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A groundswell of anti-Trump activism has helped inspire an expanded field of Democratic legislative candidates in Virginia this fall, but a Center for Public Integrity analysis found that those office-seekers are lagging badly in fundraising as they prepare to face well-funded GOP incumbents.
These often-ignored races may be a harbinger of the "Resist" movement's political clout nationwide — and the steep challenges it faces — in the coming years.
For the first time in at least two decades, 60 of Virginia's 100 House of Delegates seats — which are all in play this fall — have candidates representing both major parties. The total represents a major increase from each of the last three cycles. In 48 of these races, Democrats are attempting to unseat Republican incumbents. Senate races will not occur until 2019.
"The state has a lot of motivated Democrats in it right now, and a lot of House seats held by Republican incumbents," said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. That's a stark contrast from some previous cycles, he added, when Democrats have struggled to field candidates.
The boost in Democratic candidates is part of a broader trend nationwide largely stemming from President Donald Trump's stunning election victory last fall. The November upset was a wake-up call for Democrats and motivated them to begin building a deeper bench of candidates, especially at the state level where they've been pummeled in recent years. The GOP now holds a record 34 governors' offices and controls 69 of the nation's 99 state legislative chambers.
Since last fall's election, Emily's List, a political action committee that supports pro-abortion rights women candidates, said more than 16,000 women nationwide have contacted the organization about running for office since Trump's election, up from 920 women in the previous two years combined.
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Another example of the newfound energy: An estimated 3,000 scientists interested in becoming candidates are asking for similar support from PAC 314 Action, a new political group that says it is trying to elect candidates focused on "evidence-based policy solutions to issues like climate change" and "fighting the Trump administration's attacks on science."
Virginia, with its off-year elections, represents Democrats' next major opportunity to see if this anti-Trump fervor will translate to victories — and is thus being watched closely by pundits and politicians alike.
New Jersey, the only other state with major elections this fall, isn't much of a contest: Democrats already control the Legislature and are polling far ahead of Republicans in both the gubernatorial and legislative elections.
The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.