By Emma Coleman
Voters in District 24 of the Virginia House of Delegates will vote Tuesday to either re-elect or replace their representative, Del. Ronnie Campbell. The Republican incumbent is running against Democrat Christian Worth and Independent B. Eli Fishpaw.
Campbell, 65, won the special election last December in a race against Worth, 50, to fill the seat left vacant by Ben Cline, who was elected to U.S. Congress. Cline, a Republican, had occupied the 24th district seat since 2002.
All 100 seats in the chamber are up for re-election this year. The Republican Party retained control of the House in the 2017 election, but by a small margin. There are 51 Republicans in the House, and 48 Democrats. One seat, representing District 80, is vacant, according to Ballotpedia.
In the special election in 2018, Campbell won with 59.2% of the vote. Worth received 40.2% of the vote, which she says isn’t bad for a Democrat in a long-time Republican district, which includes Rockbridge County, Bath County and parts of Augusta and Amherst counties. The last Democratic candidate to run against Ben Cline in 2017 received only 27.8% of the vote.
“When you consider that that was the result of a four-week campaign, I think that says something really significant, that people are ready for a candidate who is really talking about everyday issues and not just ideology,” Worth said in an interview.
Worth is “one of 10 Democrats running in the strongly Republican districts along the Blue Ridge Mountain spine of Virginia, from West Virginia to the North Carolina border,” according to an article published by the Washington Post in October.
These Democratic candidates have developed what they call Rural GroundGame. This grassroots coalition hopes to “recover areas that were once Democratic but that too willingly ceded to Republicans over the past decades,” the Washington Post said. The candidates communicate weekly, and they have worked together to develop their own voter outreach program.
Worth credits Rural GroundGame and hardworking volunteers with her campaign fundraising success. She has raised about $95,000 in campaign donations. Campbell has raised only about $53,000, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
In the special election last year, those numbers were flipped. Campbell had raised about $96,000, and Worth had raised only about $48,000.
Campbell said the drop in his campaign donations to his campaign is a result of voter fatigue.
“People are ready for a candidate who is really talking about everyday issues and not just ideology.” – Christian Worth (D)
“A lot of my money last year came locally, and when you go back to the people in less than 10 months and start asking for money again, they’re thinking ‘I just gave you money,’” he said in an interview. “I think that has hampered me some.”
The incumbent also noted that his job as a state delegate keeps him busy. “In addition to running for re-election, I’m still working for the people in the county, and that’s the big difference this time,” he said.
The third candidate in this race, Fishpaw, 67, has raised only $575 in campaign donations. Fishpaw got his bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Florida.
“I saw running for office as a way to the wider community.” – Eli Fishpaw (I) on climate change
The Rockbridge County resident and “semi-retired” architect said his chances of winning the election are “improbable.”
Fishpaw’s campaign focuses on the impacts of climate change, and he said he hopes to raise awareness for the crisis by running.
Fishpaw is a member of a sustainable roundtable that discusses climate and sustainability issues.
“It occurred to me that we were just talking to each other,” he said in an interview. “I saw running for office as a way to the wider community.”
But Worth and Campbell said they are in it to win it. Campbell said he thinks he can take the delegate seat again.
“We’ve been working really hard at this election, and there’s more to winning an election than having lots of money. You can get a little bit of money and spend it right and do just as good,” he said. “I have a reputation in this area, and I can run on that.”
Worth said she considers herself and her campaign “competitive.”
“I’m not running to do this for the fun of it,” she said. “I am running to win. That’s how we are running this campaign.”
Worth said she is running for families living in the district. She practiced family law in Kentucky before moving to Lexington, where she had attended Washington and Lee University as an undergraduate student. Her law degree is from the University of Kentucky.
“Often times, our families feel like they’ve been left behind. They don’t feel like they’ve been a priority,” she said. “Really what we need is a strong advocate and a strong voice.”
Campbell, a long time Rockbridge resident and former officer for the Virginia State Police, said he wants to help his neighbors, too.
“The number one issue to me has always been the same thing throughout my entire life,” he said, “and that is representing the citizens in the 24th District, and trying to make new things to improve their lives.”
Campbell said his experiences with the state police and his time on the Rockbridge County School Board and the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors guide his interests and concerns when it comes to local issues and policies. Campbell has a bachelor’s degree in Science in Criminal Justice from East Tennessee State University. He also has a master’s degree in Risk Management from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Campbell has plans, if re-elected, to improve transportation in the district. He said he is working with the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Department of Motor Vehicles to loosen permit load restrictions in Lexington.
The incumbent also hopes to improve the railroad crossing in Buena Vista to allow trucks and oversized loads to travel through town, which would benefit local companies.
“That will allow them to add additional employees,” Campbell said. “They have added 40 since I started doing this, trying to get the crossing updated.”
Campbell said he is also interested in inserting vocational training into public schools. “We’ve had one meeting,” he said. “Hopefully in follow-up meetings we’ll be able to find out if we can implement this and how we will do that.”
Worth said improving funding for public education would be her No. 1 priority if elected. She said the district is still using spending formulas created to save money during the Great Recession in 2008. “Those have to be updated and adjusted,” she said. “We are educating our children in 2019 at 2009 dollars.”
“As the ninth wealthiest state, we have the resources,” she said. “We just choose not to fund public education, because children don’t vote.”
Worth also said that limited rural access to broadband is an issue for the district.
“If a business wants to come in and invest, obviously it’s going to need to have access to the internet,” she said. “It really is holding us back in a lot of ways. Everything ties back to broadband.”
Worth said people in the district are also struggling to have access to affordable health care. “You can’t deliver a baby at a hospital within the borders of our district,” she said. “That’s not a great selling point when you’re hoping to retain young families or attract employers.”
Despite their differences, the candidates agree that they get along well on the campaign trail.
“We have always had very civil interactions, and that is very important to me,” Worth said. “We can be competitive without being combative.”
“I have a reputation in this area, and I can run on that.” – Ronnie Campbell (R)
“We treat each other with respect and we’re very sociable,” Campbell said. “You’ve got the give them credit for running.”
To read more about the candidates and their campaigns, visit their websites: