Virginia Legislature Control Could Depend on Unpredictable State Senate Race

by Andrew Wright
Virginia state Senate race

A pivotal race that has the potential to tip the balance of power in Virginia’s Legislature is far from a conventional duel between a Democrat and a Republican. The contest also features an unconventional independent candidate with a track record of electoral victories, who previously worked as an exotic dancer. Adding another layer of complexity is a write-in campaign spearheaded by a conservative restaurant owner known for his grilled cheese sandwiches.

The hotly contested race in Senate District 27, located in the Fredericksburg region, includes Republican Delegate Tara Durant. She gained national prominence two years ago when a 911 call she made during a Black Lives Matter protest went viral. She contends with Democrat Joel Griffin, a former Marine and ex-chair of the Stafford County Economic Development Authority, who is making his electoral debut.

However, the variable that confounds predictions is the independent candidacy of Stafford County Supervisor Monica Gary. Gary, who has previously been elected as an independent, declined invitations to run as a Democrat, emphasizing her capability to collaborate across party divisions.

“Although I tend toward liberal views, I maintain significant Republican support,” Gary noted, unapologetically stating her views on reproductive rights and acknowledging her past as a stripper.

Senate District 27 encompasses Fredericksburg and adjacent areas, among the most rapidly growing regions in Virginia. Issues like urban development, education, and transportation are key concerns that do not necessarily adhere to party orthodoxies.

Despite this, much of the campaign focus has gravitated toward the topic of abortion. Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin has been pushing for an abortion ban post-15 weeks but has been stymied by a Democrat-controlled Senate. Consequently, Durant’s record opposing abortion has been spotlighted in several negative advertisements.

Durant’s campaign ceased responding to interview requests after initially demanding a topic list, which the media outlet The Big Big News chose not to supply.

During a debate hosted by Mary Washington University, Durant expressed her support for Youngkin’s proposed 15-week abortion ban, albeit with certain exceptions for cases such as rape and endangerment to maternal health.

Griffin, a Democrat, aims to maintain the current Virginia law but wants to constitutionalize abortion rights. Gary, the independent, also supports existing laws but proposes that only two physicians, instead of the current three, should authorize late-term abortions.

Gary’s candid discussion about her personal experiences with abortion and her past adds a unique dimension, making her an authentic candidate who appeals to voters from diverse political backgrounds.

Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor who moderated a candidates’ debate, stated that Gary’s presence on the ballot introduces an element of unpredictability.

“Gary is far more credible than most independent candidates,” Farnsworth commented.

The outcome of the race holds substantial importance for Governor Youngkin, who has invested considerably in Durant’s campaign and aided in her primary win over restaurateur Matt Strickland. Strickland, however, continues to criticize both Durant and Youngkin as “establishment Republicans” through his write-in campaign.

Gary told The Associated Press that she would caucus with Democrats if elected. She views herself as the most liberal candidate, labeling Griffin a nominal Democrat based on his previous donation to her campaign.

Griffin dismissed the question surrounding his past donation as irrelevant, saying, “This was before my political involvement and before understanding her extreme positions on key issues.”

Gary noted that her background as a stripper has not negatively impacted her campaign. She drew a parallel between her past occupation and the current political landscape.

“The two environments are strikingly similar,” Gary observed. “In both, people are driven by the quest for money and power, albeit for different reasons.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Virginia state Senate race

What is the Virginia state Senate race in District 27 about?

The Senate race in Virginia’s District 27 is a pivotal contest that could decide the balance of power in the state’s Legislature. The race is unique because it doesn’t only feature candidates from the two major parties but also includes an independent candidate with a non-traditional background, as well as a conservative write-in campaign. Abortion rights have become a central issue in this campaign.

Who are the main candidates in this race?

The main candidates are Republican Delegate Tara Durant, Democrat Joel Griffin, and Independent Stafford County Supervisor Monica Gary. Each brings a unique background and platform to the race. Durant gained attention for a 911 call she made during a Black Lives Matter protest. Griffin is a former Marine and ex-chair of the Stafford County Economic Development Authority. Gary is an elected independent with a history of electoral success.

What makes this race particularly unconventional?

The unconventional aspect of this race lies in the presence of Monica Gary, an independent candidate with a history as an exotic dancer and an unapologetically progressive stance on issues like abortion. There’s also a write-in campaign from a conservative restaurant owner, adding more unpredictability to the race.

Why is the issue of abortion so prominent in this race?

The prominence of the abortion issue is partly due to the current political landscape in Virginia. Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin has been pushing for a 15-week abortion ban, which has been blocked by a Senate currently controlled by Democrats. Durant’s anti-abortion stance has been highlighted in attack ads, making it a focal point in the campaign.

What could be the implications of this race on Virginia’s Legislature?

The implications are significant because the District 27 race has the potential to tip the balance of power in the Virginia state Senate. Currently, the Senate is narrowly controlled by Democrats, and a win for the Republicans could alter this dynamic, potentially affecting issues far-reaching beyond abortion.

What are the notable viewpoints of the candidates on abortion?

Tara Durant supports a 15-week abortion ban with certain exceptions, such as rape or endangerment to the mother’s health. Joel Griffin aims to constitutionalize abortion rights but otherwise maintain current laws. Monica Gary supports existing laws but wants to reduce the number of physician approvals needed for late-term abortions from three to two.

How does Monica Gary’s past as an exotic dancer affect her candidacy?

Monica Gary openly acknowledges her past and states that it has not negatively affected her campaign. She believes her life experience makes her relatable to voters from different political backgrounds, adding a unique layer of authenticity to the race.

More about Virginia state Senate race

  • Virginia State Senate Official Website
  • Overview of Virginia’s 27th Senate District
  • Candidate Profiles for Virginia State Senate District 27 Race
  • Governor Glenn Youngkin’s Abortion Policy
  • Mary Washington University Debate Overview
  • The Big Big News Coverage on Virginia Senate Race
  • Stafford County Economic Development Authority Background
  • Analysis by Stephen Farnsworth, Political Science Professor at Mary Washington University
  • Abortion Laws in Virginia: Current Status and Proposals
  • AP Interview with Monica Gary on Her Candidacy

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JohnDoe123 October 31, 2023 - 12:40 pm

Durant stopping interviews is sketchy. What’s she afraid of? Makes me wonder how she’d behave in office.

TimothyQ October 31, 2023 - 1:03 pm

Stephen Farnsworth’s point about Gary being a credible independent is key. Changes the whole dynamic of the race. Will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Mike J October 31, 2023 - 1:04 pm

Wow, this race is something else. An independent with a colorful past, a conservative grilled cheese guy, and abortion as the main issue? You can’t make this stuff up.

EmilyK October 31, 2023 - 2:50 pm

Monica Gary seems like a breath of fresh air in politics. She’s got my vote, her story’s relatable and it’s time for some independent thinking.

GregH October 31, 2023 - 5:02 pm

Abortion being the focal point again? Come on, what about other issues like education and development. Seems like politicians are just pandering at this point.

Sarah T October 31, 2023 - 7:01 pm

totally agree with Mike. This election is like a movie plot. But seriously, the outcome could have big implications for Virginia’s legislature. gotta keep an eye on this one.

AnnaBelle November 1, 2023 - 10:38 am

Griffin donating to Gary before entering the race? That’s odd. What’s the story there? Was he hedging his bets or what?


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