Candi King came out on top of the Jan. 5 special election to fill the House of Delegates seat recently vacated by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, retaining the seat for the Democrats as the General Assembly kicks off its new session next week.
King, 38, of Woodbridge, defeated Republican Heather Mitchell with 4,386 or 51.5% of the 8,509 votes cast. Mitchell garnered 4,123 votes, or 48.4%, according to the unofficial results reported by the Virginia Department of Elections.
The district, which straddles the eastern areas of Prince William and Stafford counties, leans Democratic, according to the recent election results. Foy won the district in 2017 and 2019 with more than 60% of the vote.
Still, local Democrats worried the expected low turnout could make it an easy pickup for Republicans energized by recent policy decisions in the Virginia General Assembly that have proved unpopular with conservatives.
The results were much closer for Mitchell than they were in 2019. Mitchell, who lives in Stafford County, trailed King by just 263 votes. Mitchell is best known locally for her work as an aide to former Prince William County Board of Supervisors chairman Corey Stewart, a Republican who declined to seek reelection in 2019.
The 2nd District race was one of two Virginia House of Delegates special elections Tuesday. Democrat Angelia Williams Graves won a contest in the Norfolk-area 90th District, which will allow Democrats to retain their 10-seat majority in Virginia’s lower chamber. Democrats also control the Virginia state Senate 21-18 going into the next session.
Campaigning outside the Swans Creek Elementary School Tuesday, King said that if she won the contest, it would be because of the help she’d received from more than 100 volunteers, mostly members of the Prince William County Democratic Committee, who rallied over the last few weeks to raise awareness of the special election and coax voters to the polls.
Coming as it did after the holidays and amid the pandemic, connecting with voters was especially challenging, said King, a mom of three who works as a program assistant for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“This race has not been about me,” she said. “So many people have come out and made phone calls and talked to voters. I would say it was a collective effort.”
King is the wife of Josh King, who ran unsuccessfully for the 2nd District House of Delegates seat in 2015 and 2017 before he ran for Prince William County sheriff in 2019, a race he narrowly lost to Sheriff Glendell Hill (R).
King said winning would feel surreal, given that it was her first time running for office and because the whole thing happened so quickly. Carroll Foy resigned the seat in early December to focus on her bid for the Democratic nomination for governor.
“It will be surreal for me to join so many people I admire in Richmond,” King said. “It will be an honor to stand with people who have made so many changes for Virginia.”
King said she felt blessed by the opportunity to run for office, something she has considered since she was a college student.
“It’s been a tremendous honor, even in the midst of a pandemic, to talk with so many of my neighbors and to hear what’s on their hearts and minds and to reflect that in my campaign,” she said.
King has said she will focus on expanding access to affordable healthcare for Virginians, passing legislation to require paid sick leave for workers and safely re-opening schools during the pandemic.
King said she’s not sure if she will be able to sponsor any legislation in the upcoming session because the deadline for doing so has already passed. But she said she will sign onto a bill Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-31st, is carrying to require paid sick leave for workers and will look to support efforts to improve transportation options for her constituents, many of whom commute up the Interstate 95 corridor.
King said she’ll also be looking for ways to improve services for special needs children and adults. The Kings have a teenage daughter who has autism. She said she spoke with several parents while campaigning who shared their struggles with raising children with special needs.
Voter turnout, at about 16%, was about double the 8% Prince William County elections officials expected for the special election.
There was a “steady trickle” of voters all day at Swans Creek Elementary, said election officer Twyla Jones. Voting took place in the school’s gymnasium, which offered plenty of room for social distancing. Still, all wore masks, and the process was a contact-free as possible with poll workers scanning voters’ ID cards through plexiglass dividers.
The election results won’t be official until after Friday at noon, the final day mail-in ballots can be counted, according to Keith Scarborough, secretary of the Prince William Electoral board.
Still, only about 30 mail-in ballots were cast in the election, and Scarborough said he doesn’t expect many more to come in between now and Friday.
Some voters interviewed at the polls said they only found out about the election in recent days. Bryan Isherwood, 28, of Woodbridge, said he heard about it after finding a brochure for Mitchell on his doorstep. He said he wanted to come out to support the Democratic candidate in the race.
Isherwood, a Woodbridge Senior High School grad who recently returned to the area after graduate school, said he was struck by how many people in his family’s upper-middle-class neighborhood are struggling amid the pandemic.
“I would hope that [both parties] would be looking for ways to help people, but I think the Democrats would be leaning into it a little more,” he said.
Donna, a Dumfries resident who declined to give her last name, said she came out to vote for Mitchell because she’s concerned Virginia’s legislature has become too liberal. She also said she’s concerned about state spending.
“There does tend to be overkill,” she said. “You can’t fix everything with money.”
Daniel Berti contributed to this report. Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org