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by Brandon Jarvis

The difference in votes between Del. Roxann Robinson (R-HD27) and her Democratic opponent for the last two elections combined is 317 votes. But after losing by 189 votes in 2019, Democrats are hoping that their efforts this year will help them defeat Robinson, the Chesterfield district’s representative in the House since 2010. 

Chesterfield has been trending left in recent years with a blue wave in 2017 and 2019 that resulted in 21 House seats flipping from Republican to Democrat. But while momentum was on their side with Donald Trump in office, Democrats were still unable to win in this district. Debra Gardner is the candidate looking to get them over the hump this year, even as strategists fear lower Democratic turnout across the commonwealth. 

Gardner began her career as a social worker and eventually worked at state agencies serving as a liaison to the General Assembly. “I have spent my 30-year career working to help marginalized communities, advocating for fair and equal rights for everybody and just trying to make the quality of life better for the people in my community,” Gardner said in an interview with Virginia Scope Tuesday. 

Her plan for making up the small margin of votes that Democrats have repeatedly lost by is to increase the number of voters participating in the next election. “I started out by trying to bring more voters into the fold because, in all honesty, this is a 50/50 district,” Gardner said. “So what we needed to do in my opinion was expand our voter base.”  

She says her campaign has been assisted by the grassroots activists in Liberal Women of Chesterfield County (LWCC), a group that grew to prominence under the leadership of Kim Drew Wright when she began meetings after Trump’s election. LWCC’s membership expanded quickly and mobilized to help both the Democrats in 2017 and Abigail Spanberger in 2018 as she won a historically Republican congressional district. The group is still functioning today, knocking doors and writing postcards for Democrats across the area. 

“We have mobilized that contingency of LWCC and got them out knocking doors,” Gardner said. “We have one of the most extensive postcard writing organizations that is out here.”

She also noted that the Texas abortion ban that went into effect last month really helped motivate Democrats and galvanize the grassroots. “Choice is a major issue in this area,” Gardner said of tracking polls from the district.

Republicans are optimistic heading into the November statewide elections after losing the previous two governor races. Additionally, the Democrats have won every Senate race during the same time period, leaving Republicans in a statewide victory drought since 2009. But with two years of complete Democratic control in the state government and a Democratic White House, Republicans hope the enthusiasm on their side can help them make up for the 10 points that Biden defeated Trump by last year. 

The GOP ticket has narrowed its focus on education issues in the suburbs. “​​If this election is about the battle for the suburbs, Chesterfield county is Ground Zero,” said Richard Meagher, associate professor of political science at Randolph Macon College. “This race is really about the broader political environment. If the Republicans have any hope of winning in this state in the future, then this is exactly the kind of race they need to win.” 

Gardner hopes that her lived experiences will help her get an edge on Robinson. “My lived experience is much different than hers,” Gardner noted, saying she will focus on community outreach and speaking for the people impacted by the General Assembly’s decisions. 

“I want to be a voice for our community, “Gardner said. “This is about the people.”

Robinson did not respond to multiple interview requests for this article.

Election day is Nov. 2. 

Virginia Scope is an independent news publication that is funded largely by donations and subscribers. As local newsrooms are losing writers each day, we are trying to fill the void to ensure that the public is informed and that leaders are held accountable for their actions. Please consider becoming a paid subscriber to our newsletter or making a donation through Paypal below so we can continue to work in Virginia. 

By vascope

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