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Redistricting adds intrigue to 2023 senate races in Fairfax County

Virginia State Capitol in Richmond (via Doug Kerr/Flickr)

(Updated at 11:30 p.m.) Redistricting is going to make a number of state senate races in Fairfax County very interesting this year.

Just like the House of Delegates, every Virginia State Senate seat is up for election in 2023, and like in the Virginia General Assembly’s other chamber, several primaries may be extremely competitive after the 2021 redistricting process shook up electoral boundaries.

Incumbents that could face off 

In the newly-drawn District 35, which covers Annandale, Springfield, and George Mason University, two longtime incumbents could be facing off.

Sen. Dave Marsden had been the senator in District 37 since 2010, but redistricting pushed him and about 31% of his constituents into the new district. He announced his bid for reelection a year ago and has been campaigning ever since, a campaign spokesperson told FFXnow.

“He’s knocked doors in more than half of the precincts of the new SD35, and looks forward to continuing to serve the residents of Fairfax,” the spokesperson said.

Marsden’s potential primary opponent, Sen. Dick Saslaw, has been in the senate since 1980, making him its longest-serving current member. He’s also been the Senate majority leader since the Democrats took control in 2020. While redistricting kept Saslaw in the 35th District, only about one-third of his former constituents remain with him.

There have been persistent rumors that the 82-year-old might retire, but no announcement has been made yet. FFXnow reached out to Saslaw about his 2023 intentions but hasn’t heard back as of publication.

Marsden and Saslaw, if he seeks reelection, would also face newcomer and entrepreneur Heidi Drauschak, who declared her candidacy for the Democratic nomination earlier this month.

The newly-drawn District 38, which includes Herndon, Reston, and McLean, could also pair two Democratic incumbents, including one that also has been rumored to retire.

Sen. Jennifer Boysko first became a senator in 2019 after previously serving in the House of Delegates for two terms. She hasn’t officially announced anything about 2023 and didn’t respond to FFXnow’s request for comment, but said last year that she intends to run again.

However, she may have to run against Sen. Janet Howell in the Democratic primary.

Howell has served in the senate for more than two decades, representing District 32. Her former constituents make up nearly half of the new District 38, but there are also similar rumors about her retiring.

Howell didn’t respond to inquiries from FFXnow.

Boysko told FFXnow when the redistricting maps were announced last January that she holds an enormous amount of respect for Howell, calling her “the dean of the Senate” and a “true pioneer for women in government.”

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will have to face Republican Matt Lang in the Nov. 7 general election. Lang challenged Del. Ken Plum in 2021 but lost rather handily.

He told FFXnow that he’s running to break the “blue wall” in the senate, focusing on education policy, public safety, transportation issues and financial mismanagement.

Other potential primary battles 

Other primaries that are shaping up to be potentially competitive include District 36, which covers Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton, and Fair Oaks.

Stella Pekarsky, who represents the Sully District on Fairfax County’s school board, announced last week that she will challenge for the seat to “stand up” to Governor Glenn Youngkin.

The incumbent is four-term George Barker, though redistricting kept only about 6% of his former constituents in District 36. As a member of the Virginia Redistricting Commission, he came under some fire in 2021 for drawing himself back into a district that, at the time, had no other challengers.

Barker has yet to announce his intentions for 2023. FFXnow has reached out several times but has yet to hear back.

Sen. Adam Ebbin launched his bid for another term earlier this month in District 39, which is mostly in the City of Alexandria but does have about 26,000 Fairfax County residents. He has already picked up a challenger in attorney James Devita, who announced his campaign at a meeting of Arlington Democrats several weeks ago.

DeVita told FFXnow that he’s running because he and Ebbin have “different priorities.” DeVita’s agenda includes decriminalizing drug possession, creating tax credits for electric cars, adding more programs to help those experiencing homelessness, creating jobs, and reducing “extremism” in both parties.

“I have been greatly alarmed by the extremism that currently dominates our political discourse and I want to do whatever I can to protect and preserve our democracy,” he said.

Ebbin told FFXnow he plans to continue to be a “pragmatic, progressive champion for Fairfax in Richmond,” while touting past legislation. This includes legalizing marijuana, reducing illegal evictions, and helping make Virginia the first southern state to ban discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

District 33 is the county’s only district with no incumbent, but the Democratic primary battle is shaping up to be a particularly notable one, with two former state-wide candidates setting their sights on the seat.

Former gubernatorial candidate Jennifer Carrol Foy announced she will seek the nomination a full year ago, while one-time aspiring lieutenant governor Hala Ayala declared in March 2022.

A Republican challenger has also emerged in Mike Van Meter. He told FFXnow that his experience in the military, law enforcement, and at a local hospital’s drug and alcohol detoxification unit would help him in the state senate.

Only about a third of the district is in Fairfax County, centered in Burke, with the rest in Prince William County.

Unopposed, for now 

Sen. Chap Petersen announced that he will run again in District 37 back in August, seeking to continue representing Fairfax, Tysons and Vienna and adding Falls Church City, thanks to redistricting.

“I do plan to run for re-election in 2023. I plan to keep my focus where it has been for 20 years: speaking up on behalf of children, the elderly and small businesses,” he told FFXnow last week. “I look forward to presenting that record to the voters.”

He currently doesn’t have an opponent. Neither does Sen. Scott Surovell in District 34, which includes Franconia, Belle Haven, Huntington, Hybla Valley, Lorton, and Mason Neck. Prior to redistricting, he also represented parts of Prince William and Stafford counties, but that’s no longer the case.

“I am excited to be reunited with many of my existing neighbors, former constituents from the 44th Delegate District, my former preschool, elementary school, intermediate school, and high school, and I look forward to working for a district that is more of a community than the current fragmented district,” he told FFXnow. “My life in elected public service began in 2009 when I was first elected to the House of Delegates. Aside from a four-year stint in Arlington after law school, I have lived in Eastern Fairfax County my entire life.”

Surovell has served as state senator since 2015 and was a delegate for three terms prior to that.

Besides the Virginia General Assembly, the entire Board of Supervisors, the school board, and the Commonwealth’s Attorney are on the ballot as well this year.

Photo via Doug Kerr/Flickr

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