HARRISONBURG — The rematch is over.
Brent Finnegan, 40, of Broadway, won his second primary election against Cathy Copeland, 39, of Harrisonburg, Tuesday night in what was a huge increase in participation from the candidates' previous face-off.
Finnegan will now run against Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, this November to represent the 26th District, which includes Harrisonburg and part of Rockingham County in the House of Representatives.
“This campaign is about reclaiming what it means to have Valley values,” Finnegan said as he opened his victory speech at the Golden Pony in downtown Harrisonburg on Tuesday evening.
“Valley values means we take care of each other, we stand up for one another, we watch out for our neighbors because we care about each other.”
Finnegan won with 1,806 votes, or 66.45%, compared to Copeland's 912, or 33.55%, out of a total of 2,718 votes, according to unofficial results from the Virginia Department of Elections as reported by the Virginia Public Access Project.
Out of the 15 precincts in Rockingham County, Finnegan won 14, including the absentee vote, while Copeland won Bergton.
Finnegan’s support was slightly stronger in the county than in the city.
In Rockingham, Finnegan won 72.30%, or 590 votes, to Copeland’s 226. In Harrisonburg, Finnegan won 63.74%, or 1,206 votes, to Copeland’s 686.
Finnegan won seven of the nine precincts in Harrisonburg, including the absentee vote, while Copeland won the East precinct, and the candidates tied on South East Central precinct.
Copeland will continue her position as an adjunct writing professor at James Madison University, and will continue to read legislation, a skill and passion she frequently mentioned during her campaign.
“I will always continue to read the bills that are going through the General Assembly,” she said. “I believe it’s critical to know what’s going on at the state, local and federal level.”
Copeland will support the Democratic Party in November, she said, “I am very excited for April Moore’s campaign.”
Democrat April Moore is running to represent the 26th Senate District.
She said she will also continue advocating for the HHS2, the second Harrisonburg high school.
During his speech, Finnegan thanked the Copeland campaign.
“It is not easy to run for office,” he said.
The Finnegan campaign will carry issues the Copeland campaign brought up, such as mental health care and education, into the general election, Finnegan said.
Poverty is also a key issue, Finnegan said, citing various reports about the high numbers of working poor in the area.
“That’s not what a healthy, thriving community looks like,” he said. “That’s not what a healthy economy looks like.”
The previous election between Finnegan and Copeland was a firehouse primary where the only voting locations were the Linville-Edom Ruritan Hall and the Harrisonburg City Council Chambers.
Both Finnegan and Copeland originally chose to run as they were disappointed by the election of President Donald Trump in November 2016.
In that election, Finnegan won 437 votes to Copeland’s 269.
The low turnout of the firehouse primary led the candidates to file for a state-run primary.
“We wanted to see a larger group of people participating,” Finnegan said.
The number of participants in the primary nearly quadrupled as a state-run primary instead of a firehouse format, from just over 700 votes to just over 2,700 on Tuesday.
“I think what that broader participation shows is the message and the values of this campaign resonate with people in this community,” he said.
Finnegan then ran unsuccessfully against Wilt in 2017, and won 45.3% of the vote to Wilt’s 54.5%, a loss by less than 2,000 votes.
Finnegan was the first Democrat to challenge Tony Wilt since 2010. Now, Finnegan will prepare to run against Wilt again.
“I’m going to be focused on outreach,” he said.
“I think there’s a lot of people who don’t feel heard and they feel like their interests aren't being heard in Richmond — those are the folks we want to talk to.”