Former Radford City Councilwoman Laurie Buchwald (D) and Tazewell County Supervisor Travis Hackworth (R) are battling for election to represent Virginia’s 38th Senate district; although early voting started in February, the final day to vote is Tuesday, March 23. The special election will fill a seat left vacant at the beginning of January when Senator Ben Chafin (R-Russell) became the first member of the General Assembly to die of COVID-19.
The Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) calls SD 38 a strong Republican district; it is the second-most conservative Senate district. But special elections are often low-turnout and can give an advantage to the underdog candidate. Buchwald needs to leverage that by mobilizing more voters than Hackworth.
Hackworth is a developer who owns multiple businesses including a restaurant, a pharmacy, used car lots, and real estate. His campaign priorities include standard Republican issues like gun rights, freedom of speech, support for Trump, and support for pro-life. He also has policies that focus on southwestern Virginia issues like addressing a school funding crisis, infrastructure improvement, improving broadband access, and protecting coal.
“We will carry on the legacy of a lot of the same directions that Senator Chafin was going in.” Hackworth told The Virginia Star that he has some new ideas. “I’d love to get local incentives for our small businesses that can help them to grow and expand. We also are looking at green jobs, bringing green jobs to the coal fields.”
Buchwald is a nurse practitioner, but she highlights her experience on the Radford City Council, a non-partisan role where she focused on pro-business economic development. She previously ran unsuccesfully for the House of Delegates 12th district.
Buchwald told The Star, “I’ve been working with women from southwest Virginia for 23 years, and they don’t come to my office and talk to me about guns. They come to my office and talk to me about the fact that their children don’t have great access to broadband, so they can’t do their schoolwork.”
She said improving access to healthcare was the main reason she entered the race. Buchwald’s issues include improving education and protecting the environment and natural resources. She said that she wants to support coal miners, and that the area needs other sources of employment like renewable energy, tourism, and IT jobs.
The special election has drawn get-out-the-vote efforts from gubernatorial candidates from both parties. Democrats currently control the Senate with 21 out of 40 seats, plus the lieutenant governor who can break tie votes.
Republicans have 18 seats, but if Hackworth gets elected to the currently vacant seat, Republicans will have 19. That will give Republicans a better chance to defeat overly progressive legislation with help from moderate Democrats like Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) and Senator Joe Morrisey (D-Richmond). It will also raise the stakes in the 2021 lieutenant governor race.
After Chafin died, conservatives suggested that Governor Ralph Northam deliberately scheduled the special election to be held after the 2021 General Assembly sessions were over, as a way of protecting Democratic power in the legislature.
Hackworth has raised $267,278, while Buchwald has raised $163,794, according to VPAP. Hackworth has spent much of that cash on ads, billboards, and mailers. Buchwald has also sent out mailers; she said mailers illustrate the differences between herself and Hackworth.
“He’s running on a negative campaign, and I’ve sent out eight mailers and not one of them has mentioned anything negative about him, or even mentioned him,” she said.
She said if she wins, it will show that voters “want somebody who is not focusing on those issues that make the headlines, […] those two or three things that somebody in a red district just has to put on a billboard.”
She cited her experience as a non-partisan elected city council member. “I think it says they want somebody with experience who can work across the aisle, and that’s what I have done,” she said.
Hackworth said his government and business experience means he can hit the ground running.
“I have 13 businesses with 100 employees. I know what it means to have to get a payroll. I know what it means to deal with overhead,” he said. “I think just running a business and having the local government knowledge is a huge weight in my favor versus my opponent.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Laurie Buchwald” by Laurie Buchwald, “Travis Hackworth” by Travis Hackworth, and “Radford” is by DwayneP CC3.0.