Democrats Go for the Trifecta in Virginia 2019 Elections
This is not Bynum-Coleman’s first campaign—she initially ran for the House of Delegates in 2015 in the next district over. One of her sons has a learning disability and she discovered his public school was ill-equipped to help him, which motivated her to run. “It was a funding issue,” she said. “It wasn’t a teacher issue.” She first tried to lobby the school board but was referred to her local state delegate, a Republican who refused to meet with her to discuss the issue.
She raised barely $20,000 and lost the race handily. The next year, one of her daughters was shot just below her head while leaving a party in south Richmond. A man and a woman had gotten into an argument and both pulled out guns, Bynum-Coleman said. Her daughter narrowly survived. “If she had just turned this way,” she said, swiveling her head, “Boom, it would have taken off her face.”
Bynum-Coleman added gun control to her list of priorities when she ran again in 2017. This time, she raised $132,000 and came within 819 votes of victory. Still, she said she had little party support in a race that wasn’t expected to be that close. “I was still on an island by myself,” she said.
In 2019, a new legislative map redrawn by the courts put Bynum-Coleman in the same district as Cox, who now has to defend new and unfamiliar terrain with a significant population of African American voters. The chance to topple the House speaker on the way to a majority has turned Bynum-Coleman’s third bid for office into one of the most high-profile races in the state.
But to her, Cox was just “a different dragon.”
“It just so happened I was in a district with the speaker of the House,” Bynum-Coleman said. “It didn’t change how I viewed the district. It didn’t change how I viewed our state legislator. It was just like, Oh, I’ll run against him. This has got to change.”
Republicans and Democrats alike describe Cox, 62, as a savvy politician, and while there are now more Democrats than Republicans in the district, few would be surprised if he edged out Bynum-Coleman. Unlike other Republican candidates, he’s not running ads on the Northam or Fairfax scandals and is instead touting himself as an apolitical fixture of the community—not the conservative House speaker but the baseball coach and schoolteacher who has long supported education funding.
He and the state party hammered Bynum-Coleman after she was forced to correct a TV ad that referenced a vote on school funding made by a different Republican legislator with the last name Cox. “Sheila’s going to lose,” Findlay predicted. “She needed to run a perfect race against a really popular incumbent in that district, despite the redraw.” (Cox’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.)
As I watched her knock on doors, Bynum-Coleman interacted easily with the residents she hopes will soon be her constituents. But in our interview, like other Democrats I spoke with in Richmond, she grew tentative when the topic turned to the scandals surrounding the party’s leadership. “He’s the governor, and he’s not going to step down. And he’s not on the ballot,” Bynum-Coleman said of Northam. “And I’m not going to allow anyone to prevent me from helping to move Virginia forward and help to impact the lives of millions of people.”