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Travis Hackworth wins special election for Southwest Virginia state Senate seat
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Travis Hackworth wins special election for Southwest Virginia state Senate seat

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Travis Hackworth easily retained a far Southwest Virginia state Senate seat for Republicans, defeating Democrat Laurie Buchwald on Tuesday in a special election.

Hackworth won 76% of the vote, which was 17,943 votes. Hackworth is succeeding Ben Chafin, who died in January from complications from COVID-19.

“We showed Richmond that the 38th District is still a Republican district by more than 75%,” Hackworth said at his victory party. “We’re going to roll up our sleeves and do what we’ve always done: get to work.”

Hackworth, a businessman and member of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, appealed to voters by emphasizing “Southwest Virginia values,” like supporting gun rights, police and the coal industry, and emphasizing his Christian values. He said his main priority when he goes to Richmond is to work on policies that help small businesses rather that large corporations.

“Travis is the right man for the job,” said supporter Jony Baker, who was working a poll in Big Stone Gap. “He’s going to be a strong supporter for our Second Amendment rights, for law enforcement, department of corrections and our Constitution.”

The massive 38th Senate District stretches from Radford to Big Stone Gap and includes all or part of nine counties and two cities.

Hackworth won every locality except for Radford, which Buchwald, who lives in Radford and used to serve on the city council there, won with 53%. Special elections are typically low-turnout events. About 23,600 people cast ballots in this election.

It was always going to be a steep hill for Buchwald to climb in the bright red 38th Senate District. Former President Trump won 77% of the vote there in November.

Still, Democrats spent a lot of time and a good chunk of money to put up a fight. The Democratic Party of Virginia spent more than $95,000 on mailers, one of the main ways Buchwald tried to reach voters.

Buchwald had tried to focus her campaign on issues like affordable health care, improving public education and expanding broadband, while steering clear of hot-button issues. 

“One of the number one reasons I jumped into this race was to inspire people to run,” Buchwald said Tuesday. “Our values matter.”

But Democrats also emphasized Buchwald’s candidacy was about competing in the rural part of the state, which is mainly represented by Republicans. It’s often been difficult to find Democrats to step up to the plate to challenge a Republican in what is a safe red seat, and when Democrats do, they have far fewer resources.

“Baby steps,” said Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. “We didn’t lose Democrats in Southwest Virginia overnight with our elections and our people, and we’re not going to get them back overnight. But if we don’t show up and make the case, we have no chance.”

Democrats still hold a slim majority in the Senate, with Hackworth’s victory making it 21-19.

“The people of Southwest elected a strong, effective voice to represent them in the Senate of Virginia,” Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, said in a statement.

The Democrat-controlled General Assembly is scheduled to meet April 7 to take up any vetoes or suggested changes to legislation from Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat.

“I’m going to vote no on a bunch of those bills that the governor and the assembly has passed,” Hackworth said to cheers.

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