GOP nominee for lieutenant governor shifts her messaging on the vaccine as COVID-19 surges in Virginia

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RICHMOND – Republican lieutenant governor nominee Winsome Sears is now taking a more aggressive approach in her messaging around the COVID-19 vaccine with the virus surging across Virginia. Her latest comments are much more direct than what she said just a few weeks ago.

“We have got to leave people be,” Sears said in a radio interview less than three weeks ago on July 20. ”If you want to get the vaccine, get the vaccine. If you don’t want to get the vaccine, whatever. Take precautions and do what you need to do and keep yourself safe.”

In a statement provided to Virginia Scope Friday, however, Sears encouraged Virginians to get the vaccine while still pushing back against the idea of any government mandate. “We do not support vaccine passports, but encourage everyone who can get the vaccine to get it,” Sears said. ”We are confident Virginians are capable in making safe and smart decisions for themselves. We cannot go back to shutdowns and lockdowns, we must move forward in a safe way. Science is on our side. Get vaccinated. If you choose not to – please take responsibility. Wear a mask and remain safe.”

Virginia is currently reporting a seven-day average of 1,469 new COVID-19 cases each day.

Governor Northam recently announced that state employees will be required to get the vaccine by Sept. 1 or face weekly COVID-19 tests. He also indicated that a new law in Virginia will require schools districts to follow CDC guidance on masks for students and staff. 

This latest COVID-19 surge is what led in part to this shift in vaccine rhetoric from Sears. “As we grow to know more and more about this virus and its variants, it appears that COVID isn’t in retreat, and is still here,” said Mike Allers, a spokesperson for the Sears campaign. “We can’t go back into lockdown, so it’s in Virginians’ best interest to be encouraged to take precautions.” 

Democrats are blaming Republicans and their hesitance to encourage vaccine participation earlier this year as a key factor in this surge. Sears’ opponent called her out directly in a statement to Virginia Scope. 

“The anti-vaccination lies that Winsome Sears and her political allies are spreading are dangerous and will cost Virginians their lives,” said Hala Ayala, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. “Protecting yourself and your community by getting vaccinated is not a partisan issue — it’s a matter of life or death. I have been vaccinated and I can tell you firsthand it is safe and effective.” 

The Sears campaign denied spreading any misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. “In no way is our campaign spreading anti-vaccination lies,” Allers said in a statement Sunday. “We encourage everyone who is able to get the vaccine. If you choose not to for personal or religious reasons, please remain safe and wear a mask. The only dangerous and reckless behavior is coming from the Democratic ticket who are proposing to take us back to lockdowns and keeping schools closed.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin recently made a public statement indicating that he himself has received the vaccine. “Data show the COVID vaccine saves lives,” Youngkin tweeted earlier this month. “That’s why I chose to get the vaccine. Virginians have the right to decide for themselves, but if you are in a high-risk category, I especially encourage you to get vaccinated.”

While Ayala said she has already received the COVID-19 vaccine, Sears has not publicly stated whether she received it or not. 

Sears and Ayala are facing off to fill the seat being vacated by Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax at the end of his term this January. If Sears were to win, the Democratic majority of 21-19 would become even tighter as the lieutenant governor casts tie-breaking votes in their role as President of the Senate. 

Early voting for the Nov. 2 election begins on Sept. 17. 

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Analysis from election Twitter on the 2021 statewide races

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Youngkin speaks at 'election integrity' rally at Liberty University -Richmond Times-Dispatch

by Patrick Wilson

GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin made a campaign stop Saturday at an “election integrity” rally in Lynchburg that his ticketmates opted not to attend, taking criticism from Democrats who said his appearance helped spread falsehoods about the 2020 election.

The two-day event at Liberty University hosted by the 5th Congressional District GOP was not open to the press.

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Virginia’s attorney general responds to comments from Republicans about reinstating Trump in the White House

“Not only is it dangerous and harmful to our democracy to spout conspiracy theories, it is woefully incorrect and legally impossible for Donald Trump to be reinstated as President,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “There is absolutely no evidence that November’s election results were fraudulent, in fact, an audit conducted earlier this year overwhelmingly confirmed the results of the election in Virginia, and similar audits have returned the same results in states across the country. I have stood up against Trump’s Big Lie from the start, and if these imbecilic, legally baseless attempts to reinstate Trump come to fruition, I will be in court that very same day to put a stop to it once and for all. It is time for this country to come together under President Biden and move forward towards a more unified United States.”

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Youngkin rallies supporters in Amherst, addresses priorities in bid for governor - The News & Advance

by Justin Faulconer

At a campaign rally in Amherst County on Saturday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin described his bid against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe as a “neck and neck” dead heat race heading into the next three months.

Youngkin, who played basketball when he attended Rice University, used a sports analogy of heading into the fourth quarter in essentially a tied ballgame.

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Campaign Legal Center Presents their Tool to Measure Gerrymandering

In preparation for the August 12 release of redistricting data by the U.S. Census Bureau to the states, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is relaunching PlanScore.org, an empowerment tool to measure voting maps and evaluate them for partisan impact. 

As the 2021 map drawing cycle heats up, PlanScore will collect and analyze new district plans as they are proposed in states nationwide. The free web tool is intended for map drawers to assist them in ensuring they are creating fair maps, and also for policymakers, advocates and journalists to hold map drawers accountable to fair districting standards.  

“The voting districts that will be finalized in the coming weeks will be cemented for the next 10 years. PlanScore.org empowers voters to hold map drawers accountable and demand fair maps during this critical map drawing year,” said Mark Gaber, director, redistricting at Campaign Legal Center (CLC). “Visitors to the website can score new district maps and assess whether the plans are gerrymandered. We are bringing the ability to measure partisan gerrymandering directly to the people and giving map drawers a tool to ensure that they draw fair maps.”

Watch CLC's explainer video on PlanScore.

The site contextualizes the gerrymandering taking place in this cycle by allowing visitors to click on states and compare them to other states or previous maps from the same state. PlanScore.org presents the most comprehensive historical dataset of partisan gerrymandering ever assembled, going back to the 1970s.  

“Voting districts drawn this year will shape our lives and our communities for the next decade,” said Ruth Greenwood, director of the Election Law Clinic at Harvard Law School, and a PlanScore founder. “But first, to understand the impact of gerrymandering on our voting maps, we need to be able to measure it. That is where PlanScore comes in. With the help of data from election experts around the country, we are expanding this free service to score and publish plans for all 50 states. This is a tool to help advocates hold map drawers accountable.” 

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The Virginia State Conference NAACP affirmed its full support Monday for the adoption of Virginia’s African American History and Social Science Curriculum implementing recommendations from Governor Ralph Northam’s Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth

Virginia NAACP leaders also applauded public school educators who are teaching history in its entirety, including the experiences of Black people in Virginia, and our nation. 

Virginia NAACP President Robert N. Barnette, Jr., said: “Virginia students must learn about the complex and often untold history of Black Americans in Virginia, and our nation. The Virginia NAACP expects that all public school districts across the state will follow the History and Social Studies Standards of Learning and Curriculum Framework Revision, as approved by the Board of Education.”

Virginia NAACP Education ChairDr. Amy Tillerson-Brown said: “We expect that in complying with the state’s SOL curriculum, that superintendents and school administrators will stand behind and support their teachers who are teaching from this curriculum, about Black experiences, or from an anti-racist framework, and do everything in their power to protect teachers from all forms of harassment, retaliation, or retribution from administrators, peers, parents, school board members, or members of the public.”

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Jan. 6 committee hires former GOP congressman Denver Riggleman as senior staff member - Washington Post

by Amy B. Wang

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has hired former Virginia congressman Denver Riggleman as a senior staff member, adding another Republican to its ranks even as most GOP lawmakers attack the committee as being too partisan.

Riggleman, who represented Virginia’s 5th Congressional District for two years, said Friday that he had accepted the position of “senior technical adviser” on the committee and that he felt his background — as a former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer who has also studied the spread of online extremism — lent itself to the task of investigating “the terrible happenings on that day.” Protesting the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential election win, a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6 overran the Capitol in a violent siege that left five people dead.

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Biden emboldens establishment Democrats with ballot box wins - The Hill

BY MIKE LILLIS AND SCOTT WONG

Almost seven months into the Biden administration, establishment Democrats are feeling emboldened — and winning races around the country.

The trend marks a sharp contrast to just a few years ago, when liberal firebrands found stunning success taking on more traditional candidates, including incumbent lawmakers, in a wave that invigorated the activist left while enraging party conventionalists wary that internal divisions would weaken the brand.

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