House District 40 Shows Republicans Still Competitive in Clinton Districts
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House District 40 Shows Republicans Still Competitive in Clinton Districts

Democratic newcomer Donte Tanner faces uphill climb against incumbent Tim Hugo.

The 40th House District stretches from Bull Run to Sudley Springs into Chantilly and the western edge of Fairfax Station. (map from the Virginia Public Access Project)

The 40th House District stretches from Bull Run to Sudley Springs into Chantilly and the western edge of Fairfax Station. (map from the Virginia Public Access Project)

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Tim Hugo

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Donte Tanner

Democrats are energized, and they’re targeting Republican-held House districts that Hillary Clinton won last year. But House District 40 shows what an uphill climb this year will be for them. It’s currently held by a Republican incumbent in the House majority leadership, and Clinton’s win here represents an outlier. The district has been reliably Republican before last year’s presidential election, and it even remained in Republican hands during a special election for Fairfax County School Board over the summer. Nevertheless, Democrats are targeting the seat currently held by Republican caucus chairman Tim Hugo.

“Tim’s track record has always been self before service,” said Donte Tanner, the Democrat challenging Hugo this November. “And that’s the reason why we wanted to get involved in this race, and that includes not expanding Medicaid, gerrymandering, transvaginal ultrasound. These are the bills that don’t really represent the values of the district.”

Hugo has raised more than twice as much money as Tanner, who is hoping to turn the negative into a positive. On the campaign trail, Tanner has been pointing to financial disclosure forms that show Hugo used campaign money for gas bills, cell phones and steak dinners. Tanner says that shows Hugo is using political money for personal use. When asked about this line of criticism, Hugo says all those expenditures are legal and appropriate.

“If you have a fundraiser, you have to pay for it out of your campaign. If you go to a political event, you have to pay for the gas somehow,” said Hugo. “My opponent just moved here and runs for office, and the first thing he’s advocating are these big liberal spending programs and new taxes.”

THE 40TH HOUSE DISTRICT stretches from Bull Run to Sudley Springs and the western edge of Fairfax Station. With the exception of Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump by eight points in 2016, it’s a solidly red district. Even controversial Republican pastor E.W. Jackson beat Democrat Ralph Northam in the district for the lieutenant governor election back in 2013. In the recent special election for Fairfax County School Board, Republican Chris Grisafe won all the precincts Trump won last year and picked up four precincts Clinton won in this district.

“HD-40 will be one of the more challenging GOP-held Clinton seats for Democrats,” said Geoff Skelley at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “The district shifted notably left in 2016.”

Median household income in the district is $133,000, which is about double the statewide average. Most people in the district are married, and almost nobody lives in poverty. About 3 percent of the population in House District 40 lives below the poverty line, according to Census data. That’s about one quarter of the statewide average in Virginia. Skelley says people who vote in odd-year elections tend to be older and whiter, which means they are more conservative and much more likely to support Hugo.

“Delegate Hugo has incumbency on his side, and he’s never won less than 55 percent of the vote,” said Skelley. “Plus, Hugo has more than twice as much cash on hand as Tanner, which should be helpful to the incumbent.”

TANNER, 37, is a native of Washington, D.C. His family was in the military, so he moved around as a child and graduated high school in Newport News. He has a bachelor of science in foreign-area studies from the Air Force Academy with a concentration in the Middle East. He also has a master of business administration from the University of Phoenix. He was in the Air Force from 2001 to 2005, specializing in acquisitions and communications. After separating from the Air Force, he became a defense contractor and eventually starting his own firm, Forward Innovation Group. He has lived in the district since March 2015, attracted by the Fairfax County public school system.

“Both of my parents are police officers, and based on our family of service what we’re trying to do is give back to the community. That’s why I decided to join the Air Force,” said Tanner. “One of the core values we talk about in the Air Force is 'Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do.’ And I want to focus on the service before self side of it.”

If elected, Tanner says he would introduce legislation to expand Medicaid to 400,000 people who live in poverty or with disability. He says he would also work with Del. Mark Levine (D-45) to create a family-and-medical-leave insurance program, a bill that Hugo killed as chairman of a subcommittee earlier this year. Tanner also says he would also introduce a bill that would create an independent commission to draw political districts instead of having elected officials draw them. He says he would pursue a system similar to the one in California with 14 members: five Democrats, five Republicans and four members belonging to neither party.

“Nothing gets done with we are yelling at each other from both ends of the field,” said Tanner. “We need fairer elections to promote bipartisan governing.”

HUGO, 54, is a native of Norfolk although he was raised in Virginia Beach. He has a bachelor’s degree in government from the College of William and Mary, and he participated in the Senior Managers in Government fellowship sponsored by Kodak at Harvard University. Professionally, he is a former lobbyist who represented Oracle Group and the National Association of Manufacturers to Advantage Health Plan and the Greater Washington Board of Trade. He currently runs a technology association known as Free File Alliance. He was first elected in a December 2003 special election following the election of Jay O’Brien to the state Senate. Since that time, he has developed a reputation as someone who fights for his constituents, whether it’s regulations that threatened Tae Kwon Do studios or pressing state officials to install a traffic light in Willow Springs.

“Somebody called me a pothole delegate,” said Hugo. "I like that. I’ll take that because that’s what I focus on, the pothole that’s in front of your house.”

If reelected, Hugo says, he would work on encouraging apprentice programs in Virginia that would encourage students who are not college-bound to enter fields that are in high demand, electricians for example. He says he would also stand against any effort to create a bi-county parkway between Prince William and Loudoun, a controversial proposal to create an easier path to Dulles International Airport that residents in Prince William oppose because of the traffic it could create in rural western Prince William County. He says he would also work to find a compromise to concerns from regulators that charity car washes pose a danger to the environment because of the chemicals involved in washing automobiles.

“I’m going to introduce legislation to allow these charity car washes,” said Hugo. "If you do it, you’re going to have to use biodegradable soap so it washes down the drain.”