Two longtime Senate incumbents — one Democrat, the other Republican — fended off upstart challenges from independent candidates Tuesday and will retain their seats in the Virginia General Assembly.
Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, beat Steven Nelson of Roanoke County for the 21st Senate District. In the 20th District, Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, defeated Sherman Witcher, an agricultural worker from Rocky Mount.
Edwards, 75, who on Tuesday secured his seventh term, has only been challenged three times since he was first elected in 1996.
His Senate district consists of Roanoke, Giles County, and portions of Roanoke and Montgomery counties, including Blacksburg.
“This is a new day for Virginia,” Edwards said Tuesday night, referring to the fact that the Democrats now control both the House and the Senate.
He cited raising teacher pay rates, lowering the cost of higher education and broadening Amtrak service to the New River Valley as goals moving forward. That expanded rail service, he maintained, would provide a vital link to Virginia Tech and Amazon’s Innovation Campus in Alexandria.
The Republican party did not nominate a candidate to run against Edwards, but he faced opposition from an independent, Steven Nelson, 64, of Roanoke County.
Nelson criticized Edwards for not securing more improvements to I-81 during more than 20 years in office. While Nelson acknowledged the challenge of a move against Edwards, he also called it his “civic duty.”
It marked Nelson’s second run for public office. He ran for Senate in another district in 2015 but lost to David Suetterlein.
Tuesday night, Bill Stanley acknowledged his win but addressed the state’s newly shifted political landscape.
“The dynamic of the House and Senate may change tonight, but our needs and our region remain the same,” Stanley said. “The only way that Virginia moves forward is making sure every region works together to find a new path for our economic prosperity.
“We’re going to go into the 2020 General Assembly session with a very robust set of priorities,” he said, citing health care, expanded broadband capabilities and modernization of K-12 school facilities as key priorities.
Stanley, 51, first entered the Senate in early 2011 by filling the 19th District seat after a special election.
Later that year, he narrowly won the general election to represent the 20th District, which is largely rural, skews Republican and covers Henry and Patrick counties, Galax and Martinsville, and parts of Danville and Carroll, Franklin, Halifax and Pittsylvania counties.
A Moneta attorney, Stanley frequently advocates for criminal justice reform. He backed a bill signed into law last year that raised the felony threshold for larceny from $200 to $500, and he led the push to end the statewide practice of suspending the licenses of drivers who have outstanding court costs not related to traffic offenses.
Stanley also introduced bills this past General Assembly session aimed at finding ways for schools to seek supplemental funding to improve their buildings and facilities. Most of those did not pass.
“This is now a passion I will continue to fight for, and maybe it’ll take a few years to get something everyone agrees on, but we’ll get there,” Stanley said earlier this year.
Witcher began his race to challenge Stanley by seeking the Democratic nomination. When the party chose not to nominate anyone, he ran as an independent.
“Any competition is better than no competition,” Witcher said in June.
Tuesday’s race marked Witcher’s third run for public office, following a prior bid for the Senate in 2007 and a run for a House seat in 2009.