RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former state legislator Lashrecse Aird defeated incumbent Sen. Joe Morrissey, a self-described “pro-life” Democrat, Tuesday in one of Virginia’s most closely watched nomination contests of the primary election.
“It is a testament to our community and our Commonwealth that I’m standing here on this stage, but this victory is not just mine because this victor is only the beginning of what we will do together,” Aird told supporters in her victory speech.
Aird, a former member of the state House of Delegates, ran a campaign heavily focused on Morrissey’s position on abortion. A veteran lawmaker and one of the most controversial figures in Virginia politics, Morrissey has expressed a willingness to vote with Republicans to enact stricter limits on abortion in Virginia sought by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
“Never in the history has it ever been done that the women in elected office rebuke a colleague but it had to be done,” she said. “I stand before you and commend to not only fight to protect, protect our reproductive rights but all of those things that I talked about: our schools, our communities, making every single family feel valued. They deserve that. This will be the power of electing responsible leadership. That is what it will look like.”
Morrissey was just one of many incumbents facing spirited challenges Tuesday in an election season that’s been upended by newly drawn political maps legislative candidates are running in for the first time this year. Many other key races had not yet been called.
Aird won the race with the help of an unusual number of legislators and members of the state’s congressional delegation who endorsed her. She also far outspent Morrissey, who ran a scrappy operation with no official campaign manager.
Until this race, Morrissey had time and again overcome personal controversies to win elected office. As he campaigned for office this year, he faced allegations of mistreatment and physical abuse by his decades-younger estranged wife, which he strenuously denied.
Despite those headwinds, many observers were unwilling to count him out because of his long-established reputation as an effective grassroots campaigner who takes care of bread-and-butter issues for constituents. Morrissey conceded to Aird.
“I want to congratulate my opponent and her family,” he said. “I’m moving on to my next chapter in my life, I want to be a full-time dad and coach, all my kids.”
Aird, who works in higher education administration, will head into the general election season as the heavy favorite in the blue leaning district south and east of Richmond.
Voters were picking their party’s nominee for dozens of seats around the state Tuesday, including some swing districts that will help determine the balance of power in the General Assembly. Both parties and both chambers had competitive contests on the ballot, and an unusually high number of sitting officeholders were facing serious challenges in an election season upended by new political maps.
This year marks the first cycle in which legislative candidates are running in districts created during the redistricting process that ended in late 2021. The new maps were drawn by outside experts without regard to incumbent protection. That’s contributed to a wave of retirements by many of the General Assembly’s veteran lawmakers and diminished the name-recognition advantage for incumbents, some of whom are running in almost entirely new districts.
Altogether, it’s expected to lead to significant turnover in the Legislature come January.
“It’s time for some new blood,” said Gail Coleman, who voted in suburban Richmond for Aird.