Backed by PAC money in 79th House District race, newcomer outspends three-term incumbent

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For the first time in six years, voters in the 79th House of Delegates District will get to choose who represents them in Richmond.

Incumbent Steve Heretick faces two challengers for the Democratic nomination in Tuesday’s primary election, including one who has outraised him with more than half a million dollars. Heretick has held the seat since 2015, when he toppled incumbent Johnny Joannou in 2015, and hasn’t had a competitor since.

The 79th district includes parts of Portsmouth, Norfolk and Chesapeake.

In the next Tuesday’s Democratic primary, Heretick will appear on the ballot with Dante’ Walston and Nadarius Clark, two relative newcomers seeking their first seat in office.

Heretick, 61, is an attorney and former Portsmouth City Councilman. He touts his efforts to provide mental health resources for first responders, fight against “abusive” tolling practices and legalize marijuana.

Walston, 32, may be familiar to the district’s Portsmouth voters — he ran for City Council in 2020, one of ten candidates who ran for three at-large council seats. If he wins, Walston says on his campaign website he “(looks) forward to engaging with our communities, and our people, about how to move the district forward.”

On his website, Clark describes himself as a community activist and lists support for many progressive causes, including efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15, to give employee unions more power and to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves.

Although Clark, 26, is a newcomer, he has outraised Heretick by more than $74,000 through funding that has been largely provided by the political action committees Clean Virginia and Commonwealth Forward.

Heretick has raised nearly $464,000 and Walston has $17,000. On social media, Walston accused his opponents of being “controlled by big donors.”

Much of Clark’s money came from Commonwealth Forward, a PAC that states its mission is to fight the “corrosive effects of corporate influence on our democratic process.” The PAC aims to “(amplify) the voices of a new generation of leaders.” Clark is one of three candidates across Virginia to receive an endorsement from Commonwealth Forward.

The PAC has also created a website attacking Heretick, delving into his business history, voting record and corporate donors — Dominion Energy is one of Heretick’s largest financial supporters. Clark’s campaign has sent mail with similar messaging.

On his website, Heretick calls the effort against him “dark money from the number one special interest donor in Virginia.”

Heretick drew some attention last year for being the only Democrat in the General Assembly to vote against a law that allowed cities to move, alter or take down any war memorials. The main focus of the legislation, which went into effect July 1, was Confederate monuments, but Heretick says he voted against the bill because it applied to all war monuments. Other Democrats pointed out that the legislation required numerous steps and approvals for any monument to be removed.

He notes on his website that he votes with Democrats on 90-96% of votes.

Tuesday’s winner will face Lawrence Mason in November, the first Republican to run for the seat since 2001.

Josh Reyes, 757-247-4692, joreyes@dailypress.com

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Nadarius Clark

Age: 26

Occupation: Radio personality at 94.7 The Link

Previous office: None

Education: I.C. Norcom High School, Bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union University

Website: clarkfordelegate.com

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Steve Heretick

Age: 61

Occupation: Attorney

Previous office: House of Delegates 2015 to present, Portsmouth City Council 2005-2012

Education: Bachelor’s degree from the College of William & Mary, law degree from Villanova University Law School

Website: steveheretick.com

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Dante’ Walston

Age: 32

Occupation: Vessel Coordinator at the Port of Virginia

Previous office: None

Education: Bachelor’s degrees from Norfolk State University and Old Dominion University Master’s degree from the Catholic University of America

Website: walstonva79.com

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