Editor’s note: this story last updated at 10:17pm. Additional updates forthcoming as more results become available.
Del. Tony Wilt (R) has comfortably won reelection to another two-year term in the Virginia House of Delegates, with unofficial results from across the district showing him up more than 4,400 votes over Democratic challenger Bill Helsley. As of 8:20 p.m., only absentee and provisional ballots from Rockingham County had not yet been reported.
Minus the county absentee and provisional ballots, Wilt earned a total of 12,849 votes to Helsley’s 8,429. Although Helsley won the vote in Harrisonburg 6,350 to 4,396, Wilt carried more than 80% of the county vote on his way to reelection. The 26th District includes all of Harrisonburg and northern and western Rockingham County.
“This victory is for the citizens of the 26th House District,” Wilt told The Citizen on Tuesday evening. “They came out in great numbers, and it wasn’t necessarily about me. They saw what’s been happening in the last two years or so in Virginia and were very concerned about the direction that the state’s going in.”
Wilt said he thinks Democrats, who control the legislature and governor’s office, “overplayed their hand,” helping motivate support for Republican candidates.
“They promoted a lot of pretty radical mandates, and people aren’t happy. It hit ’em at home. It hit ’em in schools, their kids in schools. It’s hit ’em in the economy, as far as their jobs, as far as their cost of living skyrocketing,” Wilt continued. “I don’t think people appreciated the attack on law enforcement. We all want good law enforcement officers, but just a blanket attack on them, people said, ‘I’ve had enough’ and they’ve come out and made their voice heard.”
With at least 21,278 votes cast, turnout for this year’s 26th district race was higher than in either the 2019 or 2017 elections. Wilt also won by a wider margin of victory this year. In 2019, running against Democratic challenger Brent Finnegan, Wilt won with 54.1 percent of the vote.
On Tuesday evening, Helsley congratulated Wilt on his victory.
“I wish him nothing but the best and lots of success.”
With results still coming in across the state – but early indications that this election would be a good one for Republicans – Helsley spoke about this election as an apparent Republican wave.
“The party that’s on the receiving end of the wave usually gets annihilated. 2017, the wave was the other way and Republicans got annihilated. And I anticipate down the road, the wave’s going to come again the other way.”
Matt Cross elected to Rockingham County School Board
Also with absentee and provisional ballots yet to be reported, Matt Cross has won election to the Rockingham County School Board by a large margin. Cross earned 3,214 votes, while challengers Hilary Irons and Lori Mier got 1,633 and 480 votes respectively. Cross campaigned on hot-button social issues like critical race theory, and attracted controversy for some of his Facebook posts.
Speaking to The Citizen on Tuesday evening, Cross credited parents with his victory.
“Parents are concerned about their children. They’re concerned about the curriculum that their children are being taught, and they’re concerned about the safety of their children in school. So parents decided this victory.”
Cross said he looks forward to working with other members of the board, and will be working to ensure that conservative Republicans contest every seat in 2023.
“I think that the majority of citizens of Rockingham County, the conservatives, are awakened to public education and what’s going on inside the state. And so every single precinct, there will be a Republican conservative that rises up and challenges every seat.”
With all but absentee and provisional ballots counted, Hilary Irons said she felt “at peace with the results.”
“I look forward to moving forward and continuing to serve our community in other meaningful ways, and I wish the best to all those that won the race tonight … I hope that our future board will put partisan politics aside and work together to the benefit of our teachers, staff and all students.”
Mier, also speaking on Tuesday evening, said “we have a lot of work to do in Rockingham County.”
“My work for change – teaching the truth and anti-racist education – is not over. I will work to communicate with the board and get on committees,” she said. “This is only the beginning.”
— Reporting from city registrar’s office by Bridget Manley. Reporting from election watch parties by Logan Roddy.
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