by Brandon Jarvis

In 2017, Del. Dawn Adams flipped the seat in the 68th district of the House of Delegates when she defeated the Republican incumbent Manoli Loupassi by less than 400 votes. She won reelection in 2019 by a much larger margin, but now the two-term delegate is facing a primary challenger who has concerns over her voting record and treatment of staff. 

“Del. Adams and I probably share a number of similarities because we are both Democrats — because we do both share a vision of the Democratic party but I think I am more progressive in a number of areas where I think her votes and her legislative actions have kind of demonstrated why we need better leadership in the 68,” said Kyle Elliott, the man challenging Adams for the Democratic nomination. 

HD-68 encompasses parts of Chesterfield, Henrico, and Richmond. Before losing to Adams in 2017, Loupassi held the seat for 10 years with little competition. Adams’ upset victory took place in a year when Democrats flipped 15 seats across the Commonwealth. 

With Trump out of office, Democrats are worried about keeping this seat along with a few others in November. Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn has made helping Adams in this primary race a priority for the caucus. In addition to the Speaker’s full support, other party leaders like Governor Ralph Northam and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw are supporting Adams as they attempt to keep the House caucus intact. 

But even with the support of the party of the establishment at her back being an endorsement of her job as a Democrat, Elliott believes that Adams has let her constituents down while in office.

First, he discussed Adams being one of only two Democrats during the 2020 session that voted against a bill that made it a civil penalty to not report a lost or stolen firearm. “That is a commonsense gun safety legislation bill that keeps guns out of the hands of people who should not have them,” Elliott said. 

The bill still was able to pass even though Adams voted against it.

Elliott then talked about the time in 2019 when Adams withdrew her support for a bill that would have eased restrictions on abortion if the mother’s life was in jeopardy.

The Republicans used this bill to attack Democrats for weeks, eventually resulting in death threats for the bill’s chief-sponsor, Kathy Tran. After heavy backlash from Republicans, Adams sent a letter to her constituents apologizing for sponsoring the bill and said she did not properly read the legislation before agreeing to sign on.

“That to me is problematic,” Elliott said. “This is going to be a quintessential fight here in Virginia in the upcoming session. We need to make sure we are doing everything we can here in Virginia to make sure we are enshrining protections in the Virginia code as well as the constitution. That is another key difference from Del. Adams and I — I will not back down from the radical right.” 

Adams also confidentially settled a lawsuit with a former staffer in 2020 after she was accused of hacking into that staffer’s personal email to delete files related to work. The delegate denied the accusations at the time and released the following statement after the lawsuit was settled. “I agreed that concluding the matter was in the best interests of my family, constituents and the parties most directly involved. I continue to believe I have always acted in the best interest of those I have served in any capacity. I look forward to continuing doing the legislative work I was elected to do and wish Ms. Hains the best.”

Elliott referenced that situation when noting that he wants to bring ethical leadership to the district. “That is problematic to me, the way you treat your staff with dignity and respect is important to me.”  

Adams did not respond to an interview request for this article. 

As for what drove him to jump into this race against an incumbent, Ellott says the social justice movement that took place across the country last year encouraged him to use his voice and help reform the criminal justice system. 

“I think like a lot of people, I was really moved to action by the events of 2020 — the murders of Geroge Floyd and Breonna Taylor really inspired a lot of us to want to fix what I think is an acute problem in criminal justice and policing,” Elliott said in an interview. “I was really proud to lend my voice to this movement.” 

Adams outraised Elliott in the recent filing by $28,000, but the donor lists for the candidates in this race are a window into the current state of politics across Virginia. With the Speaker and the Democratic establishment supporting Adams in the primary, Clean Virginia was still her largest donor in the latest filing with a $20,000 donation at the end of May. Clean Virginia is funded by Michael Bills, who is married to Sonjia Smith, who is the largest donor to Elliott’s campaign after giving him $79,000 in the latest quarterly filing. Either way, Smith or Bills will have been the largest donor to the winner in this primary.

Democratic voters in HD-68 will be choosing which of the two will be their nominee on Tuesday, June 8.


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