As Republicans scramble to win back seats they lost in urban and suburban districts across Richmond, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads in 2017, lesser-known Democrats are making a play in rural parts of the state that have long been considered Republican safe havens. 

Meet the Rural Ground Game, a coalition of 10 Virginia state legislative candidates challenging Republican incumbents in ruby-red Virginia. The group is pooling resources and consultants and working together to win this year and establish the political infrastructure needed to succeed in future elections. 

The initiative grew out of Tim Kaine’s 2017 U.S. Senate re-election campaign, the Virginia Mercury reports.

“A lot of these races are knocking doors that have never been knocked before,” Alex Rohr told the Virginia Mercury. “Everyone’s working for today but building for the long term at the same time.” Rohr is the communications director for 3D Ground Game, a consulting firm employed by all 10 members of the coalition.

“I realized we needed someone to run on basic kitchen table issues and get back to what would bring investment to that part of the Commonwealth,” Christian Worth, the Democratic candidate in HD-24, said in an August podcast interview. Worth, like many in the Rural Ground Game, wants to see more investment in infrastructures like broadband internet and healthcare facilities. She has repeatedly emphasized that you can’t deliver a baby in the 24th district.

Rural Ground Game candidates are running a bit to the left of past Democratic candidates in rural Virginia, however, also focusing on progressive priorities like Medicaid expansion and gun violence.

Democrats have not won in western Virginia since the rest of the state began to tilt blue at the turn of the century.

Sate-wide, Virginia rests solidly in the Democratic camp. Over the past five years, Virginians have elected a Democratic governor and two Democratic Senators. Seven (of eleven) of its U.S. representatives are Democrats. The Democratic presidential candidate has carried the state in the past three general elections, and in 2017, Democrats won the popular vote in the House of Delegates election, 53.17% to 43.76%.

As they’ve gained in urban and suburban areas, they’ve lost ground in rural districts. “Rural white voters, in particular, have moved dramatically to the Republican party,” said John McGlennon, professor of government and public policy at William and Mary.

“It feels like Democrats gave up on the western part of Virginia for a while,” Brent Finnegan, the Democratic Candidate for districts 26, said in an interview with the Virginia Mercury. “They wrote it off as unwinnable. But things are changing. The community is changing. The district is changing.”