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A Republican candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor is being subjected to homophobic attacks casting him as a “gay Democrat” for voting for Medicaid expansion and supporting pro-LGBTQ measures.
Del. Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) took to Twitter last week to accuse former Del. Tim Hugo (R-Clifton) of sending around a mailer with a photo of Davis wearing a colorful, striped shirt at a PrideFest event in Hampton Roads. The caption of the photo reads: “Don’t be fooled. Glenn Davis is no Republican.”
“Tim Hugo sent a mailer attacking me for participating in #Pridefest with @RPofVB [Republican Party of Virginia Beach]. I’m sorry for my colleague’s #homophobia, but I don’t believe the government has any place in our bedrooms PERIOD,” Davis tweeted.
In contrast to several of his opponents, Davis’ appeal to Republican voters is based on his proven ability to win over voters in a swing district, despite facing several strong challengers in recent cycles, by downplaying more divisive social issues and emphasizing conservative economics.
Former U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.), who lost his bid for re-election last year, in part due to officiating the wedding of two gay campaign volunteers, blasted Hugo’s attack against Davis.
“It’s their playbook, Glenn. You must be doing well. It’s shameful behavior on Tim’s part. Must have the same consultants always used for these ‘conventions,'” Riggleman said, a reference to how the state party chose to hold a convention — which features a smaller number of eligible voters — instead of a primary for the 5th Congressional District, which ultimately led to Riggleman’s defeat by current U.S. Rep. Bob Good.
“Keep up the fight,” Riggleman advised Davis.
Last week, images of at least two other mailers, repurposing the rainbow shirt photo of Davis, dropped, with the words: “Gay Glenn…Votes like a Democrat!”
One of the mailers attacks Davis’ support of HB 145, a bill that requires the Virginia Department of Education to adopt model policies providing guidance on how local school boards can protect transgender students and ensure they are not being discriminated against. The image’s text accuses Davis of supporting “Men in girls’ locker rooms,” followed by the word “YES!”
But Davis noted in a tweet that HB 145 doesn’t require any specific one-size-fits-all solution to the issue, writing: “This text is being sent around to look from Hugo. However, the other part reads eerily similar to verbal attacks from another campaign. Also HB 145 only asks model policy be created by the state but doesn’t require those exact polices be adopted nor men allowed in girls locker rooms.”
A second attack, shared by Brandon Jarvis, a reporter with The Virginia Scope, shows a similar image, attacking Davis’ support for expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the image was sent along with a text message, reading: “Did you know Glenn Davis is a Gay Democrat?” before touting Hugo as “the only conservative running for Lt. Governor.”
“[Davis] voted for gun-free zones, Medicaid expansion, the ERA, to redefine marriage, and for transgender men to be in girls’ bathrooms,” the text message reads. “Help Glenn come out of the closet by not ranking him on May 8th,” the text reads.
May 8 refers to the date of Virginia GOP’s convention, when about 53,000 registered delegates will cast ranked-choice ballots selecting nominees for the three major statewide offices appearing on the ballot this fall.
Hugo’s campaign refused to tell the Times-Dispatch how many mailers featuring the original photo of Davis at Pridefest had been sent out, and to which areas they’d been mailed, but issued a statement denying that it was behind the robotexts and the more recent attacks dubbing his opponent “Gay Glenn.” The campaign claimed Hugo also called Davis, who has been married to his wife Chelle for 16 years, to discuss the situation.
“A recent text sent attacking my opponent Glenn Davis is NOT in any way from our campaign or anyone associated with our campaign,” the statement from Hugo’s campaign read. “We condemn the language used in this ridiculous and offensive text.”
Davis and Hugo are currently running in a six-person field that features Fairfax businessman Puneet Ahluwalia, Air Force veteran and defense contractor Lance Allen, businesswoman Maeve Rigler and Winsome Sears, a former state delegate.
Davis said the robotext was reminiscent of similar attacks lodged against State Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Upperville) during her 2017 bid for lieutenant governor, when she was attacked by her opponent Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) for voting to confirm an openly gay judge.
Vogel ultimately won the Republican Party’s nomination, but lost by 5% to Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) in what was a strong year for down-ticket Democrats.
“It just seems like these are the types of attacks that get launched against the front-runner,” Davis said.
The attacks against Davis come during a year when Republican lawmakers in other states have repeatedly targeted the LGBTQ community, and specifically transgender individuals, in what appears to be a coordinated campaign.
More than 200 bills targeting LGBTQ individuals have been introduced in 30 state legislatures, such as measures to restrict access to gender-affirming health care for transgender youth, or bar transgender athletes from competing on sports teams based on their gender identity.
The fact that the bills are nearly identical and are all being pushed in advance of the 2021 and 2022 election cycles seems to signal that many Republican activists believe anti-LGBTQ attacks are a winning formula for them to consolidate power or take back seats lost to the Democrats in past cycles. But it remains to be seen whether such attacks resonate with general-election voters.
For their part, Virginia Democrats say they’re ready to defend their party’s record in Virginia on a host of issues, including several pro-LGBTQ bills passed in the past two years, and are casting the GOP candidates for various state offices as intolerant and extreme.
“Tim Hugo launching these homophobic attacks right before the Republican convention is just another sign that the bigotry and extremism Virginia Republicans have displayed for years is not going anywhere,” Grant Fox, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, told the Times-Dispatch. “The Virginia GOP openly embraced Donald Trump’s incendiary hatred, and Republicans up and down the ballot are campaigning on those same far-right views.”
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