The University of Mary Washington will host four debates between candidates for local General Assembly seats leading up to the Nov. 5 elections.

Each debate is slated to start at 7 p.m., with the first on Sept. 5, involving candidates for the 28th District Senate seat. It will be in University Hall at the UMW’s Stafford County campus on U.S. 17.

Democrat Qasim Rashid is seeking to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Stuart in the district, which covers parts of Spotsylvania, Stafford, Prince William, Westmoreland and King George counties.

Stuart, a lawyer who grew up in Virginia’s Northern Neck, is a military veteran who served as Westmoreland County commonwealth’s attorney. Rashid is a Stafford County attorney who specializes in human rights law and has published several books. He aims to become the first Muslim American elected to the Virginia State Senate.

The other three debates will be held on UMW’s Fredericksburg campus.

Candidates for the 28th House District representing parts of Fredericksburg and Stafford are set to debate Sept. 18 in Room 411 in Lee Hall. In that race, former Stafford Supervisor Paul Milde, a Republican, faces Democrat Joshua Cole.

Milde, who runs his own businesses, beat incumbent Del. Bob Thomas in the primary. Cole is an assistant pastor at Union Bell Baptist Church in Stafford.

On Sept. 20, the candidates running in the 88th House District will face off in the same room of Lee Hall. Democrat Jessica Foster of Fauquier County is challenging incumbent Republican Del. Mark Cole of Spotsylvania for the seat representing parts of Fredericksburg and Fauquier, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties.

Cole, Spotsylvania’s deputy county administrator, is seeking his 10th two-year term. Foster is an attorney with a Manassas law firm she co-owns, specializing in representing juveniles and domestic abuse survivors.

The last debate, between candidates for the Senate’s 17th District, will take place Oct. 29 in Room 346 of UMW’s Monroe Hall. The race pits incumbent Republican Sen. Bryce Reeves of Spotsylvania against Democrat Amy Laufer of Albemarle County.

Reeves, a military veteran and insurance company owner, is seeking his third term. Laufer is a former middle school teacher and Peace Corps volunteer who served seven years on the Charlottesville City School Board.

The district covers the city of Fredericksburg and Orange County, and parts of Spotsylvania, Culpeper, Louisa and Albemarle counties.

Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science and director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies, organized the debates and will serve as the moderator for all four. He will be joined by panelists Ted Schubel, news director of News Talk 1230/WFVA and WBQB radio, and Barbara Hollingsworth, editorial page editor of The Free Lance–Star.

Written questions from the audience can be submitted in person shortly before the start of each debate.

Elections such as this one, in a year with no major national or statewide offices on the ballot, typically draw less interest and a lower turnout. But there is plenty at stake Nov. 5 as Democrats hope to swing control of the legislature away from the GOP, which holds a narrow edge in both the House and Senate.

Farnsworth noted that while most of the news “focuses on what is happening in Washington, it’s important for us to remember that what happens in Richmond plays an important role in the way we live.”

“Either party can win,” he added, pointing out that the state has a narrow divide between party lines and a lot can happen between now and November.

Farnsworth also said there are many “contentious issues” tied to the campaigns and politics in general, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline; gun laws; controversy surrounding the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general; and President Trump and his policies. All this adds up to what he called “a particularly interesting election.”

There are “close races, including some in our backyard, that will determine which party is in control come January,” Farnsworth said.

The debates are co-sponsored by UMW’s College Republicans, Young Democrats and the Legislative Action Committee of the Student Government Association, as well as The Free Lance–Star, the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Fredericksburg Area League of Women Voters.

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Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

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