Reform-minded prosecutors in northern Virginia win reelection nominations in Democratic primaries

Three incumbent prosecutors in northern Virginia who faced tough challenges after being elected four years ago on a progressive reform agenda won their Democratic primaries Tuesday.

In Fairfax County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction, incumbent Steve Descano defeated Ed Nuttall, a former prosecutor and trial attorney who is best known for representing police officers accused of misconduct.

Descano, in a phone interview, said the results in his race and in the other two counties show that “voters have seen that criminal justice reform can work, and quite frankly they want more of it.”

He said that while reform opponents have tried to raise fears about rising crime, Tuesday’s results show that “voters feel safe, they know they’re safe, and they know they can have safety, fairness, justice and equality.”

Buta Biberaj, the commonwealth’s attorney in Loudoun County, won over challenger Elizabeth Lancaster after raising significantly more money. Biberaj faced criticism, including some within her own party, over her day-to-day management of the office and as Loudoun found itself in the national spotlight over issues like school safety. She also faced criticism in her handling of two sex assaults at two different high schools in 2021.

In November, Biberaj will face Republican Bob Anderson, who held the commonwealth attorney’s post in Loudoun more than 20 years ago.

In a phone interview, Biberaj said the General Election race “will be about Loudoun County going forward or going backward 20 or 30 years.”

And in Arlington County, incumbent Parisa Dehghani-Tafti defeated challenger Josh Katcher, who had been one of Dehghani-Tafti’s deputies before leaving the office.

Dehghani-Tafti is overwhelmingly favored in heavily Democratic Arlington County in November.

Descano, Biberaj and Dehghani-Tafti were all elected four years ago in the wealthy northern Virginia suburbs outside the nation’s capital on progressive reform agendas, in some cases knocking off incumbents who had been in office for decades. This year, the challengers themselves largely embraced reform efforts and focused their criticism instead on issues of office management.

Political analysts often look to Virginia’s odd-year elections for insights on voter sentiment heading into midterm and presidential years. This year, the prosecutor races in northern Virginia might shed light on whether suburban voters are still committed to criminal justice reform after years of Republican criticism that reformers are soft on crime.

Lancaster, a former public defender, faced skepticism from some Democrats because she currently works for a law firm led by a prominent local Republican. But Lancaster said her career as a public defender highlighted her commitment to reform, particularly her longstanding efforts to revamp the county’s juvenile justice system.

Biberaj said Tuesday night that she believes many of her opponent’s votes came from GOP efforts to support Lancaster in the Primary, which is open to all voters since Virginia voters do not register by party affiliation.

In their campaigns, the challengers have questioned the incumbents’ day-to-day management of their offices and to varying degrees endorsed the need for criminal justice reform.


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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