Better Know a (State Senate) District: the 17th

17th State Senate District Lean

2014: Gillespie 53%/Warner 44%/Sarvis 3%

2013: Cuccinelli 49% / McAuliffe 44% / Sarvis 7%

2012: Romney 50% / Obama 49%

2012: Kaine 50%/Allen 49%

VV calculation: R+2; Tossup district with R lean in non-presidential years

The 2011 redistricting changed this district dramatically, from a 61% McDonnell district to one Obama had actually won in 2008. The inclusion of large parts of heavily Democrat Albemarle County made the difference; in his victorious 2011 campaign, Sen. Reeves only lost the City of Fredericksburg and Albemarle County. Those two alone were enough to make the race close.

Unit makeup

Spotsylvania County       37.36%

Orange County                 17.14%

Albemarle County           13.62%

Louisa County                    11.91%

Fredericksburg City         10.76%

Culpeper County              9.20%

The population center of this district is Spotsylvania County, with significant portions from five other localities.

Candidates

Incumbent: Republican Whip Bryce Reeves (R) is running for re-election. He has raised over $425,000 per the last VPAP filing.

Rumored or declared Democrat candidates

Traci Dippert: Dippert is the Chair of the Culpeper County Democrat Committee and a local school teacher. She lost in a House of Delegates run against Del. Ed Scott (R), garnering only 35.5%. She has raised $7,300 for the Senate effort. Rumors are that the Dem Senate leadership is not impressed and is looking for a better candidate. Her campaign manager stated:  “This seat may very well be the hinge upon which the balance of power swings,” he said. “This is going to shape up as the race of 2015 and right now we are the only show in town. We expect national attention.” (http://www.dailyprogress.com/starexponent/news/local_news/dippert-hopes-to-shift-power-back-to-democrats-in-state/article_41375a38-2963-11e4-a8cd-0017a43b2370.html?mode=story)

Dr. Chris Lillis: Lillis is a New York native who lives in Fredericksburg. According to his Facebook page, he is apparently a big fan of Nevada U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D).

Hap Connors: Connors is a former Chairman of the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors who lost his seat in 2011. He is a lobbyist who is a former head of the South Carolina Democratic Party and Clinton appointee; his fundraising prowess and connections in the region run deep and he would be a formidable candidate. While not declared, scuttlebutt is that Gov. McAuliffe is heavily recruiting his longtime friend Connors to move to Fredericksburg and run for this seat. Last year, he appointed Connors to the Fredericksburg area seat on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, over a candidate favored by the elected officials from the area. Connors was a major supporter of McAuliffe in each of his gubernatorial runs.

Rumored or declared Republican candidates

No Republican challengers to Reeves have been rumored.

Reeves had this to say about the race: “We are planning a campaign kickoff for after Christmas.  We are poised to run for election again.  Since our last election, we have been working to secure our place, through a lot of hard work and great constituent services.

Our legislative record is one that I am proud of because we have tackled some hard issues and had some very positive results.  Everything from offshore drilling, to protecting women’s rights in sexual assault cases, to multiple veteran’s issues, to fostering job growth in the district, all while maintaining our conservative values. Values that matter to working families in the Commonwealth. 

I have been recognized by my peers and selected as a Majority Whip.  No small feat for a freshman senator. 

We will continue to press the hard issues to get results that will allow our constituency the opportunity to live, work, and play in the 17th district.

We have knocked 22k doors for ID already and have our campaign manager starting next week.”

Analysis

While the lean of this district looks like a tossup or a bellweather, Reeves has maintained a high profile, raised money proficiently, and looks strong. In 2011, his early hard work laid the groundwork for a narrow defeat of Sen. Edd Houck (D), a rare red-district Dem in the Senate. The Democrat bench in the area has been decimated and is extremely thin (the writer of this analysis is proud to have had something to do with that!). So far, the announced Dem candidates read more like a laughingstock than a fearsome roster, though that would change if Hap Connors entered the race. Gov. McAuliffe has loads of cash ready to dump, so while Reeves looks to be very very strong, he cannot rest on his laurels at this point.

Rating: Safe Republican