Joe May’s Campaign A Post-2017 Test Of Republicans In Suburbia

Joe May represents the first trial run of what could be a turning point for the Virginia GOP after a big loss in last year's elections.


As the 2019 General Assembly election season is set to begin, one special election coming up early next month could foreshadow some aspects that may be seen in November when all 140 seats in both the House of Delegates and State Senate are up for re-election. On Tuesday, January 8, 2019, Republican Joe May will face Democratic candidate Delegate Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) in the race for the 33rd Senate District.

The seat will become vacant on January 3 following Congresswoman-elect Jennifer Wexton’s (VA-10) win in the 2018 midterm elections.

In a deeply “blue” part of an already Democratic-leaning Northern Virginia, while May is not charged with protecting a one-member Senate majority, it does represent the first real contest between an encroaching progressive wing of the Democratic Party on a traditionally conservative Virginia GOP after a near-loss of the Republican majority in the House of Delegates in last year’s election.

While Boysko was elected in penultimate push towards the “blue wave” of 2017, she has taken on pseudo-minority leadership role within the liberal party. She is often at odds with Democratic leaders like the outgoing House Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville),” which led to rumors that she was orchestrating a coup to grab his position over the summer after most of the progressive wing’s bills were shot down during the 2018 General Assembly session.

According to her campaign website, if elected to the Senate, Boysko would “push for in-state tuition for immigrants who arrived as children,” and “advocate to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.” Furthermore, she reportedly will work to provide legislation that grants undocumented immigrants and refugees driver’s licenses.

Boysko represents “The Resistance” faction of the Old Dominion, legislating the Commonwealth towards a more progressive future. Though, the 33rd Senate District elected Jennifer Wexton, who was considered by the Virginia Progressive Legislative Alert Network (VAPLAN) as the state’s most progressive legislator.

The 81-year-old May also brings a political background to the race. He has an extraordinary breadth of experience which includes his time heading the House Transportation Committee during his tenure as a state lawmaker from 1994 to 2014, also serving on the Appropriations Committee, and the Technology Committee, which he chaired for 12 years.

The inventor, businessman, and current chairman of the board at Leesburg-based engineering firm EIT made a name for himself as a moderate Republican in the mid-1990s when Virginia had a Democratic majority in both houses of the General Assembly and a majority GOP executive branch in the precursor to the nationwide “Republican Revolution” of 1994.

In the 33rd Senate District, which stretches from Herndon and Dulles into Lansdowne and Leesburg, wealthy parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties are overflowing with voters that have been shifting towards more Democratic-leaning for over a decade. As suburban areas begin to dominate Virginia politics more than ever, Republicans have a chance to regroup from a 15-seat loss in the 2017 gubernatorial election to win back voters in a district where moderate Republicans have fared quite well in the not so distance past.

If May can win or even come close to a victory in January, Republicans could become competitive again in the burgeoning suburban regions of the Commonwealth as their messaging towards a more diverse Virginia has been declining.

One thing that May has going for him is the fact that he would be somewhat out of place in the Republican caucus. May says on his campaign website that he “will always fiercely protect seniors’ Medicare benefits and support access to health care coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions,” and work to “protect women’s rights and to support common-sense, Constitutional gun safety legislation — like limiting firearms in bars.”

May, however, would join the majority party’s efforts to oppose progressive economic measures like raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which his opponent supports.

In the suburbs and exurbs, candidates must make room for many types of Republicanism, not just voting no on taxes and against Medicaid expansion. For example, many social liberals worry about the state’s budget and overspending, so they might be attracted to a candidate who is to their right socially, but emphasizes fiscal restraint or tax reform.

Although he may not be like other traditional candidates Republicans have run statewide, Joe May represents the first trial run of what could be a turning point for the Virginia GOP.