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Can Democrats flip the 20th on way to regaining control of Virginia House in 2019?

Virginia House of DelegatesControl of the Virginia House of Delegates could come down to what happens to the 20th House District seat currently held by Republican Dickie Bell, who announced last week that he will not seek re-election in 2019.

The 20th is comprised of the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, Highland County, and portions of Augusta County and Nelson County, which, that’s not the safest of districts for Republicans, the way things are stacked up right now politically.

As of the 2010 Census, there were 79,334 residents in the 20th – 23,746 in Staunton, 21,006 in Waynesboro, 2,321 in Highland County, roughly 6,000 in the Nelson County precincts, and roughly 26,000 in the Augusta County precincts.

The Augusta County and Highland County precincts went almost 70 percent for Bell in 2017, but the rest of the district runs from toss-up to strong-Dem

In the 2018 election cycle, Republican congressional candidate Denver Riggleman won a slim majority in the Nelson precincts, but Democrat Tim Kaine won a stronger majority in the Senate vote. There was a similar split in Waynesboro, with Kaine winning the Senate vote and Republican congressional candidate Ben Cline winning a tight majority down ticket.

Staunton, meanwhile, gave strong majorities to both Kaine and Democratic congressional candidate Jennifer Lewis, after giving a solid majority to Michele Edwards, the Democratic nominee in the 20th in 2017 in her challenge of Bell, a former four-term member of Staunton City Council, which is to say, the native son.

Edwards ended up getting 42.6 percent of the vote in the 2017 race against Bell, running for his fifth term.

With that as the floor, you have to assume that an open-seat race will be something of a toss-up heading into the 2019 cycle, with no Republican having announced as of yet, and none obvious in the wings, in terms of someone already elected to a local office who would seem to be the heir apparent.

No Democrats have emerged yet as possible candidates, either. Edwards still has a campaign Facebook page up, and commented on the announcement by Bell that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election, but she didn’t respond to comments on the post asking if she was lining up to run.

Lewis might also seem a possibility, on the heels of her surprisingly strong run against Cline for the Sixth District congressional seat.

Which is to say, there’s a bench on the Democratic side, not so much of one on the Republican side, and as a result, it’s a real possibility that the 20th can flip in 2019.

Column by Chris Graham