As the vote results streamed in Tuesday, Republican Del. Tony Wilt of Broadway took a conservative approach to calling his victory.
But by 8:50 p.m., as results seemed as complete as they would be, Wilt stood in the back room of El Charro in Harrisonburg, held his wife, Vickie, and turned to the crowd.
“I got the phone call I was waiting for,” he said, as supporters cheered and cameras flashed. “My opponent gave me a phone call and congratulated me on a victory, and I told him I really appreciated that.”
Wilt defeated second-time Democrat challenger Brent Finnegan, 53.99% to 45.85%, or 10,270 votes to Finnegan’s 8,722, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.
“I look forward to working with [Finnegan] and working with everyone on the issues that are important to everyone in the 26th [House District] and the state of Virginia,” said Wilt, owner of Superior Concrete in Harrisonburg.
In 2017, Finnegan first challenged Wilt for the seat, and was the first to do so in seven years.
The results of that election were 54.5% for Wilt, or 11,106 votes, and 45.3% for Finnegan, or 9,234 votes.
Turnout for 26th House District decreased by 1,348 this election, or more than 6.6%, despite enrollment across the city and county increasing by more than 340 voters, according to the respective voter registrar offices. The 26th House District includes all of Harrisonburg and 14 of the 31 precincts in Rockingham.
Despite this drop, the Wilt reelection campaign effort was a larger affair than in 2017, said Patrick Stott, Wilt’s campaign manager, with over 30 volunteers knocking on doors Saturday, alongside regular canvassing and ads.
“We were firing on all cylinders,” Stott said.
Wilt’s ties to the community, such as being a supporting member of local FFA and the county fair, helps to build goodwill in the district, he said.
“Even in a tougher climate than most years, [Wilt] can endure,” Stott said.
Many voters in both the city and county gave a variety of reasons for voting, from practicing their civic duty or to support a party’s control of the commonwealth, and some even wanting their support of the president to be heard through their local votes.
Debbie Brooks, of Broadway, said she turned out to vote to show her support for President Donald Trump and to have her voice heard on abortion.
“It’s everything,” Brooks said about what she opposes of Democratic Party positions.
And abortion was a constant refrain for conservative voters in the 26th House District on Tuesday.
“Definitely, as a Christian, believing that all life has value and with how the government is treating abortion, making sure my views are represented,” said Allison Wilson, 21, of Fulks Run.
Harrisonburg voter Elizabeth DeAngelis also said abortion was a huge issue for her.
“The hot topic is abortion — it’s of the highest priority,” she said.
She also said she was “absolutely” concerned about Democrats taking the majority in the House of Delegates and Senate.
“You go with the flow and who’s elected is who’s elected,” she said.
Democrats did win a majority in both the House and Senate on Tuesday, and Wilt said he will still be able to work for what’s best for the Valley through compromise and mutual understanding.
“There are some things that we’re just not going to come together on. That’s the way it’s always been,” he said. “But there’s so many other issues.”
Some issues that separated Democrats and Republicans in the commonwealth were exhibited by Wilt and Finnegan, such as the two candidate’s differing stances on labor.
David Simmers, of Broadway, was one of many voters who said they supported Republicans and Wilt because of concerns about increasing government spending and taxes.
Dean Stum, of Harrisonburg, was also another of those voters. Stum, who has previously voted for Wilt, said he was pleased with the delegate’s success in gaining support for the Interstate 81 improvements.
Other 26th House District voters also spoke about the role of local issues.
Larry Smallwood, of Fulks Run, said he supported Wilt and other local representatives because of their presence, support and connection with the local Fulks Run residents.
“That’s our goal — to keep things going right for our community,” Smallwood said.
Stott said that politics is ultimately a local endeavor.
“It’s bread-and-butter-issues,” he said. “Literally, can you put bread and butter on your table?”
Wilt said each piece of legislation he encountered, and will encounter when he returns to Richmond in January, he looks at from a nonpartisan stance.
“I feel like I’ve built a good reputation in my party, and with the General Assembly as a whole, to bring about reasonable legislation,” he said.