Due to the weather, some customers may experience late delivery of The Roanoke Times. We apologize for the delay.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Little went right for Virginia Democrats in the 2011 General Assembly elections. The party lost control of the state Senate and its membership shrank to 32 seats in the House of Delegates.
Republican candidates made a clean sweep of House seats in the New River Valley, helped by a redistricting plan that was surgically drawn to fortify the GOP’s already solid majority.
But Democrats couldn’t blame the rout on the map alone. They also lost a seat they appeared well-positioned to keep after longtime incumbent Del. Jim Shuler, D-Blacksburg, decided to retire.
Republican Joseph Yost of Blacksburg, backed by an infusion of money from the state Republican Party and House Speaker Bill Howell, defeated Democrat Don Langrehr in a district that President Barack Obama and U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine would carry just 12 months later. Yost, all of 25 years old, used his resource advantage to run a savvy campaign in a district that he knew from corner to corner. He grew up in Giles County, attended Radford University and, as a college student, lived in one of the two Pulaski County precincts that are in the 12th District.
Now Yost, who has made his delegate’s post a full-time job, is running for re-election in a district that Democrats have pegged as a potential pickup this fall. Voting trends suggest that the 12th District represents Democrats’ best chance to emerge from the 2013 elections with at least one House member from a district southwest of Roanoke. But, so far, no candidate has stepped forward to take on the young incumbent.
Likewise, no Democrat has filed in the 7th District, where freshman Republican Nick Rush of Christiansburg waltzed to an uncontested victory two years ago; or the 8th District, which extends into eastern Montgomery County and is represented by Republican Greg Habeeb of Salem. Those districts are tougher challenges for Democrats.
Democrats insist they will have a candidate to run against Yost. James Harder of Blacksburg, who worked on the legislative staff of former U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, confirmed late last week that he is strongly considering running for the seat. Montgomery County Supervisor Mary Biggs is also considering a run.
Money may be one reason Democrats have been slow to take the plunge. Yost received more than $290,000 in cash and in-kind contributions two years ago from the state GOP and political committees controlled by Howell, House Majority Leader Kirk Cox and Gov. Bob McDonnell, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Despite that support, Yost opposed stricter voter identification laws championed by members of his party. He voted for a gay nominee for a judgeship last year as some of his GOP colleagues waged a campaign to thwart the appointment. He has received accolades from the Virginia Education Association and from mental health advocates for his work during his freshman term.
But Democrats are quick to note that Yost will have to answer for some controversial votes, including his support for a bill requiring women to submit to an ultrasound before an abortion. And there’s little doubt that Democrats will try to tie Yost to his party’s lightning rod candidate for governor, Ken Cuccinelli.
The 12th District contest could be the hottest House race in the region this fall. But based on Yost’s performance two years ago, Democrats can’t wait much longer to light the fire.
Weather JournalIce threat may grow into Sun PM