One thing the candidates for the 17th District state Senate race can agree on is the differences between them.
The incumbent, Bryce Reeves, is a Republican touting a small-government agenda with a focus on the military and business. He also has a history of being pro-gun rights and anti-abortion. His top three campaign goals are health care, foster care and backing the military and law enforcement.
Reeves, 52, has endorsements from law enforcement, pro-business groups and the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.
The Democratic candidate, Albemarle County resident Amy Laufer, is running a campaign focused largely on education, technology, health care and the climate.
Laufer, 47, has said she is running against an opponent who holds beliefs that are completely contrary to hers, characterizing Reeves as a climate change denier who stands against equal rights, including a woman’s right to choose when it comes to abortion.
She has been endorsed by pro-choice and environmental groups.
Both are running to serve a district that includes Fredericksburg and Orange County, along with parts of Spotsylvania, Culpeper, Louisa and Albemarle counties.
In an interview, Laufer said access to affordable health care is a top concern she is hearing from voters and something she wants to improve by expanding Medicaid—something Reeves opposes. She wants to continue with the Medicaid program, which she says is the best way to provide affordable insurance.
Reeves has sponsored a bill promoting short-term insurance, something he said would help people priced out of insurance under the Affordable Care Act. After the bill had been passed by the House and Senate, Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed it.
Reeves accused Laufer of lying to voters by claiming his bill would have increased premiums and denied coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.
In a Facebook post, Reeves said, “Her motives are clear, she is trying to distract voters from her ultra-liberal, socialist healthcare agenda that my constituents do not favor.”
While her campaign has called out Reeves regarding his comments on gun reform and for singling out a gay Virginia senator, Laufer avoided talking about differences she has with Reeves. Instead, she wanted to focus on her campaign goals.
“I just know me,” she said. “I’m a problem-solver.”
Laufer grew up on a Wisconsin farm and is a former teacher who started Virginia’s List, an organization aimed at supporting female Democrats running for office. She believes teachers deserve better pay and school systems need better funding, and has said the state’s schools continue to operate on budgets that still haven’t rebounded from the 2008 financial collapse.
Universal preschool should be offered in the state, too, she said.
Broadband is a key issue Laufer wants to focus on improving.
She believes expanded internet service would help students do homework, increase home business opportunities and allow farmers a better way to sell their products. Laufer also believes broadband could help rural residents gain access to telemedicine.
Many of Reeves’ bills have focused on supporting the military and law enforcement, including one this year aimed at helping veterans find a smoother path to commercial truck driving jobs. He also has voted against bills aimed at prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, Equal Rights Amendment ratification and a minimum wage increase.
Foster care is also important to Reeves. He sponsored a bill, which passed, that he described as one way to fix a broken system. The bill requires improvements to case reviews, lowers caseloads and gives the state commissioner of social services more oversight of local offices if they are deemed to be failing in their duties.
Transportation also has been on Reeves’ radar. He sponsored a bill this year which resulted in a study that will scrutinize the congested Interstate 95 corridor running through the Fredericksburg region.
The senator said Laufer is nothing like him.
“She is so far left,” he said. “We are polar opposites.”
Laufer pointed out another difference between the two: She has taken part in several forums her opponent did not attend.
“I’ve been to seven forums,” she said. “I’m the one showing up. I think that says a lot.”
The two are scheduled to debate at 7 p.m. Oct. 29 in Room 116 of at the University of Mary Washington’s Monroe Hall.
Laufer said she would take her work ethic to Richmond.
Reeves countered Laufer’s comments about the forums. He pointed out that he has a small business, coaches high school football and lacrosse, has a family and ran down a laundry list of his duties as senator.
And, Reeves added, he has been campaigning hard.
“I’m busy,” he said. “What has she done?”
While past opponents have posed little threat to Reeves, he expects this election to be close.
Reeves acknowledged that Laufer has raised a lot of money, but said much of it has flowed in from out-of-state Democrat sources that want to win Virginia as a way to “control redistricting.”
He still is confident.
“Money’s not going to win the 17th,” he said.
Laufer countered Reeves’ fundraising accusation by saying much of his money comes from big corporations and the coal industry.
Wherever the campaign money is coming from, Laufer raked in donations in September.
Her campaign raised $344,200 last month, with donations coming from 1,138 sources. Reeves raised $65,600 from 93 donors.
The latest campaign finance report posted by the Virginia Public Access Project shows Laufer raised more than $1.225 million for this campaign and had a balance of $134,695 as of Sept. 30. Reeves raised more than $1.349 million and had a balance of $248,119 at the end of September, according to VPAP.
This article has been updated to show the updated Monroe Hall room where the debate will be held.