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Dems Hope to Turn VA's Red Statehouse Blue Targeting 17 Seats to 'flip' in November

The 2018 national midterm elections are considered ‘the first contest of the Trump Era.’  But some say it really begins now with Virginia’s vote in a few weeks. Republicans have long controlled the House of Delegates.  But Democrats are hoping to ‘flip’ districts that went for Hilary Clinton in 2016. 

“This the first statewide election in the entire Trump era and the entire country is actually looking to see what happens here.” That’s former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Tom Perriello of Charlottesville stumping for Democratic House of Delegates hopeful Chris Hurst in Blacksburg.

Christ Hurst: “( to support the) More than 50 candidates who are Democrats running for the house, like me, are able to be successful and we flip the house this year and get a Democratic Majority in Richmond.”.

But this is an off year.  And that old adage, made famous by late U.S. House Speaker, Tip O’Neill, perhaps still holds sway.

Virginia Tech’s Bob Denton  teaches political communications.

“You know all politics is local.” He says.

Denton points to incumbent, Republican Joseph Yost’s increasing popularity with voters here from both parties.

“Joseph Yost won with 52 % the first time, 52% the second times, 58% (the 3rd time).   So, with each successive election, he’s improved his take in the Democratic strongholds of the parts of  Montgomery County (that are within the distict) and the city of Radford.”

And like this district, which is a mix of red and blue precincts, Yost doesn’t always toe the party line.  For example, while both candidates are against construction of the mountain Valley gas pipeline, it puts Yost in direct opposition to his Republican party ‘s stance. Yost sees it as a local issue tied to property rights.  And he often sites his family’s history in the district which dates back to the late 1700s.

Joseph Yost: “As everybody is aware, for me this is personal this is my home this is here I grew up I’ve spent my entire life in the district which covers Giles, Blacksburg….”

Yost is taking questions at the Giles county Senior Citizens Center.  His challenger, Chris Hurst spoke here last month.

Republican, Yost’s signature issue is support for mental health services.

After the massacre in Las Vegas, his position on Firearms policy is on people’s minds.

Yost:  “Two thirds of all gun deaths are suicides so that’s why concentrating on the mental health piece has been important to me.”

Yost told me he is a gun owner.  Mostly historical relics. 

It may be a surprise to some that his Democratic opponent, Chris Hurst, also owns a gun.

Chris Hurst: I’m not anti-gun. I’m anti murder.  I’m Not anti-gun, I’m anti grief. I’m anti tragedy.

Hurst’s fiancé, a colleague of his, when they worked at WDBJ TV in Roanoke, was shot and killed on camera in 2015.  After the tragedy, he made the life changing decision to move to Blacksburg and to run for local office.

Chris Hurst: When we talk about what are our common values among gum owners, we can agree on a lot. We don’t want people who are abusing their spouse to have a dangerous tool to try to harm them.  I think we can agree on that We don’t want people to have a tool to complete suicide

Democratic challenger, Chris Hurst and Republican incumbent, Joseph Yost are both in their early 30s. They came of age during the House’s long Republican reign, when Democrats didn’t even bother to contest dozens of Republican-held seats. Now they’re targeting 17 races including this one, that they believe could be flipped from ‘red’ to ‘blue.’

Virginias’s Republican Party Chair John Whitbeck says the challenge to his party is actually   a good thing. “A lot of people think I’m crazy for saying it,” Whitbeck admits.

He sees it as a wakeup call to Republican voters who might not be paying attention in this off year.  “And if somebody is going to turn out to vote for our Republican delegate because they suddenly have a challenge, they’re going to vote for our ticket. So, this is a really huge help to us.”

Last time around, nearly 40 Republican held House seats had no Democratic challengers. This year, all but 12 do.