86th House District Dem primary was decided by 230 votes amid low voter turnout in county

Voting in Fairfax County (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 9:05 a.m. on 6/11/21) Yesterday’s Democratic primary for the 86th House District proved to be, by percentage points, one of the closest races in the entire Commonwealth.

When all the votes were tallied, including absentee ballots, challenger Irene Shin had beaten the incumbent Ibraheem Samirah by only 230 votes, or 3.48 percentage points. Shin is now set to face Republican and high school history teacher Julie Perry  in November’s general election.

In Fairfax County, which shares the district with a small portion of Loudoun County, the result was even tighter with Shin winning by fewer than 200 votes and 3.22 percentage points, according to the county office of elections’ unofficial returns.

Samirah’s ascension to the General Assembly in 2019 was part of a blue wave that solidified Virginia’s political transformation from reliably conservative to left-leaning. He conceded the primary via social media at 11:15 p.m. yesterday, saying that it was an honor to represent the 86th District and how proud he was of his campaign.

Shin declared victory via social media shortly thereafter, stating that “we made history tonight,” while thanking supporters and everyone who had endorsed her campaign.

In a letter that also went out to supporters last night, Shin wrote that the victory left her “completely overwhelmed.”

“Entering this race was not an easy decision. I knew that challenging an incumbent in a Delegate race would be difficult,” she wrote. “Together, we knocked over 12,000 doors and made tens of thousands of phone calls. We built a grassroots movement with support from across the district. From Reston to Herndon to Chantilly, we ran the whole district.”

Neither Samirah nor Shin thanked the other candidate.

Samirah was one of five incumbent candidates to lose last night, a record dating back to 2001.

First elected in February 2019, Samirah gained some level of fame later that year for disrupting a Trump speech in Jamestown by yelling, “Mr. President, you can’t send us back, Virginia is our home!”

While he found some support for touting progressive policies, his occasionally confrontational approach ruffled some feathers, and a number of prominent Virginia Democrats supported Shin in this election, including state Sens. Jennifer Boysko and Janet Howell as well as Herndon Mayor Sheila Olem.

“I look forward to working at my dental practice in Reston, spending time with family, and finding ways to unify the progressive movement in Northern Virginia,” Samirah told Reston Now by email.

Next door, in the 36th House District that encompasses Reston, Del. Ken Plum — the incumbent and the longest-serving member of the Virginia House of Delegates — won a decisive victory in the primary over challenger Mary Barthelson with more than 77% of the vote.

Barthelson congratulated Plum in a tweet and said that he will continue to represent the district well.

Plum wil face off in the Nov. 2 general election against Republican Matt Lang, a veteran and security consultant who said in a statement to Reston Now that he welcomes the incumbent to the contest.

“Voters have a clear choice in this race — re-elect an entrenched, career politician like Delegate Plum, or shake things up with a new kind of leader — someone who will be accountable to ALL voters and who will take fresh ideas and bold convictions to Richmond,” he said by email. “I will fight to earn the votes of the hardworking residents of the 36th District, and will continue fighting to ensure that the 36th District is a safe and successful place to live and work!”

Reston Now reached out to Plum for comment but did not hear back by publication time.

Elsewhere in the Commonwealth, former governor Terry McAuliffe secured the Democratic nomination for a second term in Virginia’s top office, receiving more than 62% of the vote statewide. The next closet candidate was former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy with about 20% of the vote.

In Fairfax County, McAuliffe’s margin of victory was slightly higher with 64% of the vote and Carroll Foy at about 19%.

McAuliffe will face off against Republican Glenn Youngkin in November, which experts predict could be the most expensive race in Virginia history.

The lieutenant governor race is also set to make history with Prince William Del. Hala Ayala securing the Democratic nomination. She’ll go against Republican Winsome Sears with the winner being the first woman of color to hold statewide office in the Commonwealth.

While Ayala won by more than 13 percentage points statewide in a race that featured six candidates, her margin of victory was closer in Fairfax County. She only won by about 5% over runner-up Del. Sam Rasoul, who became the legislature’s first Muslim member in 2014.

Rasoul congratulated Ayala on her victory and wrote that it “was an honor to run in the most diverse Lt. Governor’s primary in VA history.”

Mark Herring won the Attorney General Democratic nomination in his attempt for a third term. He won by about 13% state-wide over Del. Jay Jones, but was overwhelmingly favored by Fairfax County voters. Herring won by more than 40 percentage points in the county.

In general, voter turnout was below 2017’s gubernatorial Democratic primary, but not by a lot. 11.1% of active, registered voters participated in the election, includes absentee votes, compared to 13.4% in 2017, the last off-year primary, according to Fairfax County’s Board of Elections.

Some additional votes could come in throughout this week, since vote-by-mail ballots remain eligible to be counted as long as they were mailed yesterday and are received by Friday (June 11) at noon.

In addition, the county board of elections hasn’t yet counted any vote-by-mail ballots that were returned in drop boxes yesterday. They will be counted by the end of the day on Friday.

Final numbers will shift slightly as a result, though likely not enough to push the overall turnout past 2017, the Office of Elections told to Reston Now.

“While turnout was down compared to the 2017 primary, the changes in state law since have it made it easier for voters to cast their ballot early in person or by mail,” Fairfax County General Registrar Scott Konopasek said. “Four years ago, voters needed a reason to vote early, and now any voter can do so. Likely as a result, we had about three times as many people vote early this year compared to 2017.”

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