GOP targets rural Democrats, a rare breed in Virginia politics
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Most of the battlefield districts in this fall’s critical election for the Virginia House of Delegates are in towns and suburbs across the state, but Republicans are also targeting something ‘a rare breed in Virginia politics: Democrats who primarily represent rural neighborhoods.
Republicans describe delegates Roslyn Tyler and Chris Hurst as radical liberals and accuse them of neglecting their constituents in Southwest and Southwest Virginia, predominantly rural districts that include some of the most economically stagnant areas of the state.
The election will determine whether Democrats can fit in the state’s increasingly conservative rural pockets, and whether the GOP can regain traction in places where opposition to Donald Trump has driven Republicans from power.
“I delivered for my district. I provided education, I provided affordable health care, I provided Medicaid expansion, I provided broadband, ”said Tyler, who has been headquartered in Southside Virginia since 2006.
Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the House, but Republicans are targeting the seats of 13 potentially vulnerable Democrats, including some in rural districts and others in suburbs of northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
In a change seen nationwide, Virginia has experienced a geographic sorting over the past 30 years, with the Democratic Party increasingly becoming a party of towns and suburbs, while the Republican Party is seen as the party. rural areas, said Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington.
“It means regions move up and down depending on the majority party,” Farnsworth said.
Hurst, a former television reporter running for his third term, is being challenged by Republican Jason Ballard, lawyer, military veteran and member of Pearisburg city council. Tyler is locked in a rematch with Republican Otto Wachsmann, a pharmacist who lost the 2019 race by just 506 votes.
Conservatives are using national themes to argue against outgoing Democrats. The Republican State Leadership Committee PAC described Tyler as anti-law enforcement and Hurst as fiscally content and indifferent to inflation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Radical liberal Chris Hurst, he’s even worse for your wallet than Washington,” said a narrator in a television commercial who criticized Hurst for voting for a gas tax increase in Virginia.
Republicans cite Tyler’s membership in the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which called for many police reforms after Floyd’s death, including “divesting big law enforcement budgets and investing more in law enforcement. communities ”, which, according to the GOP PAC committee, amounts to funding the police.
“I think it’s smoke and mirrors on their part,” Tyler said. “There’s no way I’m funding the police.”
Hurst says he voted to hike gasoline tax in 2020 – the first in more than three decades – because the state needs the revenue to pay for long-standing transport infrastructure problems “that Republicans for 20 years in power failed to do.” Hurst, who was elected to his seat in 2017, entered politics after his girlfriend was gunned down while conducting a live television interview for their Roanoke station.
In both races, Republican challengers claim that Democratic incumbents did not pay enough attention to their districts, which did not thrive like other parts of the state, particularly northern Virginia. a rich and more populated region.
Wachsmann says the Democratic Party’s “extreme liberal agenda” threatens the rural way of life in southern Virginia, an area stretching from southern Richmond to the North Carolina border and comprising vast tracts of land open, but also includes the cities of Emporia. and Franklin.
Agriculture and forestry are two of the biggest industries in an area where clay pigeon hunting and shooting are long-standing traditions. Tyler was endorsed by the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance, which wrote in an editorial that it has “consistently voted to support the values of rural Virginia.”
Wachsmann says he will work to create jobs, attract new residents and restore regional pride.
“The biggest problem is that no one has fought for the Southside District before and they have always been forgotten,” he said.
The District of Hurst covers large rural areas of southwestern Virginia and also includes the town of Radford and the town of Blacksburg, where Virginia Tech dominates and gives Democrats an integrated constituency among the 30,000 students.
Hurst’s opponent slammed him for voting for a failed bill which called for an end to qualified immunity for police officers. Qualified immunity protects officers from liability for suspected abuse.
“He was basically defaming our cops, and I just thought it was so wrong,” Ballard said.
Hurst said he was a friend of law enforcement and argued for recently approved pay bonuses. He also voted for police reforms approved by the legislature in 2020, including bills banning no-knock search warrants and allowing localities to establish civilian review boards with subpoena power and disciplinary authority.
Senator Creigh Deeds, one of only two Democrats to represent predominantly rural districts in the State Senate, began his political career in the early 1990s in the House of Delegates, when Democrats held seats in many many rural districts of the state. Deeds said he believed many people mistakenly saw the Republican Party as the party of rural areas.
“Democrats were the ones who fought for rural broadband, who fought for rural economic development, we fought for schools,” he said.
Deeds said Democrats need to focus on the bread and butter issues to appeal to rural voters.
“Focus on economic opportunities, on education and on things that will create the possibility of being successful in rural areas,” he said.