By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
The November 3 General Elections will determine who will control the Virginia State Senate and that will be determined by the outcome of just a small number of contests in Northern Virginia and in Hampton Roads.
With less than two weeks to go before Virginians go to the polls, both parties are investing manpower, money and get-out-the-vote efforts to secure those seats and the political advantage it would provide them if successful in the General Assembly.
Governor Terry McAuliffe has been devoting a lot of time and resources to winning these seats. According to local legislators, he has been soliciting money from safe incumbents to put in a fund for those Democrats in competitive races.
All 40 of the Senate and 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for election this year. But only a few of those seats are in districts which are competitive.
Thanks to the GOP’s control of the redistricting of the state House and Senate seats, after the November 3 elections, Republicans will still have a commanding majority in the lower house of the General Assembly.
In the Senate the GOP has a 21-19 advantage, but if the Democrats pick up one or two of the seats which are deemed competitive, it would enable the Democrats to take control of that chamber.
If the election should result in a 20-20 tie, then Democrats could use the vote of Lt. Governor’s Ralph Northam of Norfolk to break any tie, and pass legislation.
If the party should win two additional seats, that would place it in an even better position.
In Hampton Roads, which is one of the state’s two critical areas, the race is hot between Republican incumbent Frank Wagner and challenger Democrat Gary McCollum for the 7th Senatorial District. It is being heavily watched by both parties.
At one point McCollum was given a relatively good chance of keeping Wagner from securing another term.
But McCollum’s campaign was tripped up when he had to answer allegations that he misrepresented his status in the U.S. Army Reserves.
In an area like Hampton Roads which has such a huge presence of active and former military personnel, it has challenged his chances, despite his effort to clarify the situation in the media and in campaign stops.
The McCollum campaign has been aggressively and unrelentingly fighting back to regain any lost ground against the onslaught of criticism from the state and local GOP attack machinery.
The Democrat’s campaign announced that it raised $212,690.67 in September bringing their campaign total to $929,543.29 for the cycle.
Last Monday, the McCollum operation sent out an E-mail blast titled ‘Where is Frank Wagner,” detailing how Wagner has failed to attend political forums attended by his opponent and other politicians
He failed to attend the African-American Political Action Committee (AAPAC) forum, the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association and Travel Association Forum; and he failed to appear on the WHRV FM 89.5 talk show program “Hearsay” hosted by Cathy Lewis, with McCollum.
He did show up for 30 minutes for a forum sponsored by the Lynnhaven River National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Virginia Beach Civic League Council’s forum
“His actions imply that he does not value the citizens of the 7th District. Instead of talking to voters about the issues they care most about, he is hiding behind negative TV ads. It’s clear – 24 years in Richmond are long enough,” said McCollum’s campaign manager Molly Ritner.
In late September, the McCollum camp called on Senator Wagner to apologize for his comments that he wishes he only represented certain parts of the 7th District.
While speaking at an event at a local country club, Wagner explained that the makeup of the 7th District includes everyone “from very, very high income right on down, ya know, up to and including rent-assisted places and that type of thing. So it’s a very diverse district. I wish sometimes I represented this half, but I’m very, very happy to represent the folks I have.”
“This is a clear indication that Frank Wagner is out of touch with the district. Unlike Frank, I’m running to represent all the people of the 7th District. No matter their income. And in Richmond I’ll put their priorities first, not the special interests,” said Gary McCollum.
“At best this is offensive to half of his constituents. At worst, Frank Wagner made disrespectful comments that show exactly how out of touch he is. After 24 years, it’s time to send Wagner packing and elect a real leader who will focus on commonsense solutions,” said Gaylene Kanoyton, President, Greater Hampton Roads Black Democrats.
Criticism from the GOP and the Wagner operation forced McCollum to forgo any pay he was receiving from Cox Cable, where he was a top executive in Hampton Roads. McCollum had taken a leave of absence to run for office and was still being paid. After Wagner’s criticism, the cable company broke its ties with McCollum.
State Democrats have slammed the Wagner operation for using Virginia Beach School Board members in political ads two weeks ago.