With in-person early voting in Virginia set to begin next week, Sears’s campaign manager Consuella “C.J.” Jordan, her campaign spokesman Mike Allers and several other key staffers were notified Wednesday that they are no longer working for the campaign.
On Thursday, Sears did not return a phone call to comment on the move. Tucker Davis, her senior adviser, characterized it as a strategic decision that will put Sears in a better position to beat Ayala.
“We are focused on running a lean campaign over the next 55 days and using all of our resources to get our message out to voters,” Davis said in a statement.
Jordan declined to comment.
Former staffers and others with inside knowledge said Thursday that the campaign has been in turmoil for some time, particularly around fundraising.
The most recent campaign finance reports show that Sears raised $750,000 between January and July, compared with $1.1 million for Ayala, according to the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project. Reports for fundraising through the end of August are due to be filed on Sept. 15.
Allers said he learned he had been let go through an email, with no explanation given after he spent Wednesday helping Sears strategize for a campaign event in Loudoun County.
“We worked our butts off for Winsome,” he said. “We love her as a candidate. We truly believe in her. We held this campaign together and it doesn’t make sense to put new ballplayers on the field in the ninth inning.”
During the campaign, Sears has tried to appeal to the party’s conservative base of Trump supporters while also courting more moderate independents who are likely to determine the outcome of the statewide races. Glenn Youngkin, the party’s nominee for governor, has straddled the same line.
Last week, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block a Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, Sears said she would support a similar law in Virginia.
“When did it become the wrong thing for us to support the babies in the womb?” she said in an interview on Newsmax.
Allers, still employed with her campaign at the time, later walked back that statement, saying that Sears “recognizes that Virginia is very different from Texas, and that legislation could never have the votes to pass the Virginia General Assembly.”
This week, Sears celebrated the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond.
“We must move Virginia forward in a brand new inclusive direction full [of] opportunity and promise for ALL Virginians!” she said in a statement.
Political analysts said an overhaul in campaign staff this deep into the race shows there is some anxiety among Sears supporters.
“It’s a realization that this race is not even close,” said David Ramadan, a former Republican state delegate in Loudoun County who is now a political analyst at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.
The move may make it more difficult for Sears to gain ground on Ayala, said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. But it isn’t likely to hurt Youngkin’s chances, he said.
“Changing horses in midstream is always a potential source of trouble,” Farnsworth said. But “problems with the ticket are usually top-down instead of bottom-up.”