By Brandon Jarvis

Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Del. Lamont Bagby D-Henrico, is the latest state legislator to endorse Rod Hall as he seeks the Democratic nomination to represent the 31 District in the House of Delegates. The district is currently represented by Del. Elizabeth Guzman D-Prince William, but a tough primary challenge from Hall is putting Guzman in a sticky situation.

Hall was considered the front runner in the nomination race for the Prince William County district and was racking up big endorsements from powerful state legislators like Sen. Scott Surovell and House Appropriations Chair Luke Torian — but then the incumbent, Del. Guzman, who is also running for lieutenant governor, said she would be seeking the nomination for the House again — making the race much more competitive.

But even with Guzman’s official bid for reelection, the endorsements of Hall from her colleagues in the House continue to happen. Recently, after Guzman stated she would be seeking reelection, Petersburg Del. Lashrecse Aird and Hampton Del. Marcia Price announced their support of Hall. Surovell and Torian have not indicated that they will be changing their endorsements, either.

Guzman is one of four current state delegates seeking the Democratic nomination to run for lieutenant governor. In addition to Guzman, Dels. Sam Rasoul and Mark Levine are running for reelection to their House seat and lieutenant governor as well — Guzman and Levine are facing primary challengers. Del. Hala Ayala is the only current delegate in the Democratic lieutenant governor race that is not also seeking reelection to the House.

“Unfortunately the failure to complete the census in a timely way has created the equivalent of a nomination traffic jam,” said Dr. Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at Mary Washington University. Farnsworth is referencing the redistricting process. The legislative lines for the House of Delegates are scheduled to be redrawn this year, as they update every ten years with the new census data. Typically during redistricting years, House primaries are held in August instead of June so that the candidates have enough time to campaign in their new district. Statewide primary elections are not impacted by redistricting, however, meaning they could proceed in June. This gives House candidates a unique opportunity to run for their statewide seats in June, with the option to run for reelection to their House seats in August. But due to the delay in the census data this year, Virginia House of Delegates candidates are running under the old lines, meaning there is no reason for a delay in the House primaries.

This means that candidates can be on the same ballot, on the same day, for two different seats. “That’s a tough situation for voters,” Farnsworth said. “If you’re really focused on a statewide contest, you’re going to be spending a lot of time outside the district. This could be potentially problematic for the voters in the House district.” If Guzman or Levine secure the lieutenant governor nomination while also winning their House primary, they have two options. They could run for both seats in the general election and then resign one if they win them both, or they could drop out of one of their races prior to the general election. If they choose to drop out of the House race, the local party units will have to quickly navigate the process to find a new nominee.

Farnsworth says that endorsements might matter at the margins, but due to low turnout for primary elections, the winner will likely be the candidate that can drive turnout from their core supporters. “Guzman has some advantages having represented the district for two terms,” Farnsworth noted. “Endorsements matter some, but a lot of what really matters is just grinding it out getting your people to cast a ballot.”

In addition to Guzman and Hall, Idris O’Connor and Kara Pitek are seeking the Democratic nomination in HD-31.

“I am pleased to support Rod Hall’s campaign for Virginia’s 31st House District,” Bagby said Thursday. “As someone who has fought for equity at every level, I know that Rod will be a great partner in ensuring that we continue to build a more equitable Commonwealth for all. Rod has the experience to be an effective legislator from day one, and I look forward to having him as a colleague in the Virginia House of Delegates.”

The primary election for statewide and House races takes place on June 8. Ben Baldwin is the only Republican running in the district.

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By vascope