The first major primary race of the 2019 cycle actually began in 2018.
Incumbent Delegate Bob Thomas, who represents the 28th District in the House of Delegates centered on Stafford County, earned a challenger in Paul Milde last year.
Since winning the general election by a narrow margin of less than 100 votes in 2017, Thomas has voted largely in line with the established Richmond leadership.
Thomas’ voting record has earned him scorn from local Republican activists however, with the incumbent not only having to battle criticism over his vote for one of the largest government expansions in Virginia history, but also his 0% rating from the Virginia Citizen’s Defense League, one of the largest Second Amendment groups in the Commonwealth.
Fueled by conservative frustration over Thomas’ voting record, Milde is seeking to replace Thomas this year.
The race between Thomas and Milde is breaking down along ideological and geographical lines. Milde’s strength in the district lies in the northern precincts of Stafford County, where he served as a member of the Board of Supervisors for several years. Thomas’ base is found in the southern portion of the district.
The camps of both candidates also mirror an “Establishment vs Conservative” divide that has developed in Virginia politics over the past few decades.
The Thomas-Milde race will almost certainly be one of the most hotly contested Republican primaries in Virginia this year. Fundraising wise, Thomas has raised $152,811 so far to Milde’s $160,203.
This is unusual because historically, primary challengers are usually outspent heavily by the incumbent. The Milde campaign’s financial strength has allowed them to present a formidable challenge to Thomas’ re-election bid.
Thomas’ biggest supporters remain House Republican leadership, as well as a host of lobbyist groups in Richmond, while Milde is adopting a strategy which President Trump successfully employed in 2016 by largely self-funding his campaign along with a flurry of pitches for small-dollar donations.
The end result is that Milde is on track to match, if not beat, Thomas’ fundraising numbers by primary day, June 11th.
In terms of ideological battles between the two candidates, Thomas is hoping voters in his district will forget about his broken campaign promise from 2017 not to support Obamacare expansion in Virginia, which he ended up backing just weeks after taking office.
For his part, Milde has worked to highlight Thomas’ liberal Republican voting record, pointing to Thomas’ votes against gun rights for firefighters and EMS personnel, as well as his support for the ERA, as examples to energize conservative activists against the incumbent.
The 28th District has traditionally been viewed as a lean-Republican swing district, with President Trump carrying the seat over Hillary Clinton 49% to 45% in 2016. Democrat Ralph Northam won the district 51% to 48% when he defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial election.
The primary election will be held on June 11th. The seat is expected to play heavily into the general election contest for control over the House of Delegates as the winner in the Republican Primary will face off against Democrat Josh Cole in the November general election.