By Ryan Alessi
After today’s primary, it will be either Cathy Copeland or Brent Finnegan as the Democratic challenger to Republican Del. Tony Wilt in the 26th House of Delegates District.
Finnegan and Copeland have spent the last six months in full campaign mode — a much different race than in 2017 when the two faced off in an April firehouse primary where voters converged on just one polling place in the city and one in the county.
“Two years ago, it was only a six-week long campaign,” Copeland said.
Today, voters living in Harrisonburg and much of northern Rockingham County — including Broadway and Timberville — can cast a ballot for either Copeland or Finnegan at their regular voting locations as part of Virginia’s statewide primary election. Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
Finnegan won the 2017 firehouse primary by a 437-269 vote, but lost the general election to Wilt that November. In that race, Wilt earned 55 percent of the more than 20,000 votes cast in that election, which were largely split between the city and county precincts.
The 26th District Democratic race is the only primary contest in Harrisonburg. Wilt is running unopposed for the Republican nomination, and neither candidate for the 26th State Senate district that covers Harrisonburg and the surrounding area has primary opposition.
Both Finnegan and Copeland have relied on shoe leather to connect with voters and simply raise awareness about the contest itself.
“When you don’t have races or a primary on the top of the ticket, this race happens door to door,” Finnegan told The Citizen last week.
The candidates also made a series of joint public appearances where they’ve staked out nuanced differences on issues but largely agreed on most major priorities. And both have been careful not to alienate the staunch supporters of the other candidate.
“I believe the strength of our party is seeing that there are a lot of different opinions out there and a lot of different thoughts,” Copeland said.
Instead, both Finnegan and Copeland have urged Democratic voters at events, such as last week’s forum at Thomas Harrison Middle School, to prepare to unite behind the eventual nominee who will take on Wilt in the fall, with control of the 100-seat House of Delegates at stake.
The 26th District race is the only Democratic primary in Harrisonburg, Rockingham County or neighboring parts of the Valley.
Republicans in nearby districts do face some choices, however, including a contest between G. “John” Avoli and Dave L. Bourne, who are running for the GOP nomination in the 20th District. That district includes part of Augusta County and Staunton
And in the State Senate, Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger Jr. faces a challenge from the Tina M. Freitas in the 24th District, which includes southern Rockingham County, Staunton, Augusta County, Waynesboro and Greene, Culpepper and Madison counties.
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