Democrat Randall Wolf can win the 20th: Here’s how
Republican John Avoli won the 20th House District seat in 2019 because he ran strong in Augusta County. Randall Wolf fits the profile of Democratic Party candidate who could cut into Avoli’s margins in Augusta County in 2021.
“For me, the Republican Party sort of started leaving me about 20 years ago,” said Wolf, a retired journalist who lives in Stuarts Draft. “I think there’s a lot of people that now feel like the Republican Party has left them and that they’re independents. They may still consider themselves Republican, but they’re a little bit more open to just good ideas. And that’s the way the Republican Party to me used to be and used to work.
“I’m going to be talking about ideas, and trying to find that common ground, and not just being political. And I’m purposely going to be reaching out to what a friend of mine terms himself, a recovering Republican,” Wolf said.
“I think there’s a lot of people out there that sort of fit that description,” Wolf said. “And I’m frankly hoping that there’s about 15 or 20 percent of the Republican Party that is at least open to that. And essentially, if I can swing 10, 12 percent of those, I’m sort of right there at 50/50.”
The math suggests that there is a path for Wolf.
Avoli defeated Democratic nominee Jennifer Lewis in 2019 by a 4,299-vote margin. The bulk of that margin came from precincts in Augusta County in the 20th – which stretches from Highland County in the west, through Augusta County, the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, and the northern half of Nelson County.
Avoli won the Augusta County precincts by 4,099 votes, meaning the rest of the district was basically a wash.
It’s one thing, of course, to point out the numbers, and suggest that all Wolf needs to do is run better in Augusta County.
But you do have to point out while trying to make the case that this is the same Augusta County that gave Donald Trump 72.6 percent of the vote in the 2020 presidential election.
Avoli, in his run in 2019, received 74.1 percent of the vote in the Augusta County precincts.
There’s a reason why the former Staunton mayor known for his leadership in revitalizing the city’s downtown district and his tenure as the executive director of the Frontier Culture Museum spoke at a post-election MAGA rally at the Staunton Mall, why he announced his candidacy for re-election last month promising to build on his pledge to “uphold our Second Amendment freedoms, protect the lives of the unborn.”
That’s red meat for the people in the red hats, who are not ever, in a million years, going to vote for anybody with a D beside their name, even one who styles himself a “recovering Republican.”
But what about the Mountain Valley Republicans – who helped overturn the segregationist Byrd machine and made Virginia a competitive political state before being thrown to the side of the road in the 1990s in favor of the D.C.-influenced slash-and-burn politicos who eventually ushered in the Trump era?
“It’s really reaching out to them, being open to them, listening to them,” Wolf said. “It’s back to what I was saying earlier, as a journalist, that’s all I did, I listened. As a person who’s working to be a representative, I’m coming back with listening first, but coming back with the solutions and the ideas, but I’m purposely going to be reaching out to that to that middle audience, listening first, and hopefully engaging them and convincing them that they need to take a chance and vote Democratic, vote for somebody who’s going to be active in their community and work to get things done.”
It’s not a coincidence that Virginia swung back from red to blue as the Republican Party lurched more and more to the far, far right.
The Democrats who have been successful in Virginia the past few cycles are not D.C-influenced progressives. The current governor, Ralph Northam, once noted that he had voted twice for George W. Bush, before positioning himself as a center-left Democrat, which is the current sweet spot at the statewide level.
The makeup of the 20th – with two localities tilting D (Staunton and Nelson County), one that is 50/50 (Waynesboro) and two solid R (Augusta County and Highland County) – isn’t a perfect approximation of what we see at the state level, but it’s as close as you will get in the Shenandoah Valley.
The 2021 cycle may prove to be a bit more difficult than a midterm just because there are state races at the top of the ticket, and because we’re downwind from the fallout of the 2020 election.
Republican voters would be expected to be more motivated to show up to continue their protest of the Biden/Harris victory; and Democratic voters may think that the most important thing to them, getting rid of the stink of Donald Trump, has already been accomplished.
“Virginia now seems to be somewhat solid Democratic on the statewide races, but it’s not a done deal,” Wolf said. “The bottom line is, we need participation. We need people to participate and be involved. I think we’re seeing that sort of involvement locally on the Middle River Regional Jail, where there’s a lot of people coming together to voice concern of incarceration of people.
“There are strong issues that are going to still motivate people to come out and vote,” Wolf said.
The biggest motivation on the D side may be the events of Jan. 6.
And actually, that day may also motivate the Mountain Valley Republicans who want to take their party back from the QAnon crowd.
“I had decided to run at the end of last year, but Jan. 6, really strengthened that resolve, in that I want to be part of the solutions, I want to try to help heal the divide that’s in this nation and community,” Wolf said.
“I don’t think people are going to forget what happened on Jan. 6, and I think, again, they recognize hopefully that participation is what’s going to prevent that type of thing from ever happening again,” Wolf said.
Story by Chris Graham