By Emma Coleman and Colin Whitmore
Senator Creigh Deeds secured the 25th District seat in the Virginia Senate again in the general election tonight, according to the Associated Press. The Democrat won the race against Independent candidate Elliott Harding.
Deeds, 61, was first elected to the seat in 2001, after serving for 10 years in the Virginia House of Delegates. The Bath County resident is also a lawyer in private practice.
The 25th District covers Rockbridge, Alleghany, Nelson, Bath and Highland counties. It also includes Charlottesville and the majority of Albemarle County.
Harding, who lives in Charlottesville, had just 1,605 ( 12%) of the votes in the city of Charlottesville with 100% of precincts reporting. In Albemarle County, Deeds received nearly 70% of the votes, compared to Harding’s 30%, with 100% of precincts reporting.
Deeds also carried Rockbridge County (54%), Buena Vista (54%) and Lexington (75%), as well as Nelson County (58%) and the city of Covington (53%). Harding carried Alleghany, Bath and Highland counties.
The Virginia Senate is divided but under Republican control. After the November 2015 election, Republicans held 21 seats in the chamber, and Democrats occupied 19. Democrats haven’t had the upper hand in the Senate since 2007, when they occupied 21 seats and the Republicans held 19. All seats are up for election this year.
The last time Deeds ran in an election for the 25th District seat, he won with 64.5% of the vote over Republican candidate Thomas Aldous, Jr. according to Ballotpedia.
The senator raised about $431,200 in campaign donations this year, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. His opponent, Harding, raised only about $37,600.
Harding, 29, is a criminal justice lawyer from Charlottesville. He ran as an Independent, but he was endorsed by the Republican party. He was the Chair of the Albemarle County GOP Committee in 2016. He said he ran as an Independent to connect with voters on both sides of the political aisle.
“I think in this particular race being an Independent is the way to go because I find myself to the left and to the right of my opponent on some pretty key issues,” he said in an interview with the Rockbridge Report last month.
But Deeds thinks his opponent’s decision to run independently was simply a campaign strategy.
“He’s running as an Independent because he knows the people in Charlottesville and Albemarle County won’t vote for a Republican,” the senator said in an interview with the Rockbridge Report last month. “It’s all strategy. I don’t think it’s very honest, but it is what it is.”
Harding was caught on a doorbell camera removing Deeds campaign materials from homes in Albemarle County and replacing them with his own. He apologized last Tuesday to Deeds and the volunteer who had placed the flyers.
The Daily Progress quoted Deeds’ Campaign Manager Cassie Ardern: “Our opponent’s campaign has been grounded in dishonesty from its inception while capitalizing on personal, cruel attacks.”
Deeds said his approach was simple. “My strategy is just be who I am,” he said. “I’ve got a record. And you can look it all up. The good, the bad and the ugly. It’s all there.”
Deeds ran for attorney general in 2005 and governor in 2009, but he lost both races. He said the experience taught him a lot.
“Not everything you do in life works out, and it was certainly disappointing to lose both times,” Deeds said. “But looking back on it, it was a great experience.”
The senator said he still has plans for the district.
“You can’t conquer the world in one day. You can’t accomplish all that you want to accomplish the first go at it, but you have to keep at it, and it’s satisfying,” Deeds said. “I’m good at this work. I enjoy it. I’ve still got passion for it. I’ve been doing it for a long time, but the reality is, seniority is important.”
Accessibility to quality health care is a major issue for Deeds. “I’m proud that, just a year ago, we were able to get Medicaid expansion done,” he said. “But we still have so much to do. We still have too many people that are uninsured.”
Mental health care is especially of interest to Deeds. The senator serves as chair for the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the Twenty-First Century. His son, Austin Creigh “Gus” Deeds, died by suicide in 2013.
According to a Roanoke Times article, Senator Deeds settled a $6 million lawsuit a year ago against a former employee of a local mental health agency that he blamed for his son’s death.
“We’ve got to step up our game and make sure we get people or provide people with the access to mental health services they need, no matter what their income,” he said.
Deeds is also interested in improving public education.
“I want to make sure that we have a K through 12 system that prepares children for the workforce or the next level of education,” he said. “So that means we not only have to make sure we not only have top quality classroom instruction, but we also have vocational education.”
The senator also said he hopes to develop a more sustainable district.
“I’m convinced that we’ve got to move towards renewable sources of energy as quickly as possible,” Deeds said. “My oldest daughter lives in Alaska. And anyone who doesn’t think that human behavior has affected climate change ought to go up there.”
Deeds has said that he is opposed to the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. If Dominion Energy, Inc., builds it, the pipeline will cut through Bath, Highland and Nelson counties.
“Forget about the fact that it’s in our backyard,” Deeds said. “Look at the projections for our need for gas. I’m convinced that this gas is being piped for export, away from this country’s shore. We don’t really need it.”