A taste of local House of Delegates races

Oct 29, 2021

As election day rapidly approaches, WMRA’s Randi B. Hagi has a look at three House of Delegates races in our area.

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Nelson County is one of those places that went for Barack Obama twice in a row and then Donald Trump twice in a row. The Nelson County Republican Committee Chair, Carlton Ballowe, said that trend has benefitted local GOP candidates.

CARLTON BALLOWE: It seems that the county is trending more toward pink, if not red.

Nelson County is part of the 59th House of Delegates district south of Charlottesville. Republican Matt Fariss is a Campbell County native who's held the seat since 2012. Ballowe said that Fariss appeals to voters in the 59th because he's a [quote] 'man of the people.'

BALLOWE: He's a farmer. He's a hunter. He's a real estate person. He, you know, has kids in high school sports. He's one of us. He does everything we do. He has the same hobbies, the same goals, the same work ethic.

Fariss’ Democratic challenger is UVa doctor Benjamin Moses. Larry Stopper, the chair of Blue Nelson, said that Moses --

Larry Stopper is the chair of Blue Nelson.
Credit Larry Stopper

LARRY STOPPER: … has a chance because Ben Moses is the best candidate you could possibly find … The man is charismatic, handsome, a former army trauma doctor, now a trauma doctor at UVa working extensively in the COVID unit.

Stopper knows fewer voters will turn out this year compared to 2020, when more than 9,000 total votes were cast in Nelson County, but he's hoping for the roughly 6,000 voters that came out in 2017.

STOPPER: I'm hoping for a Northam-level turnout … that's what I'm hoping for.

Also on the ballot is Louis Scicli, a conservative independent who runs Timberlake Pawn & Jewelry in Lynchburg and has only raised one outside donation of $20, according to campaign finance data from Transparency USA. Neither party leader was familiar with him.

Over in the 25th House district, which stretches from just west of Charlottesville to the West Virginia border south of Harrisonburg, a rematch is playing out between Republican Chris Runion and Democrat Jennifer Kitchen. Last election, he took 58% of the vote, and she took 40% -- but so far she's raised $77,000 more than him this year, according to Ballotpedia.

Linda Revis is the vice-chair of the Augusta County Democratic Committee.
Credit Linda Revis

LINDA REVIS: She's really, you know, advocating for things that will make the lives of the citizens in her area better.

Linda Revis is the vice-chair of the Augusta County Democratic Committee.

REVIS: She's really concerned about kids. She's really plugged into the disabilities community. …  She was really passionate about rural broadband before COVID, and now with virtual schooling, it's shone a spotlight on just how right on she was.

Both Kitchen and Runion grew up on farms in the area -- an identity that Revis said is important to voters.

REVIS: What I have seen is there's this -- kind of a bias against somebody else from another area moving here and then running for office. It's kind of like, you're not one of us … I think that it's very important that whoever's running has been here, you know, has grown up here.

The Augusta County Republican Committee chair did not respond to interview requests.

Just north of the 25th district, in the 26th, Democrat Bill Helsley is challenging incumbent Republican Tony Wilt, who was first elected to the house in 2010 in a special election. He carried 54% of the vote in both 2017 and 2019. Bill Call, the treasurer for the Harrisonburg City Republican Committee, thinks Wilt might be able pick up a few extra percentage points this year.

Bill Call is treasurer for the Harrisonburg City Republican Committee.
Credit Bill Call

BILL CALL: … given the Biden administration is having some difficulties getting some success, and I think that contributes to maybe a lack of energy, which -- usually these midterm elections are slow to go anyway … it's going to be down to, who can get the most people out to vote?

One big difference between the campaigns is where their money is coming from -- over half of Helsley's $282,000 is self-funded. Wilt's $352,000 has come from 446 different donors, which include both local residents and some corporations, including Dominion Energy and Amazon.

CALL: When it comes to the campaign finance, I think people do have a concern, because they think that, when big donations are made, they come with strings attached. You can certainly see that on the national level in both parties … On the local basis, it's much easier to hold your representative accountable.

Alleyn Harned, chair of the Harrisonburg Democratic Committee, said now that Wilt's been in office for over a decade --

Alleyn Harned is chair of the Harrisonburg Democratic Committee.
Credit Alleyn Harned

ALLEYN HARNED: I think people are wondering what they're getting for that … I think there are also a lot of issues in the community -- I-81, JMU funding, just being sure that the Valley gets its fair shake.

On a side note, this could be the second time the candidates have gone head to head. Wilt played football for Broadway High School, graduating in 1979; Helsley played for Elkton High School, graduating in '78. Unfortunately, neither candidate could remember if they faced off on the field -- so the backyard brawl will have to be decided on Tuesday.