A handful of Northern Virginia House of Delegates races are being targeted by a national Democratic group as the starting point for its ambitious plans to win back state legislatures that are now in Republican hands.
To bolster Republican chances in some of those races, former Gov. George Allen is re-emerging on the political scene, his first foray following his defeat by Democrat Tim Kaine in last year's U.S. Senate race.
Virginia is the only state with its full legislature up for re-election this year, and the state and national forces aligning in those races ensure tight, expensive battles.
The Democratic group, Democracy for America, has targeted for its new Purple to Blue Project districts now represented by Republican Dels. Barbara Comstock of McLean, Tom Rust of Herndon, and David Ramadan of South Riding. The group, headed by former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, vowed to pump $750,000 into the state to help Democratic candidates.
The lessons the group learns in the Virginia contests will be applied to other statehouse elections across the country, most of them in 2014.
"Doing things right this year in Virginia will give us a real leg up on some big races in 2014," said Nick Passanante, Purple to Blue Project director. "Republicans did it about 10 years ago. And they did it way better than we did. It's about building up the bench. This is the place the battle is going to be fought for the next decade until we can have some sway in redistricting."
Ramadan, a Republican who faces retired Air Force Maj. John Bell this fall, is embracing the challenge.
"The way Virginia goes this year, the way the rest of the nation goes this year. Prince William and Loudoun counties are battlegrounds. We know that," Ramadan said. "Besides the joy of sending Howard Dean screaming out of Virginia, it will be the right message for the nation that the message of Gov. Bob McDonnell and George Allen of common-sense conservative values is the way to go."
Allen will head a fundraiser for Ramadan on May 21 with a top sponsorship of $10,000. Ramadan trailed Bell in fundraising in the first three months of this year.
After failing in his bid to return to the U.S. Senate last year, Allen is settling into a background role within the party. His wife, Susan, recently held an event with Comstock, and George Allen plans to lend his name and political muscle to help in the governor's race and various legislative battles.
With him and Dean both involved, Allen sees the potential for many of these contested House races to attract national attention.
"Having been a member of the House of Delegates, normally you don't get that kind of attention," Allen told The Washington Examiner. "Those two races [Ramadan and Comstock] are truly targeted and we're going to need everyone pitching in to help."