Voters will have their last chance to hear from candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates and senators during a candidates forum tonight. This year’s elections are proving critical as every seat in the House and Senate are up for grabs and each of Warren County’s representatives faces a challenger.
Three house districts make up Warren County with delegates sharing constituents spanning Clarke, Shenandoah, Harrisonburg, Page and Rockingham counties. Each of the three delegate seats is occupied by Republicans running in “strong Republican” districts, according to the Virginia Public Access Project’s district profiles.
Warren County voters only have one representative in the Senate, another incumbent Republican running for reelection in a “strong Republican” district.
The Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce is hosting a forum to give the candidates from the 15th, 18th and 29th House Districts a chance to appeal to voters one final time before they cast their ballots on Nov. 5.
House District 15
Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson, has represented Virginia’s House District 15 since 2006, fending off many challengers before they ever enter the race with his status as the second-ranking Republican in the House of Delegates and a large war chest to draw on.
Beverly Harrison, D-Woodstock, is a political newcomer who has focused on courting small-dollar donors and spreading a message of cooperation to get things done in Richmond rather than settling on voting with her party’s line and continuing gridlock.
According to his website, Gilbert is running a campaign focused on business and continuing to improve Virginia’s status as a pro-business state. Gilbert has consistently run on a “no new taxes” platform and keeping right-to-work laws in place.
Harrison has repeatedly said she is running to challenge the status quo in Richmond of riding party lines. The top of her campaign sites says she “believe[s] a good bill is a good bill and it should not matter who wrote it.”
Gilbert and Harrison sparred at a candidate forum in Edinburg earlier this month when she focused on Gilbert’s large-dollar donors and years of voting with fellow Republicans in Richmond.
Fundraising has been a central tenet in the 15th District race as Harrison has led all state candidates in the percentage of small-dollar donors of less than $100. Harrison has raised roughly $47,500 in this campaign season compared to Gilbert’s near $497,000 total.
House District 18
Michael Webert, R-Marshall, has represented the 18th District since 2012 but is facing stiff competition in Laura Galante, D-Marshall, who has raised more than double what Webert has brought in this season.
Similar to his Republican colleague in the 15th District, Webert’s campaign is focused on reducing taxes, being pro-business and protecting the 2nd amendment.
Webert’s title legislation has focused on regulatory reform. In 2018, he sponsored a bipartisan bill that focused on reducing regulations on small businesses, emphasizing the burden put on beauticians in particular and the vast number of hours they have to put in before the state will give them a license.
Galante is posing a direct challenge to Webert, a farmer, by running a campaign with the tagline “The Future is Rural.” Galante has campaigned to bring high-speed internet to rural communities and expand technical training, to keep talent in rural areas rather than see it leave for more urban areas.
House District 29:
Chris Collins, R-Winchester, joined the House of Delegates in 2016 but despite his incumbency in a “strong Republican” district, he is facing pressure from challenger Irinia Khanin, D-Winchester, and the neighboring “competitive” district.
Collins was the chief patron for 15 pieces of legislation in the 2019 session. Much of Collins’ legislation focused on law enforcement and children. Collins worked to expand the definition of “law enforcement officer,” and make children’s statements about abuse made outside of court-admissible as evidence.
Khanin’s campaign is focused on a three-prong approach of improving education, health care and infrastructure, according to her website.
Khanin doesn’t have the same edge on her opponent as Galante but has outraised Collins’ $44,047 by more than $30,000. Khanin’s largest donor is Win Virginia, a group focused on electing Democrats to state seats, and which has supported Harrison and Galante as well.
Senate District 26
Unlike the House of Delegates candidates, Warren County voters only have two senate candidates to keep an eye on tonight.
Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, has represented the “strong Republican” 25th district since 2004.
Obenshain’s top issue on his website is “Holding the Line on Taxes,” touting his record in the Senate of opposing tax increases and “looking for ways to reduce wasteful spending.”
Obenshain’s focus on keeping taxes low and keeping government focused on “core services” bleeds into his support for empowering local school districts to make decisions.
April Moore, D-Basye, ran against Obenshain in 2015, picking up 31% of the possible votes.
This year, Moore’s top campaign issues intersect in some ways and diverge in others with her opponent’s.
Moore opposes vouchers and wants to see state dollars continue flowing into public schools rather than allowing local school districts to break up funding.
At a recent forum in Edinburg, Moore and Obenshain clashed over issues of climate change and renewable versus fossil fuel energy fight. Both candidates found some common ground in being willing to embrace more nuclear energy, though Moore said her adopting the idea had more to do with the bad situation climate change has caused rather than the positives nuclear energy provides.
Moore is hurting in the fundraising department where she has picked up $75,218 but hasn’t put a dent in Obenshain’s $658,494 total.