RICHMOND — Virginia Republicans have a three-way race for lieutenant governor, much of it overshadowed by a two-way soap opera.
For months, a pair of state senators competing for the nomination have waged a deeply personal war, one that will find its way to a courtroom just days before the June 13 primary.
Sen. Bryce E. Reeves (Spotsylvania) has accused Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (Fauquier) of sending an email under a fake name to spread false rumors that he was having an affair. Subpoenaed Internet records link the emails to Vogel’s home IP address and to her husband’s cellphone. She has denied any responsibility and suggested that the family’s electronics had been hacked.
Reeves filed a defamation lawsuit in Stafford County Circuit Court and has subpoenaed Vogel and her husband. The Vogels have filed a motion to quash the subpoenas. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for June 9.
While that drama has churned, Del. Glenn R. Davis Jr. (Virginia Beach) has stayed mostly above the fray — and on the road. He has been living out of his campaign RV, a strategy that has allowed the financial underdog to save on hotels and cover more ground in a state that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to west of Detroit.
All three bill themselves as conservatives as they seek to win over the off-year primary electorate, which tends to be smaller and more conservative than in presidential years. Yet they are starkly different candidates with some differences in their voting records.
Vogel, 46, is an establishment figure, as managing partner of a law firm specializing in campaign finance law and the former chief counsel of the Republican National Committee. In the Senate since 2008, she has sometimes staked out positions to the left of her caucus.
A mother of four and stepmother to two, she has sponsored bills that fellow Republicans have rejected as “nanny state” measures. One would have required that genetically modified food be labeled. Another aimed to address a safety issue associated with movable soccer goals, a measure inspired by the death of a young player in her district. She has voted to ban discrimination against gay and transgender people in housing and public employment.
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Vogel spoke in favor of stronger gun control.
But she has recast herself as a social conservative, noting that she has never voted to restrict guns. She won the endorsement from the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group to the right of the National Rifle Association, which chalked up her Sandy Hook comments to “momentary emotional wavering.”
She formed an alliance with E.W. Jackson, whose anti-gay rhetoric has made him one of the party’s most polarizing figures. On the envelope of a campaign mailing, Vogel raised alarms about the Obama administration’s order to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.
“DO YOU WANT BARACK OBAMA TO SET TRANSGENDER BATHROOM POLICIES AT YOUR CHILDREN’S SCHOOL?” it read.
In an interview Tuesday, Vogel said she objected to what she considered a heavy-handed federal mandate, not the goal of protecting transgender students.
“I believe the government closest to people governs best,” she said.
She said much of what she has focused on in the Senate — such as banning child marriage or improving access to higher education — is nonpartisan. And when she has parted ways with her party, she said, it is because she does not “cling to scorecards.”
“I think that’s what my constituents expect of me,” she said. “I’m not elected just to represent the party. I’m elected to put principle over party.”
She has led in polls. She has been airing a TV ad that shows her bustling about a white kitchen, talking about how she defended the tea party against “Obama’s IRS” as she fixes toaster waffles.
Vogel, who owns a $7.25 million chunk of Bunny Mellon’s estate in Upperville, has a personal fortune that could allow her to blanket the airwaves until Election Day.
Davis, 43, has been selling himself as an entrepreneur who understands how to make Virginia friendlier to business. A former Virginia Beach city councilman, he owns On Call Holdings, a telecommunications management firm that at one point included Geeks On Call, the mobile tech-support chain.
Married with no children, Davis touts his recognition by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce as freshman lawmaker of the year in 2014.
At a Republican retreat in December, statewide candidates set out to win votes with hotel suites stocked with food and drink. Davis tried to reel them in with something else: an MIT scientist. He held a panel discussion with an MIT researcher, who contends that powdered coal could be used in place of silicon in electronics. Davis touts the science as a way to remake the state’s economy and revive coal country.
Like Vogel, Davis has broken with his party at times. Along with then-Del. Tom Rust (R-Fairfax), in 2014 he was one of just two House Republicans in 2014 to back a plan to temporarily expand Medicaid as part of an overhaul. As a councilman in 2013, he supported the tax-laden transportation plan of then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R).
Davis has lagged in fundraising and, unlike his two opponents, has not aired TV ads. Asked whether he planned to do so, he said, “We have a very exciting final few weeks planned.”
He thinks that his upbeat, pro-growth message is breaking through, particularly as his two rivals sling accusations at each other.
“For me, this is all about bringing economic opportunity and jobs to Virginians all across the commonwealth,” said Davis, fresh off a four-day stint in the RV and preparing to hit the road again Saturday.
Reeves, 50, is a Spotsylvania businessman, former Army Ranger and former Prince William County narcotics detective. He is married with two children. The son of a school bus driver, he touts his up-by-the-bootstraps biography.
In the Senate since 2012, he launched his bid last year as he was coming off a headline-
grabbing gun deal with Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). The legislation that resulted greatly expanded the right to carry concealed weapons in Virginia in exchange for voluntary background checks at gun shows and tougher restrictions on domestic abusers. The deal endeared him to his party’s gun rights advocates while also strengthening his reputation as someone who can bridge partisan divides.
With a military bearing and a voting record that never strays into liberal territory, Reeves has the most conventionally conservative profile. He is a guy who invites guests to shoot machine guns at his fundraisers. His TV ad shows terrorists invading a suburban neighborhood, a scenario he blames on Obama. He has often focused on kitchen-table issues in the Senate. As a small-business man — he’s an insurance agent — he has touted a pro-business agenda, such as lifting regulatory burdens and opposing tax hikes.
“With 21 days left, we’re focused on the issues that matter to most Virginians, and that’s safety, security, jobs and the economy,” he said.