Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The major political parties are competing for 58 House of Delegates seats this fall -- an increase from recent election cycles.
An unofficial tally by the Virginia Public Access Project shows 68 of the 100 seats will be contested, up from 41 in 2007 and 49 in 2005. But 10 of this year's contests involve a major-party candidate running against an independent. Independents generally have little chance of beating a major-party incumbent.
Whenever I hear about uncontested elections, I can't help but think about Florida's 16th congressional district. In late September 2006, just weeks before Election Day, the Mark Foley scandal broke in Florida 16. Even though the seat hadn't been a great pickup opportunity for Democrats, they had a reasonably strong candidate in self-funder Tim Mahoney. Foley resigned and Mahoney beat the Republican replacement. The lesson: Sometimes 90% of winning an election is showing up.
Republicans targeted Mahoney last year and it was a good thing they did. Mahoney's extramarital affair (and accompanying hush-money scandal) became public in October, just weeks before the election. He, of course, lost badly. For the lesson, see above.
Having lots of challengers for legislative seats is good for democracy, but it's also good for the parties putting up the challengers. Politicians embarrass themselves frequently enough that contesting seats that look unwinnable makes for smart politics. Virginia's political parties seem to be realizing that.
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