Virginia House of Delegates District 75 is one of the best chances for Republicans to flip a House seat. Delegate Roslyn Tyler (D-Sussex) is a 15-year incumbent, but she faces a repeat challenge from pharmacist Otto Wachsmann, Jr. who nearly beat her in 2019 with 48.89 percent of the vote. The district has been bleeding population in recent years, and the victory will likely depend on whether Roslyn Tyler can mobilize the significant minority presence and overcome dissatisfaction with the local economy. Republicans need to gain six seats in the House to retake the majority. Without Trump on the ballot, Republicans are hoping moderates are more likely to vote Republican, helping them flip some seats.
“If you had to ask me what is the most likely district in the House to flip to Republicans, I would say that one. I still say it’s a toss-up,” CNalysis Director Chaz Nuttycombe told The Virginia Star.
The district includes the I-95 North Carolina border crossing and covers parts of Southampton, Brunswick, Sussex, Greensville, and Lunenberg counties as well as Emporia and Franklin cities. Roslyn Tyler won the 2005 election against Republican Carson Saunders 50.66 percent to 48.92 percent. Since then, she’s often run unopposed, but in 2011 and 2013, she defeated Republican Al Peschke, who failed to get more than 40 percent of the vote each time. That coincides with a broader dynamic of a dwindling organized GOP presence in the formerly reliably blue region.
GOP Struggles in HD 75
In 2019, Wachsmann ran what he called an “October surprise” campaign.
“At that time when I reached out to some of the Republican leadership, this district was very Democratic. We were quite discouraged from participating in anything, and then sort of at the last minute, it seemed that we were able to get some response that it was possible,” Wachsmann said.
Wachsmann said his two percent loss proved that his hunch about the district’s vulnerability was correct, and he has continued campaigning since then. But without a strong GOP presence in some parts of HD 75, Wachsmann has had to help rebuild some of the local party apparatus ranging from local GOP units in Emporia and Greensville to databases of local neighborhoods for canvassing. He said even regions that did have an organized GOP presence weren’t that active.
“There just hasn’t been an active Republican race here to maintain the mechanism for the local Republican districts,” Wachsmann said.
“[Greensville] did not even have a Republican committee last year even. One of the first things that Otto did was to try to get a committee established in Greensville,” Brunswick County Republican Committee Chairman Eric Brazeal said, noting that the committee has seen good growth in its first year.
Brazeal said, “It’s a very hard-knock life for Republicans down here because of the demographics, because of the minority population.”
He said that the minority perception of Trump as a racist made things harder.
Brunswick is having its Taste of Brunswick Festival on Saturday, a central community event focused on Brunswick Stew. Brazeal said that event has been interrupted by arguments over the Civil War.
“You can’t argue the same things everywhere you go. You can go to an 80 percent Republican county and fight about the Civil War all day long and come out on top, but when you come to Brunswick County, a 70 percent African-American county, and you start screaming, ‘I’m going to keep my statue,’ you’re going to be laughed out of town,” he said. “The problem with being Republican in this district is that is routinely the fight we don’t choose, that is the fight we are handed.”
Wachsmann said that his name recognition is much higher than it was two years ago. He thinks that voters are frustrated with Roslyn Tyler, who he said hasn’t used her years in office to help the community. With Trump out of the picture, a declining minority population and a GOP boost due to mid-decade redistricting cycles mean it might finally be time for the GOP to win in HD 75.
Tyler Running on Her Record
Roslyn Tyler is a senior House Democrat who chairs the House Education Committee and is a member of the Appropriations Committee. Her husband Rufus Tyler, who is serving as interim campaign manager, said that’s enabled her to deliver on key needs for voters, including rural broadband expansion, free community college, Medicaid expansion, and a minimum wage increase. He emphasized that she is bipartisan, and has listened to her community’s needs on issues like hunting and farming.
“She’s running on her accomplishments. She cares about her community and she has delivered,” Rufus Tyler said. “Look at what she’s accomplished, not her rhetoric, not the political talk, but the, ‘I promise I will do…,’ she did it. Her opponent might have said what he’s going to, but he can’t say he’ll do health spending because it’s already done. He can’t say he’ll make college more affordable, because it’s already done.”
Rufus Tyler said Delegate Roslyn Tyler’s committee positions are important.
“[Voters] have a golden opportunity in Southside Virginia and they cannot afford to gamble on that. Because you and I know seniority plays a major role in Richmond. She’s been there 15 years and now she’s a member. Now you have a senior member on major committees, that directly affect your localities, and your communities, they can’t afford to gamble on anyone else,” he said.
As a result, Wachsmann and Roslyn Tyler are fighting for the same voters. Both candidates are concerned about a lack of healthcare access in the community, which is too far away to easily access Richmond. Both candidates are concerned about local opportunities for education. Both see a need to attract industry. But there are some differences — Wachsmann says the $15 minimum wage increase will be a burden on small businesses, while Roslyn Tyler sees it as critical to help workers.
Roslyn Tyler is also an unusual Virginia Democrat who touts her support of Second Amendment rights and protecting hunting alongside support for public safety. She’s questioned Wachsmann’s support for those issues, and part of his campaigning has included multiple events with hunters. But Wachsmann has picked up endorsements from the NRA and Virginia Citizens Defense League.
For his part, Wachsmann has been reaching out to minority community leaders, touting his experience with local small businesses.
Wachsmann trails Roslyn Tyler in fundraising. Tyler has raised $418,500 while Wachsmann has raised $214,520 since January 2020, according to The Virginia Public Access Project. Roslyn Tyler’s top donations are $55,000 from Dominion Energy, $25,000 from the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, $10,000 from Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA-08), and $10,000 from Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn’s (D-Fairfax) Energized for Change PAC. Wachsmann’s top donations are smaller: $13,500 from individual Tommy Davis, $13,125 from the Vermilion Victory Fund, $10,000 from GOB gubernatorial Glenn Youngkin’s Virginia Wins PAC, $11,000 from the Spirit of VMI PAC, $10,000 from the Virginia chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, $10,000 from individual Richard Gilliam, and $10,000 from Republican state-elections focused organization GOPAC.
How to Win
Youngkin and opponent former Governor Terry McAuliffe have both made stops in the area during the campaigns. Governor Ralph Northam also visited twice.
“[Roslyn] Tyler needs to hope that McAuliffe is able to turn out black voters in rural areas. Look, the southside area of Virginia always swings rightward after presidential years. That’s the only region where Northam did worse than Clinton,” Nuttycombe said. “Wachsmann, it’s vice-versa. He has to hope that the electorate is white enough for him to win.”
Brazeal told The Star, “It’s either going to boil down to what you said, race relations, or it’s going to boil down to, not the demographics of the community, but the economy of the community. One of those two is going to win.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Otto Wachsmann” by Otto Wachsmann for Delegate. Background Photo “Virginia State Capitol” by Martin Kraft CC BY-SA 3.0.