Have you ever this before, “this is the most important election in your life.” Perhaps this has been declared during a Presidential election, maybe in a Governor race, but almost certainly will you never hear someone claim that for state legislator race.
Virginia has a unique election calendar, with state elections on odd years instead of matching them with federal elections on even years. With that, 2023 sees every seat in the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates up for election. Couple that with the redrawn districts from the 2020 Census that has caused many legislators to retire.
The stakes of this election year will have consequences that have drawn national attention. Governor Glenn Youngkin has already stated that he will sign a 15-week abortion ban if Republicans can gain a majority in the Virginia House and Senate. Simultaneously, Youngkin is often talked about on the national stage and thought to be eyeing higher office. If he can lead his party to full control of the state legislature that would provide him with the image to make a run for office in Washington DC.
Youngkin is the central figure of Virginia Republicans. He endorsed 10 Senate Republicans and all 10 won their primaries. Candidates like Matt Strickland and Elliot Sadler, attempted to generate large followings. Sadler was famous from his days as a NASCAR racer and Strickland appeared on Tim Pool’s podcast, but neither could not get voters in the primary to select them over their Youngkin endorsed opponents.
For the Virginia Democratic Party, the challenge is to convince voters to turn out and support local Democrats without a famous face leading the party. When Democrats took the House and Senate in 2019 it was with Ralph Northam as the Governor. Northam was still recovering after his scandal in February 2019 that began with his college yearbook revealing blackface photos and resulted in many of his allies of Northam calling for his resignation. Northam remained in office and by November his party had won a majority in both chambers.
Now in 2023, Virginia Democrats don’t have a leader that serves as the face of the party. Youngkin’s defeat of Terry McAuliffe left the Democratic Party without an individual that gives the party an identity. Now that search for identity falls onto the individual candidates running in their small races.
Some of these candidates have risen to the occasion, like Jessica Anderson. Running for the House of Delegates against incumbent Amanda Batten. Anderson has become a social media star with over 600,000 followers on TikTok, but the question remains, will it reach the voters in her small suburban district, located just outside of Williamsburg with less than 90,000 residents in the district?
She says in a video from May “So, I understood the reality of running for office meant that everything I say today, tomorrow, and yes yesterday is going to be under a microscope. Yesterday Governor Glen Youngkin told the state of Virginia that I am the face of the Democratic Party.”
One of Anderson’s videos was used in a television commercial from Glenn Youngkin’s political action committee’s Spirit of Virginia. “I’ve seen some of the parents that live in Virginia. You should not be dictating what you daughter and son’s curriculums look like.” One noticeable thing about the ad was jump cut, the clip was taken from a video back in 2021.
In the west part Richmond suburb Henrico County, candidates running in the recently redrawn 57th House District have been thrusted into the national spotlight. David Owen recently retired as the President of Boone Homes when he declared as a candidate for the House of Delegates, like his father before him. Owen was caught on camera speaking to an audience about outlawing abortion which was featuring in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. That drew significant attention to be placed on him, but it would not be nowhere near the amount placed on his opponent Susanna Gibson.
Gibson sites the Supreme Court overturning Roe with the Dobbs decision as the reason why she decided to run for office. Taking matters into her own hands to protect access to abortion. She works as a nurse with a husband and their two kids.
A week after the Owen video, the Washington Post reported that videos of Gibson had existed on the website Chaturbate. Those videos depicted Gibson and her husband engaging in sexual acts. What had been consensual sex been her and her husband suddenly became national news. To make matters worse, those videos, once privately held with Gibson in control of who had access to view, were now republished first to a free porn site and then to X, the website formerly known as Twitter.
The account of former Republican Congressional candidate JR Majewski shared a nude video of Gibson to have it viewed by millions. Searches for her name on X yield results to links to pornography videos with her and her husband. WRVA’s John Reid invited strip club manager and four-time election loser Mike Dickinson to talk about Gibson. “I can call my buddy Houston who runs the Paper Moon and she come down there and dance” said Dickinson during Reid’s radio program.
“It won’t intimidate me and it won’t silence me.” Gibson told the Washington Post. While her lawyer Daniel Watkins also released a statement claiming they believe that the person who released the videos was in violation of the Virginia’s revenge porn laws by maliciously distributing sexual images to harass. The law prohibits harassment or intimidation by sharing nude images or videos “where such person knows or has reason to know that he is not licensed or authorized to disseminate or sell” them.
Republican Tom Garrett who is also running for the House of Delegates is no stranger to the spotlight. Having previously been elected as Louisa County Commonwealth Attorney, Virginia Senate, and even elected to the U.S. Congress. In 2018, Garrett did not seek reelection to Congress, dealing with alcoholism and embattled with controverses including a meeting with 2017 Unite the Right organizer, Jason Kessler.
Garrett’s personal life is back in the public eye after reports that he has strangled his ex-wife. While there had been calls for Garrett to drop out of the race, none of those calls come from his fellow Republicans. Every vote counts but not every election has two candidates. Garrett is running unopposed in a district west of Richmond including Goochland and Fluvanna Counties.
The 2023 Election in Virginia is not the most important election in most people’s lives, but for some of the candidates running, it has become completely life altering with the attention that they receive.
Early voting in Virginian begins on September 22nd and continues until Election Day on November 7th. Early voting locations can be found here.
Main photo by Elliott Stallion