Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. – Winston Churchill
Much of the focus surrounding Virginia’s elections that ended on November 2 centered on Republican Glenn Youngkin’s remarkable, upset victory over Democrat Terry McAuliffe. That was no doubt the marquee race, although the Republican victories of Winsome Sears as lieutenant governor and Jason Miyares as attorney general were also headline-grabbing.
Getting somewhat less attention were the one hundred races for the Virginia General Assembly’s House of Delegates. Whereas the Youngkin/Sears/Miyares victories give the GOP control over the Old Dominion’s Executive Branch starting January 15, 2022, The House of Delegates represents one half of Virginia’s Legislative Branch, the General Assembly. (The other half of the General Assembly is the 40-member State Senate which currently has a 21-19 Democrat edge; those seats will not be up for election until 2023.)
As you may remember from your civics classes, the legislative branch makes the laws, while it is the job of the executive branch to enforce the laws on the books. Simply put, the legislative branch is incredibly important because of their power to make legislation. In theory, the executive branch cannot enforce laws that do not exist. To put it another way, you can have the best executives in the world, but if the laws are bad, the executives’ hands are basically tied.
As evidence of the toxicity of today’s Democrat Party brand with which many rural and suburban voters, Democrats now hold only three House of Delegate seats in the western two-thirds of the state. One is District 57, anchored around UVA. A second is District 12 in the New River Valley, but scandal-plagued incumbent Chris Hurst was soundly defeated and will be replaced by Jason Ballard (R). That brings us to the third Democrat-held seat, District 11, in Roanoke City.
Due to a number of demographic factors, Roanoke City has long been a Democrat Party stronghold. Because of gerrymandering, which both parties engage in, District 11 skews even more blue, because some of the more GOP-leaning neighborhoods of the City like parts of Deyerle, Garden City, Grandin Court, Southeast and Northeast have been lumped into the strongly-GOP District 17 which surrounds Roanoke City to the north, east, and south.
Because the 11th District so heavily favors Democrats, it has been in blue hands for a long time. Since 2014, it has been represented by Salam “Sam” Rasoul, one of only two Muslim members in the House of Delegates. The last Republican to even run for that seat was Octavia Johnson, a black woman and former sheriff of Roanoke, who in 2014 was defeated by Rasoul 70-30.
Entering what he knew would be an uphill climb, attorney and Republican City Committee Chairman Charlie Nave ran his first campaign for office and challenged Rasoul to represent District 11 this year. Rasoul handily won, enjoying a 64.5-35 spread.
Sitting down with Nave recently for an interview, I expected to hear a downcast report. However, I was surprised to receive just the opposite. “You were defeated by almost a 2-1 ratio. How can you be so upbeat?” I queried.
“Look at the numbers,” Nave replied. “As Republicans, we did the best in twenty years!” Yes, he lost 2-1 this November. However, Rasoul had won 3-1 in 2014, the last and only time he faced a challenger. In five precincts–mainly the East side of Roanoke plus South Roanoke, Nave won. He and Rasoul essentially tied in Crystal Spring.
Drilling deeper, Nave added “This is actually a D+40 district. I lost by only 29 points, thus making an 11 point swing.” Nave continued: in the area encompassing the 11th District, he performed the strongest of any Republican since the year 2000, when Ralph Smith surprisingly won a four-way race for Mayor. And those twenty years include at least one race where the GOP candidate had far more funds available than Nave had.
Nave explained he had spent most Saturdays and a large number of evenings all summer and fall going door to door, meeting Roanokers and asking them for their support. He continued: “Door knocking worked. I intend to keep door knocking till we rescue Roanoke from this stuff.”
When asked “what this stuff” refers to, he cited the City’s alarming rates of violence, poverty, substandard housing, and other challenges. Nave added that he believes Roanoke actually has a large number of conservatives, but you could never tell due to the essentially one-party rule the Democrats currently enjoy on City Council plus with Del. Rasoul and State Senator John Edwards.
Realizing the daunting prospects of a Republican ever winning in the heavily-gerrymandered area known as District 11, Nave was clear-eyed but optimistic. “This is a ten to twenty year plan, and we are now in year three.”
When asked why he chose to pay the price and run for office–especially against such challenging odds–Nave explained the need for every seat in the General Assembly to be challenged. Each time after Rasoul ran unopposed in 2015, 2017, and 2019, many Roanokers would lament their lack of a choice. Nave added, “The Complaint Department is only open on Election Day and it’s hard for voters to register a complaint that day when there is only one candidate on the ballot.”