Voters will decide Nov. 6 which candidates have the skills, positions and temperaments to best represent Louisa County in Congress. They will do so having waded through a minefield of attack ads, amid a sharply divided national political environment.
The use of negative advertising and rhetoric isn’t new to politics. Still, the alarmist language used in the race for the 7th Congressional District seat, held since 2014 by Republican Rep. Dave Brat, feels different to some observers.
Brat has referred to what he calls the “angry mob” that challenged him at public forums. He accused challenger Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat, of “hiding the facts” about her brief tenure as a teacher at what he calls “Terror High,” a Saudi-funded private school in Northern Virginia.
Spanberger has shied away from using similar tactics and emphasizes that she will look for bipartisan solutions in Congress. The state Democratic Party and political action committees have aired TV ads and sent out mailers that do the dirty work, saying, among other things, that Brat has been “bought off” by pharmaceutical and insurance companies.
Gary Schatz, Louisa Democratic Committee chairman, said he is worried about how the aggressive tone of some politicians, including President Trump, may contribute to a recent rise in political violence and hate crimes.
“When you stir the pot, sometimes you don’t know what you’re stirring,” he said.
“I don’t think we should blame politicians for actions by other people,” Graven Craig, Louisa Republican Committee chairman, said. “It’s a false narrative to blame the current administration for this.”
Craig said he is shocked at how many signs for Brat have been vandalized or stolen in Louisa this fall.
The third candidate in the race for Brat’s seat is Joe Walton, a former member of the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors, who is running as a Libertarian.
The U.S. Senate race between incumbent Tim Kaine and opponent Corey Stewart seems quiet by comparison, perhaps because Kaine is heavily favored and other Republican candidates have shunned Stewart. Faced with accusations he has interacted too much with anti-Semitic and racist individuals, Stewart has said he distanced himself from them when he became aware of their beliefs.
Kaine is seeking his second six-year term. He previously was Virginia’s governor from 2006 to 2010, and was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 presidential election. Stewart is chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.
Matt Waters, of Northern Virginia, is the Libertarian candidate for Kaine’s seat.
Brat, a former economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, highlights his willingness to tackle the budget deficit and national debt. He says the country needs to safeguard Social Security and Medicare, possibly by raising the retirement age. Spanberger criticizes Brat for supporting the 2017 tax bill, which she said raised the deficit $1.9 trillion and didn’t do much for working families.
The future of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, looms large as an issue in this fall’s races, as it has for much of the past decade. But voters are also worried about the opioid epidemic, immigration, and other matters that distract from the strong economy.
Brat insists that while Spanberger is a former CIA agent, she is weak on protecting the country from undocumented immigrants who may have committed crimes in their homelands or after arriving here. Spanberger said she does not support sanctuary for criminals, but prefers that localities decide whether to detain other undocumented immigrants rather than the federal government.
To win the 7th district, what Spanberger needs most is a strong turnout in heavily populated areas of Henrico and Chesterfield counties. But she’s planned a few visits to Louisa County, including a luncheon with Kaine on Nov. 1 at the Louisa Arts Center. Meanwhile, her supporters are avidly calling voters and going door-to-door for her around the county. Brat has not made any publicized campaign visits to Louisa this fall.
The Louisa Electoral Board and its army of poll workers is ready for Election Day. Cris Watkins, Louisa County Registrar, said she doesn’t anticipate Tuesday’s vote to be much different from others in recent years. As in 2017, voters will use paper ballots which are counted electronically. That system has worked well, she said, since the county replaced touch-screen machines in 2016.
Watkins said she not seen or heard of any issues with voter fraud in Louisa in recent years. She added that voters should not be concerned about the potential for anyone to tamper with the results by hacking into machines.
“None of our equipment is connected to the internet,” she said. “Prior to the election we do testing on our machines” to assure they operate accurately. “Then they are sealed with a number and that seal is recorded. Our poll workers know that if the number is the same, no one has messed with it. The machines are never unattended and there’s a chain of custody for them.”
Besides the two races for Congress, two referenda to amend the state Constitution will appear on the ballot. Voters are asked to decide if landowners should be eligible for partial property tax relief from towns or counties if they make meaningful efforts to stop flooding on their properties, but still suffer damage from a flood. The General Assembly and localities would be allowed to place restrictions on who qualifies for the tax exemption.
The second ballot question is whether surviving spouses of veterans who had disabilities should continue to receive real property tax relief if they move to a different primary residence.
The silver lining in this fall’s negative campaigns may be that people are energized to vote, which is healthy for democracy.
Watkins said normally in a non-presidential election, the number of people voting absentee would be modest. But this year is clearly different. While in 2014, 642 people asked to vote absentee for Congressional candidates, at least 1,100 people had requested absentee ballots as of Oct. 29.
The deadline to vote absentee in person at the Louisa County Office Building is Nov. 3. For people voting in person on Election Day, Nov. 6, polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Voters are reminded to bring photo identification.
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