HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- The attention placed on the race for governor in Virginia greatly outweighs that given to the 100 seats in the House of Delegates. However, with control of Virginia’s oldest legislative body at stake, both parties are sinking massive amounts of money into local races.
Democrats have controlled the House of Delegates for two years and passed generational changes to health care, abortion, environmental and criminal policies. While they look to protect those changes, Republicans are hopeful Virginia voters see many of those measures as overreach and send Virginia back into a split government scenario, regardless of who wins the governorship.
A few highly competitive races in Virginia suburbs, like around Richmond, will likely determine who controls the chamber and passes their priorities. The Democrats currently hold a 55-45 edge.
House District 73, which covers a large swath of western Henrico, is one of those districts. HD-73 is listed as the most competitive seat based on recent voting patterns, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Incumbent Delegate Rodney Willett (D) is in a rematch with Mary Margaret Kastelberg (R). In 2019, Willett won the seat by five percentage points.
“People are genuinely interested in the race,” Willett said.
“The excitement level, the engagement level is so much higher,” Kastelberg said, comparing this year to 2019.
Both candidates cast themselves as pro-small businesses and focused on education. In a suburban district that has recently trended toward Democrats but traditionally elected Republicans, both candidates are attempting to appeal to the more moderate wings of their party.
“I have run as a Democrat yes, but a moderate Democrat. Someone who is pro-business, but also progressive on the environment, healthcare, and education,” Willett said.
“I’ve demonstrated, pretty clearly, that I make up my own mind. I’m not going to outsource thinking for myself,” Kastelberg said.
Willett has out-raised Kastelberg, according to VPAP, but fundraising totals in the race approach $1.5 million. Political analysts said the amount of money pouring into the race like the 73rd is telling.
“I have never seen in the decades I’ve been watching Virginia politics so many House of Delegates candidates who has raised over a million dollars for an $18,000 per year job. It is just stunning to see the amount of money, which again tells us how the parties view the stakes in this race,” said Dr. Bob Holsworth, CBS 6 political analyst.
Millions have been spent in TV ads for the race and Kastelberg is calling one of Willett’s ads false.
In the ad, Kastelberg’s Facebook post about the January 6th U.S. Capitol riot is tied to comments made by President Trump in 2017 following the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
Kastelberg said the ad selected a small portion of a longer post where she denounces the violence on January 6 and that the ad knowingly distorts the truth.
“I’m not going to do anything to get elected. My opponent has gone there and he’s very comfortable with that,” Kastelberg said.
Willett stands by the ad.
“But to still use a Trump expression to say, ‘there’s blame to go around here.’ That’s a Trump expression,” he said.
Although they have significantly different takes on what it means, both candidates seemed to agree that voters' views of the last two years of Democratic control of Virginia government will carry weight in who wins key races like HD-73.
“I think here voters really are going to be sending a message saying, ‘Which way is Virginia going to go?’” Willett said. “The Texas legislation related to abortion bans, that has really motivated voters. I’ve had folks who before were a little ambivalent about having to go through another election say, ‘I’m really concerned about Virginia.’”
“Voters are really concerned that Virginia could shift to that. You could call them Trump policies or you could call them Republican policies, but those are motivating policies no question.”
Kastelberg said Willett has voted with House Democrats on 99% of legislation, and that voters are worried about the economy and Virginia’s education system, now more than ever.
“COVID and the schools being closed and all these policies have really turned people’s lives upside down. So they are engaged,” she said. “[Republicans will] “Bring some common sense and accountability back to the equation. With one-party control, there’s really no balance, no opportunity for input.”
All 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up this election cycle, and only nine seats are unopposed, according to VPAP.
Key Dates and Deadlines in Virginia
Friday, Sept. 17: Early, In-Person Voting Begins
Thursday, Oct. 12: Voter Registration Deadline
Friday, Oct. 22: Request Absentee/Mail-In Ballot Deadline
Saturday, Oct. 30: Early, In-Person Voting Ends
Tuesday, Nov. 2 is Election Day: In-Person Voting from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 2: Absentee/Mail-In Postmark by Date
Friday, Nov. 5: Absentee/Mail-In Delivered By Date