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Analysis: Is the 20th House District race in play in 2021 cycle?

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The 20th House District, as currently drawn, with two cities making up more than half the district, seems, on paper, to give Democrats their best fighting chance to steal a win in a House race in the Central Shenandoah Valley.

Problem is, one of the cities is Waynesboro, which bucks the trend of cities statewide in leaning Republican, giving Donald Trump 51.4 percent of the vote in 2020 and 52.2 percent in 2016.

Nelson County usually leans blue, so the four precincts from Nelson that are in the current 20th boundary help a little.

Highland County is so small as to it not mattering much that it’s 70 percent-plus Republican.

The Augusta County portion of the district is the toughie. The precincts in Augusta make up roughly a third of the district, and they went 73 percent for Trump and 74 percent for Ed Gillespie in the 2016 and 2017 cycles.

There was a glimmer of hope in the 2017 cycle, the last re-election run for Republican Dickie Bell, who defeated Democrat Michele Edwards with just 54.5 percent of the votes cast district-wide.

The 2019 cycle, with Bell retiring, and former Staunton mayor John Avoli facing off with Democrat Jennifer Lewis in the 20th, had the intrigue of there being an open-seat race in a district that seemed to be trending purple.

Avoli won with a somewhat surprising 58.5 percent, and now in 2021 faces a political newcomer, Randall Wolf, who to date has only raised in the area of $60,000 for his campaign, not enough, yet, to have any TV spots on channels that I’ve been watching, or ads popping up on websites that I’ve been visiting.

To be fair, I’ve not seen anything from Avoli in either respect, either, but he’s the incumbent in a district that leans toward his politics.

And Avoli, to his credit, politically, hasn’t ruffled feathers with the base. He memorably appeared at a post-election “stop the steal” rally at the Staunton Mall, and issued a tepid “both sides” statement equating the Jan. 6 insurrection to Black Lives Matter protests from the summer of 2020.

The lower profile the 20th election goes, the better it is for Avoli, who is content to let Glenn Youngkin motivate the base to come out, assuming that folks who vote for the Republican at the top of the ticket will cast their lot with the guy who has an R beside his name further down.

For Wolf, the challenge all along was getting traction, which only comes with money. Money means the chance to advertise, to get people’s attention, to get the ball rolling toward getting them to think about voting for you.

Thirty thousand ain’t going to do it, unfortunately.

Story by Chris Graham