures had tough nights.

Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick, easily defeated Del. Marie March, R-Floyd, in a bitter primary for a Southwest Virginia House of Delegates seat after March made a habit of publicly criticizing her own party for alleged weakness. March didn’t stop taking shots even after her loss, claiming on Facebook that she had been downed by big money and “the Richmond swamp.”

In a GOP nomination contest for an open Southside and Hampton Roads Senate seat, Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, defeated former NASCAR driver and truck stop owner Hermie Sadler. Brewer had the backing of Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Sadler had tried to paint her as overly moderate, highlighting that Brewer once said she could not vote for President Donald Trump.

Matt Strickland, a Fredericksburg-area restaurant owner who battled the state’s COVID-19 protocols and campaigned on the slogan “Crush the Establishment,” lost a Senate primary to Youngkin-backed Del. Tara Durant, R-Fredericksburg.

Youngkin-endorsed candidates won in all 10 of the 10 contested races the governor was involved in, a sweep Youngkin’s team was already highlighting as a sign of his strength heading into a general election season when Republicans are hoping to win full control of the legislature by keeping a majority in the House and flipping the Democratic-controlled Senate. Youngkin’s PAC portrayed the results as proof of a “unified” GOP compared with “constant Democratic infighting” on the other side.

Democrats had more contested Senate primaries on Tuesday, and progressives challenging more business-friendly incumbents notched some big wins without finding success across the board. As of 11 p.m., at least two incumbent senators from Northern Virginia had gone down in defeat.

In one of the most surprising results of the night, newcomer Saddam Azlan Salim appeared to knock off Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, despite a severe fundraising disadvantage. Petersen was not widely thought to be in serious jeopardy, despite some high-profile breaks with his party on topics like gun control and COVID-19 mask mandates in public schools. Salim, a financial reporting consultant born in Bangladesh, had portrayed Petersen as “the most conservative Democrat in the state Senate.”

Fairfax County School Board member Stella Pekarsky beat Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, an influential co-chairman of the Senate’s budget-writing committee who could have been in line for a larger policymaking role if reelected.

Former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, who sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2021 but lost to former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, defeated establishment-backed former delegate Hala Ayala in a closely watched race for an open seat representing a Democratic-leaning Senate district based in Prince William County. Carroll Foy received significant financial support from Clean Virginia, an advocacy group funded by Charlottesville investor Michael Bills that aims to counter the political influence of Dominion Energy. Ayala, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2021, was backed by Dominion in the race.

In a nearby contest, incumbent Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, who has accepted Dominion funds in the past, defeated challenger Heidi Drauschak, a progressive supported by Clean Virginia.

Longtime Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, beat back a tough primary challenge from Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, a progressive running on themes of generational change and new vision.

Another close Democratic race in Northern Virginia — the contest between Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, and Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William — was too close to call as of 11 p.m.

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