10 takeaways from the primary results

The big winners Tuesday night were election lawyers — and blood pressure medicine sales reps.

We have two races close enough for recounts, including the marquee race, where state Sen. John McGuire declared victory — although his 327-vote lead over Rep. Bob Good will remain in doubt until we see how many mail ballots arrive before Friday’s deadline and how they break.

Mathematically speaking, it seems doubtful that Good can make up that margin, but I can’t imagine that Good will happily accede to that math.

At the moment, the McGuire-Good race is close enough to allow for a recount, but just outside the margin where the state bears the cost. Ditto the Republican primary for Vinton District supervisor in Roanoke County, where Supervisor Tammy Shepherd appears to have won by 17 votes over school board member Tim Greenway. (If the margin is between half a percentage point and 1 percentage point, the apparent loser can ask for a recount, but has to pay.)

There’s a third race that’s just outside the recount margin, but could slip back within that margin depending on late-arriving ballots — in the epic struggle for Lynchburg’s Ward IV council seat, incumbent Chris Faraldi appears to have defeated Peter Alexander by 21 votes, which works out to a margin of 1.04%. You can bet the Alexander side will be hoping some more mail ballots arrive.

With that set-up, our analysis of Tuesday’s results begins with a great irony:

1. A party that has been skeptical of early voting and mail ballots will see its most controversial nomination settled by those methods.

As the vote counting in the Good-McGuire race came down to the end Tuesday night, Good could hold onto hope that there were still a lot of early votes still uncounted — and most of those were in counties he carried. Good did, indeed, win the early vote in many of those, but not by margins big enough to make up McGuire’s lead.

Now Good must wait on those mail ballots and Virginia’s liberal laws that allow them to be counted as long as they’re postmarked by the deadline on Election Day. (Of note: That’s also how tax returns are handled; you just have to have it postmarked by tax day, but few people see that as a liberal provision. Imagine if you had to count on the post office to get your tax return to the Internal Revenue Service by April 15!)

McGuire led narrowly through most of the vote counting Tuesday night (Good pulled ahead briefly after Lynchburg reported) but saw an already narrow lead get even narrower as the night wore on. The final precincts to be counted came from Albemarle County.

I’d long wondered how Albemarle and Charlottesville would go. They were some of the few localities in Virginia that Haley carried in the March presidential primary. What would Haley voters make of a choice between the head of the House Freedom Caucus, who called Trump the best president of his lifetime (Good), and a candidate endorsed by Trump (McGuire)? In some ways, we don’t really know because it’s unclear (at least to me) who the Republicans voting Tuesday in Albemarle were. In the March presidential primary, Albemarle saw 9,213 voters. On Tuesday, only 5,583 people in the county voted in the Republican primary, so we saw an awful lot of dropouts. My guess would be those no-shows included a lot of those Haley voters. In any case, of those Albemarle Republicans who did show up, Good won the majority of them. That helped him pull closer to McGuire, but not close enough.

3. Why did Good fall short? He lost big in Danville and Pittsylvania County

There are lots of reasons why Good appears to have lost. Former President Donald Trump endorsed McGuire. His role in ousting House Speaker Kevin McCarthy drew lots of national money that was funneled to McGuire. We could go on and on. Geographically speaking, though, Good failed to establish a base in the heart of the 5th District in Danville and Pittsylvania County. McGuire took 62% of the vote in Danville, winning the city by 411 votes. In Pittsylvania, McGuire took 56% of the vote, and won the county by 697 votes.

McGuire had a slightly higher percentage in Powhatan County — 62%. But that county is right next to his home county of Goochland County, where he took 61%. It doesn’t surprise me that a candidate did well in and near his home. What’s more surprising to me is how thoroughly Good was whipped in Danville and Pittsylvania County.

4. McGuire ran stronger in his home areas than Good did in his

Let’s begin with home counties. McGuire took 61% in Goochland County; Good took 56% in Campbell County.

McGuire’s state Senate district (which he’s only represented since January) contains all or parts of 11 counties, 10 of which are in the 5th District. Chronologically, Good had a head start in all those counties. However, on Tuesday, McGuire beat Good in seven of them. In the three counties in his state Senate he lost, he only lost Appomattox County by three votes.

5. This was the second-biggest turnout for a Republican congressional primary ever in Virginia

The record remains the 2014 primary in the 7th District where Dave Brat ousted incumbent Eric Cantor, who was on a path that might have made him speaker of the House someday. The contest drew 65,021 voters. It looks like this year’s 5th District contest so far has 62,495 voters. By contrast, the second-biggest draw on the Republican side Tuesday night was in the 7th District on the edge of Northern Virginia, which saw 35,354 voters.

6. Donald Trump had a good night in Virginia

Given the closeness of the McGuire-Good race, it seems fair to say that without Trump’s endorsement — and it was both an enthusiastic endorsement of McGuire and a pretty vicious tear-down of Good — that McGuire would not have won.

Likewise, Trump’s preferred candidate for the U.S. Senate nomination — retired military officer Hung Cao — rolled to a landslide win. Of course, it also helped that Cao had a lot more money than his opponents, but Trump’s endorsement definitely lifted him out of the pack.

7. Cao’s dismissal of some communities didn’t hurt him

He implied that Staunton was “podunk.” He took 57.95% of the vote there. He said Abingdon was too far to drive for a campaign forum. He took 53.67% of the vote there. Just weeks before the election, the Pittsylvania County Republican Committee publicly posted that he still hadn’t visited the county. He took 53.91% of the vote there. Moreover, nobody came close to him. Cao won every locality in the state and was never seriously threatened.

8. There is no clear winner in the battles between Republican factions

The McGuire-Good race seemed to pit two candidates from the MAGA world against each other, although maybe that’s not so. I saw one conservative commentator (apologies for forgetting who) describe this as a contest between “big government conservatives” (McGuire/Trump) and a “constitutional conservative” (Good).

The conflicts were clear in two local races. Republicans on the Lynchburg City Council have been embroiled in a battle between two different factions, with council members Marty Misjuns and Jeff Helgeson on one side, and Mayor Stephanie Reed and Vice Mayor Faraldi on the other. Much of that is a matter of tone, with the former group being more hardline and the latter group being more moderate in tone, if not in politics. Faraldi won narrowly over the Misjuns-Helgeson candidate, but the narrow margin hardly seems likely to quiet the other side.

In Roanoke County, Supervisor Tammy Shepherd, who seems a more conventional conservative oriented toward economic development issues, narrowly defeated school board member Tim Greenway, who is certainly more of a culture warrior.

A note about that race: About half the ballots there were cast early, which is high for a Republican primary. Shepherd had a clear lead until those came in; the early votes broke toward Greenway.

9. In Roanoke, Jackson might have won if he hadn’t dropped out

Roanoke Democrats had a primary where four candidates were seeking three at-large nominations. The contest seemed to become less interesting when Jamaal Jackson announced he was dropping out — then got more interesting once it was revealed that a) Jackson’s campaign hadn’t submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, b) police are investigating allegations that his campaign used signatures from his unsuccessful independent run two years ago, and c) Jackson might have said he was quitting, but didn’t officially withdraw, which meant he was still a legal candidate.

The Roanoke Times reports that Jackson finally delivered that official notice on Tuesday. In looking at the results, it seems likely that Jackson might have won one of the three nominations had he stayed in the race. The unofficial numbers: Phazhon Nash 2,646, Terry McGuire 2,439, Benjamin Woods 1,615, Jackson 1,143. If Jackson had stayed in the race, could he have picked up 473 votes to overtake Woods? That seems quite likely.

Two independents filed for the council race, including Treasurer Evelyn Powers, who has won five elections as a Democrat. She’s also never faced opposition, so it’s unclear what her vote-getting power is really like. However, she and fellow independent Cathy Reynolds will also be the only women on the ballot for the council. This is the first time in a decade that Roanoke Democrats haven’t nominated a woman for the council. They’ve also now nominated three candidates who have never held office before. How much will Powers’ candidacy roil things? If she winds up taking votes away from any of the Democratic candidates, that would help her — but also potentially Republican candidates Nick Hagen and Jim Garrett.

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