Candidates fighting ‘uphill battle’ for attention in 2nd District

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Republican Heather Mitchell and Democrat Candi King will face off Tuesday to replace Prince William County Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, who vacated her seat earlier this month to focus on her run for governor in 2021.

The special election for the 2nd District seat in the House of Delegates comes just days after the holidays, and both candidates are using the last few days to canvass as many constituents as possible.

“People voted in November, and Georgia has been everywhere on the news,” said King, referring to that state’s run-off elections for two U.S. Senate seats, which will also be Tuesday. “We are fighting an uphill battle in terms of getting the message out to our community that there is an election.”

King, a Dumfries resident and former small-business owner, became the Democratic nominee earlier this month after a five-way “firehouse primary” in which she received 380 votes (43.8%). She said her campaign is doing a big push to sway voters to turn out in a blue-leaning district that stretches from eastern Prince William to northern Stafford County.

Mitchell, who lives in Stafford and previously worked as an aide to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors chairman Corey Stewart, lost to Carroll Foy in 2019 for the seat by more than 3,000 votes. Mitchell said this time around she is hoping to make up ground by going door to door.

“I’ve really only had my campaign up and running for 17 days, and we’ve actually made over 3,000 voter contacts,” Mitchell said.

According to data from the Virginia Public Access Project, King had raised $102,931 for her campaign through Dec. 24, while Mitchell had raised $27,450. King has also reported $6,000 in additional contributions of more than $1,000 each since that reporting date.

Both candidates have staked their campaigns on several issues, including COVID-19, education, transportation and policing.

Mitchell has made policing a central part of her campaign and said she opposes “defunding the police,” which became a popular slogan during the George Floyd protests in the spring and summer.

“All it’s doing is just harming community safety,” she said.

Mitchell alleges that Democrats in Richmond “turned their backs” on police by supporting legislative initiatives to reallocate funds away from police departments to other government agencies. Instead, Mitchell noted that she supports investing in proper equipment and more training of police officers.

King, the wife of a veteran police officer, wrote in a statement via email that she does not support defunding the police.

“Legislating with slogans is dangerous and doesn’t make our communities safer,” she said. “I do not support defunding the police, but rather funding our communities so that at-risk youth and people with mental illness can get the support they need to keep them out of the criminal justice system in the first place.”

She added that she supports reforms such as the Virginia Community Policing Act that authorized better data collection to inform policies.

COVID-19 policy is also a priority for Mitchell and King.

King said her focus is on safely reopening schools and providing state funding to help small businesses and communities of color disproportionately affected by COVID-19 recover in the long term. “What we’ve seen is a huge disregard for them by the federal government, which in my opinion, means the state should step up even more.”

Mitchell is also calling for a plan to reopen schools and small businesses safely, which she said may happen sooner if there is more transparency between the state government and local municipalities about when certain groups will be receiving the coronavirus vaccine.

“So, there’s not a really clear line of communication coming down from Richmond about the distribution,” Mitchell said. “And when we can get a plan in place, then let’s see what we can do to get the teachers safely back into the classroom with students.”

Mitchell and King both agree that transportation should also be a priority but differ on a comprehensive strategy.

Mitchell said that she rarely travels on Interstate 95 to run errands on the weekends because of the traffic. The Long Bridge project will help reduce traffic when that’s finished, Mitchell said, but until then, she would push to create a regional bus service. “We can do a regional bus system to where all of the counties are working together and maybe have each county chipping in.”

King said she would focus on expanding Metro into Prince William to create more access to public transportation and to fully fund the Occoquan bottleneck, a top priority for local officials. “We are huge population-wise, and we need more diverse options to get back and forth to work.”

Mitchell noted that until the Metro can fix its core capacity issue, she believes extending a line will not solve the traffic problem.

Early absentee voting for the special election began Dec. 26 and will end Saturday, Jan. 2. Prince William and Stafford have different early voting schedules and rules.

All normal polling places in the district will be open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The winner is expected to be seated for the General Assembly session that begins Jan. 13 and will have to run for re-election in the fall, although district lines may be redrawn in the interim.

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