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Virginia Senate candidates ramp up attack ads ahead of Election Day

In attack ads running on television ahead of the Nov. 5 election, Republicans are characterizing their opponents as “radical” and “socialist,” and Democrats are criticizing Republicans for their stances on gun policy and health care.

Capital News Service



By Jimmy O’Keefe

In attack ads running on television ahead of the Nov. 5 election, Republicans are characterizing their opponents as “radical” and “socialist,” and Democrats are criticizing Republicans for their stances on gun policy and health care.

The attack ads and the spending are ratcheting up in the Election Day homestretch.

That’s because running attack ads is an effective political strategy, according to Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science and director of the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies.

“The reason there are so many attack ads is because they work,” Farnsworth said.

Spending on television ads surpassed $1 million in the three key Senate races, which have also brought in the most donations:

  • District 12, in which Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, and incumbent Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, have spent a combined $1.9 million.

  • District 10, in which Democratic challenger Ghazala Hashmi and incumbent Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, have spent a combined $1.7 million.

  • District 7, in which Del. Cheryl Turpin,Virginia Beach, and Republican challenger Jen Kiggans have spent a combined $1.1 million.

These three races are considered competitive because they have a Republican state senator, but voted blue in and ever since the 2016 presidential election, with the exception of District 7, which was split evenly among both candidates in 2016, but has voted Democratic since.

Dunnavant vs. Rodman

As of Thursday, in District 12, Dunnavant’s campaign has spent over $1 million on television ads compared to Rodman’s $895,820, according to a data analysis from the Virginia Public Access Project.

In September, Rodman raised more than $1 million in cash and in-kind contributions as she vies for a seat in the state Senate. Dunnavant raised $421,362. In-kind contributions are donated goods and services, such as mailers and postage, office space, and administrative assistance, that are given to candidates in place of cash donations.

Rodman’s attack ads focus on Dunnavant’s voting record on health care policy.

In a 30-second ad titled “Would Be Devastating,” a Henrico County OB-GYN says that “Siobhan Dunnavant is just doing what the insurance companies want.” The ad, which has aired 303 times since Oct. 12, claims that Dunnavant wrote a bill making it easier for insurance companies to deny coverage for preexisting conditions.

John Findlay, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, calls this claim “a blatant lie,” citing Politifact Virginia’s rating of the claim as “false.”

The Rodman-sponsored ad and campaign mailer were rated false based on the language — insurance companies could already write short-term policies omitting pre-existing conditions, Politifact said — and the premise that it would affect any Virginian when it would affect around 21%.

In another 30-second ad titled “Waiting Room,” Rodman appears on camera saying, “I respect Siobhan Dunnavant’s work as a doctor, but she’s forgotten what it’s like to sit here with your children and wonder if you can afford the care they need.” The ad first aired on Sept. 19 and has played 531 times.

Dunnavant has focused on Rodman’s agenda in several ads. In “False Attacks,” a 30-second ad that first aired on Oct. 4 and has played 242 times, a narrator says, “Debra Rodman: exaggerated claims, false attacks to hide her radical agenda.”

Dunnavant scrutinizes Rodman’s agenda in “Radical Liberal Rodman,” a 30-second ad that first aired on Sept. 26 and has played 214 times. The ad criticizes Rodman calling for a constitutional amendment to allow 16-year-olds to vote, saying that “16-year-olds often do crazy, immature things.”

Sturtevant vs. Hashmi

With $1.7 million spent on media buys, the 10th District is close behind the 12th. Democratic challenger Ghazala Hashmi has spent $764,254 on television ads compared to Republican Sturtevant’s $955,230.

Hashmi raised $645,444 compared to Sturtevant’s $289,075, in September.

The Hashmi campaign has run two attack ads critical of Sturtevant’s gun policy. In “Behind Sturtevant’s Campaign,” a 30-second ad that first aired on Oct. 11 and has played 401 times, a narrator claims that Sturtevant has blocked “common sense gun reform” and that “the real Sturtevant is wrong for state Senate.”

“Wonder,” a 30-second ad that first aired on Oct. 18 and has played 118 times, says “the gun lobby spent $70,000 to elect Sturtevant.”

Hashmi is also portrayed as a political radical by associating her with politicians who identify with socialist ideas and are often attacked by President Donald Trump.

“Partisan Politics,” a 30-second ad that first aired on Oct. 9 and has played 269 times, opens with a photo of Hashmi amongst photos of Democratic Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. A narrator says, “Ghazala Hashmi wants to bring Washington’s extreme socialist agenda to Virginia.”

“Political Opportunist,” a 30-second ad that has played 331 times since it first aired on Sept. 23, concludes by saying Hashmi is a political opportunist, and has radical policies.

“Sen. Sturtevant’s political scare tactics are desperate and absurd,” Hashmi campaign manager Philip Stein said in a statement. “The only ‘extreme radical’ in this race who is out of touch with the values of voters in the 10th District is Sen. Sturtevant.”

Kiggans vs. Turpin

In the 7th District, Democrat Cheryl Turpin spent $561,478 on television ads compared to Republican Jen Kiggans’ $543,220.

Turpin has raised $676,973 compared to Kiggans’ $330,128.

Turpin has gone after Kiggans’ stance on health care in all four TV ads. The most recent television ad, “No Surprise,” says “don’t trust Jen Kiggans to protect your health care.” The 30-second ad, which first aired on Oct. 19, has played 134 times.

In Kiggans’ most recent television ad, which first aired on Oct. 16 and has played 144 times, a narrator says that Turpin’s “record shows she’s a far-left socialist Democrat.”

“Multiple others [Democratic candidates] have advocated policies, such as the Green New Deal and Tran abortion bill, which are far out of step with the mainstream in Virginia,” Findlay said.

According to Farnsworth, attack ads can rally a candidate’s base.

“These ads don’t generally change minds, but they do get voters energized about politics, and thereby more likely to vote,” he said, noting that voter turnout is important in an off-year election year when turnout is traditionally lower. “The more you can do as a candidate to get your supporters agitated, the more likely they are to get involved and actually turn out to vote.”



The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Henrico revising budgets to reflect uncertainties from coronavirus

Anticipating sharp drops in revenues from sales, meals and occupancy taxes, officials are preparing adjustments to the current year’s budget and are revising the proposed budget for fiscal 2020-21.

RVAHub Staff



Henrico County officials have begun to brace for significant financial impacts caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Anticipating sharp drops in revenues from sales, meals and occupancy taxes, officials are preparing adjustments to the current year’s budget and are revising the proposed budget for fiscal 2020-21.

Officials have imposed an immediate hiring freeze and instructed all agencies to suspend all discretionary spending. The county also has put on hold all unfunded capital projects.

The Department of Finance plans to update revenue and expenditure projections on a monthly basis and request fund appropriations quarterly in fiscal 2020-21 until the financial picture becomes clearer.

“Recent announcements from Gov. Ralph Northam’s team regarding billion-dollar state budget shortfalls in the current year and next fiscal year reinforce the need to realign our plans and expectations,” said Meghan Coates, deputy director of Finance. “These important, cost-saving measures are going to be the backbone of our plan to endure the financial impact of this event.”

The Board of Supervisors had begun its review of the county’s $1.4 billion proposed budget last week, when the coronavirus outbreak triggered a global economic shutdown, with business closures, mass layoffs and stock market selloffs.

“The world has changed,” County Manager John A. Vithoulkas told the board at its March 24 meeting. “The budget that we worked on, that was presented to you, is no longer sustainable based on the revenue assumptions that were put forward – in one week.”

Finance officials are now looking at a revised proposed budget that would be significantly less than the current year’s plan. The proposed budget would likely not support additional positions or new initiatives and would allow limited cost increases, for example, for health care premiums and contributions to the Virginia Retirement System.

A revised proposed budget is expected to be presented to the Board of Supervisors in mid-April based on updated forecasts for state aid to localities and public feedback. The board will hold a public hearing on the plan at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 14 in the Board Room at the Henrico Government Center, 4301 E. Parham Road. Information will be forthcoming on how members of the public can participate and provide their input.

A vote to adopt the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, April 28. Once approved, the budget will guide operating and capital spending for the year beginning July 1.

The board on March 24 approved several emergency ordinances to help residents and businesses navigate the economic downturn by having the county extend the payment deadlines, without penalty, for various taxes.

Board Chairman Tommy Branin, of the Three Chopt District, noted that the relief efforts would be managed within the current year’s budget.

“This county didn’t leap forward with these measures and reductions without analyzing the budget and recognizing that the county will be fine.”



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ACLU urges release of some nonviolent offenders to combat coronavirus spread

As the coronavirus begins to hit correctional facilities, groups are calling for the release of nonviolent inmates to help prevent outbreaks. 

Capital News Service



By Rodney Robinson

As the coronavirus hits correctional facilities, the ACLU is calling for the release of some nonviolent inmates to help prevent outbreaks and keep residents and staff safe.

The Virginia ACLU submitted a letter to the governor, along with the executive guidance document. The document focuses on reducing the overall populations in local and state custodial facilities, including reducing the intake of people. The organization called for an immediate release of all people identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as at-risk for COVID-19, such as older people and people with underlying health conditions, whose sentences would end in the next two years. The ACLU also wants the governor to begin a process of immediate release for anyone whose sentence would end in the next year, anyway.

There are a limited number of eligible parole cases that can be reviewed for early release, according to Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran, who said at a press conference Monday that an expeditious review is “still ongoing.”

“There are a number of challenges because by the code we have no parole in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Moran said. “It is limited to geriatric release and limited to those who are sentenced before 1996.”

Moran said the parole board has withdrawn warrants on technical violations for a number of individuals and has expedited release of parole for those already paroled, in effort to eliminate interaction between the parole supervisor and the individual.

 Three inmates at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. One inmate at the Central Virginia Correctional Unit 13 for women has tested positive for COVID-19, according to VADOC. Four VADOC employees and one contractor have also tested positive for the virus. As of April 3, the Virginia Department of Health reports 2,012 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 46 deaths. From March 27 to April 3, 1,552 cases were confirmed, or 77% of all cases since the state’s first case was reported on March 7.

 “We need strong leadership that will move us more quickly toward a criminal legal system that is safe for everyone,” ACLU Executive Director Claire Gastañaga said in a press release. “To do this, we must jettison the ‘tough on crime’ hyperbole and recognize this pandemic as an opportunity to rethink the way we choose to use the criminal legal system to address issues of poverty, income inequality and addiction.”

Almost two weeks ago the governor announced measures to battle the coronavirus outbreak among residents and staff, such as modifying sentences, diverting offenders from serving jail terms, utilizing home electronic monitoring and reducing low-risk individuals being held without bail.

Elliott B. Bender, founder of Bender Law Group in Richmond and president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that the governor’s measures are great in theory “for the safety of all of us.” However, he is concerned that they are not being implemented consistently and completely. Consistency and getting all branches of government on the same page are important in this process, according to Bender.

Moran said state code mandates the victims involved need to be notified of a prisoner’s potential early release.

“And you have to provide victims time to weigh in on the decision,” Moran said. “And that is an ongoing process as well.”

To combat the virus, visitation and volunteer activities remain closed at correctional facilities, according to the VADOC. People entering VADOC correctional facilities will be screened using thermometers. In addition, the department ordered 112,000 additional bars of soap. Virginia Correctional Enterprises, which employs incarcerated people to produce a variety of goods, is now manufacturing about 30,000 sneeze and cough guard masks per day for inmates and staff, according to VADOC. All employees must assess their risk on a daily basis prior to work.

 Also, there are measures taken to ensure safety once a person leaves a VADOC facility. All inmates leaving a correctional facility are screened for COVID-19 on the day of their release, according to  VADOC.



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Henrico makes changes at disposal areas, parks to accommodate statewide stay-at-home order

Henrico County has adjusted the services available at its parks and public-use areas in accordance with Gov. Ralph Northam’s temporary executive order for residents to “stay at home” to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

RVAHub Staff



Henrico County has adjusted the services available at its parks and public-use areas in accordance with Gov. Ralph Northam’s temporary executive order for residents to “stay at home” to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Executive Order 55, issued March 30, directs Virginians to remain at their place of residence except for purposes deemed essential, such as obtaining medical care or governmental services, purchasing groceries and supplies, traveling to work or getting out for exercise. The order further directs the state’s residents using shared or outdoor spaces to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet “at all times.”

The governor’s order is in effect until June 10.

The order has prompted adjustments at the county’s Springfield Road and Charles City Road public-use areas, located at 10600 Fords Country Lane and 2075 Charles City Road, respectively.

Beginning Friday, April 3, the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) will limit access to 10 vehicles at a time. Henrico Police and DPU staff will direct vehicles into the public-use areas.

DPU urges residents only to dispose of household garbage and household recyclables while the governor’s order is in effect. Vegetative yard waste and household hazardous waste, such as used oil, tires, and paints, cannot be accepted at this time. Disposal areas will be arranged to allow at least 6 feet between vehicles.

Solid Waste Division Director Jon Clary noted that residents should anticipate traffic backups and lengthy waits to access the public-use areas, which currently are open on a reduced schedule of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

“We want to accommodate as many customers as we can while recognizing the requirement to limit our services at this time,” Clary said. “We ask our residents to bear with us and follow these new guidelines while the governor’s order is in effect.”

The order also has prompted adjustments at Henrico’s parks. The Division of Recreation and Parks has restricted access to certain outdoor amenities, closing playgrounds, restrooms, shelters, dog parks, tennis courts and pickleball courts at county parks. The affected areas are locked or have signs posted regarding their closure.

The county’s recreation centers were closed March 16.

Recreation and Parks Director Neil Luther noted that some park features remain open, such as trails, fishing ponds, and open spaces.

“Henrico’s parks are a valuable outlet and resource for our residents, especially at this time,” Luther said. “We urge everyone who visits our parks to be mindful of the need for social distancing. Please enjoy getting outside while being safe and respectful of others.”

Henrico County Public Schools has closed the playgrounds, ball fields, basketball courts and tennis courts at the district’s facilities in accordance with the governor’s order. Tracks and open spaces on school grounds are still available for public use.

Additional information about the impacts of COVID-19 on Henrico’s facilities and services is available on the county’s coronavirus webpage and from the facilities and services hotline, 501-5655 (voice) and 376-9780 (text). Both lines are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Friday.



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