Michael Bills and Clean Virginia Biggest Losers in Virginia Democratic Primary


Democrats nominated former governor Terry McAuliffe, Attorney General Mark Herring, and Delegate Hala Ayala (D-Prince William) for governor, attorney general, and lieutenant governor respectively. Progressive candidates lost both in those races, and down-ballot in the House of Delegates.

Some of the House losses were candidates who were running for statewide office and also to retain their current seats. Outspoken socialist Delegate Lee Carter (D-Manassas) lost the nomination for governor and for HD 50. Gun control advocate Delegate Mark Levine (D-Arlington) lost the nomination both for lieutenant governor and HD 45.

“Progressive dreams are on pause in Virginia,” left-leaning magazine The Nation said Wednesday. “Terry McAuliffe wins the gubernatorial primary while moderates beat candidates to their left around the state.”

Progressive losses extended beyond incumbents. Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) told The Virginia Star that the losses are not a rebuke of policy, but instead a rebuke of major campaign donors Michael Bills, his wife Sonjia Smith, and their PACS Clean Virginia and Commonwealth Forward. They spent heavily in opposition to McAuliffe, Herring, and Ayala.

“I think Michael Bills and his wife and these groups, they’re putting all this money into the challenger races. I think this was a rebuke based on the number of races that they lost,” Morrissey said.

Clean Virginia and Sonjia Smith gave a combined $1.1 million to Jennifer Carroll Foy’s campaign in 2020 and 2021 according to VPAP. They spent a combined $600,000 on Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) in his race against Herring. When Ayala accepted $100,000 in funds from Dominion Energy after receiving money from Clean Virginia, the PAC announced a last minute $125,000 ad campaign against Ayala.

Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore addressed the statewide results in a press release: “Today’s primary elections mark the first time in Virginia history in which the Democratic nominees for Virginia’s Governor and Attorney General have refused utility monopoly campaign contributions. While our endorsed statewide candidates — Delegates Jennifer Carroll Foy and Jay Jones — fell short of victory, Clean Virginia is proud to have helped these incredible leaders tell their stories and advocate for a Virginia that puts people over profit.”

The release highlights Nadarius Clark’s defeat of incumbent Delegate Steve Heretick (D-Portsmouth). Smith, Clean Virginia, and Commonwealth Forward gave Clark a combined $554,712, according to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).

Gilmore said, “Thanks to years of a growing movement to limit the influence of utility monopolies in Virginia politics, Nadarius Clark, a stalwart community organizer deeply committed to the people of House District 79, won a valiant upset campaign over an entrenched incumbent with a long track record of prioritizing the interests of Dominion Energy over his constituents.”

Clean Virginia, Smith, and Commonwealth Forward poured a combined $738,006 into the HD 2 primary, supporting Pamela Montgomery against new Delegate Candi King (D-Prince William), who received just $280,473 in donations in 2021. King resoundingly defeated Montgomery 67.83 percent to 32.17 percent.

Gilmore said, “In total, thirteen Democratic primary candidates who refused contributions from Dominion Energy won their races. This common-sense move of refusing money from the utility monopolies General Assembly members are elected to regulate — a move that not long ago was considered political self-sabotage — has become the standard for both statewide and district-level races.”

Morrissey is critical of Bills’ and Smith’s campaign contributions, which he says are more about political influence than about environmental policy. Morrissey isn’t an impartial observer. He hasn’t received Clean Virginia support, but he has received $12,500 from Dominion Energy, which he says came after he reviewed the utility’s renewable energy resources.

“[Dominion Energy] is putting $8 billion into offshore energy, their wind farm off of Virginia Beach. I haven’t seen Michael Bills spend $8 billion on a wind farm,” he said.

He said, “Michael Bills and his PAC [Clean Virginia] and Sonjia Smith, they are being dismissive of Dominion Energy because they say they have, quote, too much power, too much influence. And they want people to take pledges not to take any money from Dominion Energy, but at the same time they’re doing the exact same thing they’re criticizing of Dominion Energy. They are funding candidates that just support their position, and it to me is the height of hypocrisy.”

GOP Primary in HD 83 (Virginia Beach)

HD 83 results weren’t clear by press time on Tuesday, but later results confirmed: Virginia Beach lawyer Tim Anderson narrowly beat former Delegate Chris Stolle 1,477 to 1,449 in House District 83, according to preliminary results at VPAP. That’s a difference of just 28 votes; in 2019 Stolle lost the seat by just 27 votes.

Delegate Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) represents a neighboring district. He tweeted, “Congratulations to my friend Tim Anderson on an impressive win last night! Looking forward to serving with you in a Republican-led House of Delegates after your victory in November!”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Lee J. Carter” by Lee J. Carter. Photo “Mark Levine” by Campboypr. CC BY-SA 4.0. Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Anderskev. CC BY 3.0.






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