Record-breaking fundraising in Virginia's legislative races

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The battle for control of Virginia's legislature is leading to record-breaking political fundraising as special interest groups spend big in the final weeks of the contest.

Virginia General Assembly | WHSV FILE

Virginia is the only state where Democrats have a chance to flip control of the state legislature this year and newly filed campaign finance reports reflect national groups' intense interest in the race. General Assembly candidates have raised about $53 million so far, up about 67% from the last time all 140 seats were up for grabs in 2015, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. Democrats have more than doubled their haul from four years ago, accounting for most of the increase, VPAP reports.

"Winter is coming for Virginia Republicans. Absolute domination across the board," said Jake Rubenstein, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia.

Republicans have a slim majority in both the state House and the state Senate.

Democrats are hoping to continue their recent success in suburban districts, where voter antipathy toward President Donald Trump helped power a blue wave election in 2017. Helping Democrats in key suburban races are national groups like Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group backed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Emily's List, an organization dedicated to electing women who support abortion rights.

Republicans are relying on corporate donors for their large donations. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a national GOP group funded largely by big businesses, has spent more than $2 million helping Republican candidates in tight races.

Democrats outraised their Republican counterparts in every competitive Senate race in the most recent reports, which cover September. Democrat Debra Rodman reported the biggest haul with more than $1 million in donations in September, raising about $600,000 more than incumbent Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant in a Richmond-area suburban seat. More than half of Rodman's fundraising came in the form of in-kind contributions for campaign work from groups like Planned Parenthood and Virginia League of Conservation Voters.

House races were a mixed bag, with some suburban candidates outraising their Democratic counterparts.

"Our Republican team is well positioned for the final sprint to November," said Garren Shipley, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert.

Virginia's top statewide Democrats, who were weakened after a series of scandals earlier this year, also reported fundraising totals for their political action committees for the most recent quarter.

Gov. Ralph Northam, who was nearly forced to resign in February after a racist yearbook photo surfaced, reported raising more than $430,000. That's far below what his predecessors have raised in similar fundraising periods just before legislative elections, but a nearly 40 percent increase from the previous quarter.

Attorney General Mark Herring, who announced in February that he'd worn blackface in college, raised about $70,000. And Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who has denied accusations of sexual abuse made earlier this year by two women, reported raising only $1,100. Both Herring and Fairfax have indicated they may run for governor in 2021.