Primary Tuesday: Fight over guns, upsets to watch, a potential for a comeback

Primary Tuesday: Fight over guns, upsets to watch, a potential for a comeback
Primary day in Virginia is Tuesday, June 11. (Source: Virginia Mercury)

Tina Freitas stood in a field wearing a jumbo-sized handgun on her hip as she ripped into her Republican primary opponent, Sen. Emmett Hanger, for voting against a bill this year that would have allowed people to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

“In Virginia, we have what we call open carry, which means if you wear your gun like this, you’re fine — minus all the snowflakes you might offend,” Freitas, of Culpeper County, said in the campaign video.

She then lifted her blouse to reveal a much smaller gun tucked into her waistband.

“But the moment you wear your gun like this, now you’re either breaking the law or you have to jump through a whole bunch of government hoops in order to exercise your constitutional rights,” she said, noting Hanger was the only Republican in the Senate to oppose the legislation, which supporters call “constitutional carry.”

Freitas is one of three GOP candidates in this year’s General Assembly nomination contests hoping to knock off a sitting member of their own party with a challenge from the right.

Abortion and guns animate Republican primaries

Over in Stafford County, former supervisor Paul Milde has derided Del. Bob Thomas as a phony Republican, photoshopping a tie-die shirt with Planned Parenthood and ERA buttons onto his opponent.

Among other things, Milde criticizes Thomas for supporting a budget that sent state money to Planned Parenthood to pay for long acting contraceptives for women who can’t afford them. Thomas, perhaps playing defense, later endorsed controversial abortion legislation in Georgia – a topic most sitting Republicans have actively avoided weighing in on.

“I’d love to see Virginia move that way but we have to have a governor who’s willing to sign these things so we have to make some progress in the next two years,” he told conservative radio host John Fredericks in a May interview.

Abortion has been a major theme in Freitas’ campaign, too.

She’s telling people that I want to take their guns and kill their babies’

Like Milde, she has attacked Hanger for supporting state funding for long acting contraceptives that ultimately went to Planned Parenthood. She also backs efforts in other states to restrict abortions, saying in an interview with Fredericks that she would vote for legislation passed in Alabama if it came across her desk. (She didn’t respond to an interview request from the Virginia Mercury.)

Freitas has raised the bulk of her money from a California libertarian who made a fortune running a tomato-packing business famous for operating without managers. The man is also a contributor to Freitas’ husband, Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, who drew attention in Conservative media circles last year for a fiery floor speech in support of gun rights that prompted members of the black caucus to walk off the floor.

‘You’ll never see him riding around in a fire truck’

The fight over Medicaid has loomed largest in the suburban Richmond nomination contest between Del. Chris Peace, R-Hanover, and Hanover County Supervisor Scott Wyatt. Mired in a messy nomination fight that’s seen both candidates declare victory, it’s the only of the three races that won’t be decided in Tuesday’s primary.

Party insiders say Peace is facing more scrutiny on the issue than other incumbents in part because of a Facebook post he wrote comparing the legislation’s passage to the end of the state’s Massive Resistance to the desegregation of public school.

Wyatt’s supporters say that as he’s risen in the ranks of party leadership — he chairs the House’s General Laws Committee and sits on the budget committee — he’s grown distant from the district.

“You’ll never see him riding around in a fire truck during parades,” said Lou Green, a 62-year-old salesman from Hanover who says he’s put off by Peace’s country-club style and bow ties and, like many Wyatt supporters, questions whether Peace even lives in the district, noting that he owns property in Richmond’s tony West End and sends his children to private school.

Democrat hopes for an AOC-style upset in Northern Virginia

On the Democratic side, Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, is campaigning aggressively in response to his first primary challenge since he won the seat in 1979.

His opponent, Yasmine Taeb, a 39-year-old human rights lawyer, has drawn comparisons to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her progressive platform and energetic campaign against a powerful, longstanding Democrat.

She supports a Green New Deal for Virginia, universal health care and has sworn off campaign money from corporate PACs, criticizing Saslaw for accepting millions in donations over the years from the state’s largest energy company, Dominion Energy and the payday loan industry.

Former delegate tries for a comeback

Most of the other races that state Democrats will decide on Tuesday hinge more on the respective candidates’ personality, style and reputation than their policy positions, which in many cases are indistinguishable.

Among them is former Del. Joe Morrissey’s campaign to unseat Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg.

Morrissey’s supporters are not bothered by his past, the widespread news coverage of which has made him a local celebrity. His supporters often cite reputation as a vigorous criminal defense attorney who would stand up for low-income black clients. As a delegate, he was known for flamboyant stunts, which once included waving an assault rifle on the floor of House.

Dance, a former mayor of Petersburg, is one of the few Democrats leaning on Gov. Ralph Northam as she fights off the challenge, touting her seniority in the party and connections with the administration as an asset that, among other things, helped her secure funding to replace Central State Hospital.

Big bucks flow into local prosecutors races

Commonwealth’s attorney races rarely draw much attention, even in their respective districts.

But two Democratic candidates hoping to take down incumbent prosecutors in Fairfax and Arlington counties have attracted nearly $1 million in donations from a George Soros-funded PAC that promotes liberal criminal justice reforms.

In Fairfax, Steve T. Descano, a former federal prosecutor, is campaigning to unseat Raymond Morrogh, promising an end to cash bail and the death penalty in the county.

In Arlington, defense lawyer Parisa Dehghani-Tafti is challenging Theo Stamos, along similar grounds, promising bail reform and pledging not to prosecute low-level marijuana cases.

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe has also weighed in on the race, endorsing both challengers on the grounds that the incumbents fought his effort to automate the process of restoring felons’ voting rights when they get out of prison.

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.