Eduardo Acevedo, Contributing Writer
Hannah Eason, News Editor
Georgia Geen, Executive Editor
Political science alumna Sheila Bynum-Coleman outraised Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox — her opponent in the race for the 66th District — by more than $200,000 last month thanks to large out-of-state donations.
According to campaign finance reports filed with the Board of Elections, Democrat Bynum-Coleman raised $436,814 in September with 304 donations, and Republican Cox raised $195,339 with 183 donations. Independent candidate Linnard K. Harris Sr. raised $504 last month, totaling four donations.
Last month, Bynum-Coleman surpassed Cox with out-of-state contributions totaling $344,925. The top two donors were Everytown for Gun Safety, an anti-gun violence group — which donated $126,000 — and Emily’s List, whose mission is to elect pro-choice Democratic women. The group donated $125,000.
Bynum-Coleman’s largest in-state donation was from Michael Bills, a multi-millionaire who is now the largest individual campaign donor in Virginia and has vowed to donate money to candidates who are not accepting money from Dominion Energy.
Cox raised $14,000 in out-of-state donations in September. Cox’s largest out-of-state contribution derived from the Asian American Hotel Owners Association based in Georgia, which gave $5,000.
His largest in-state contributions were from the Virginia Automobile and Truck Dealers PAC with $20,000, and Altria Client Services LLC with $15,000.
As of Sept. 30, total donations for the campaign season for Cox and Bynum-Coleman totaled more than $1 million each, with Harris raising almost $11,000.
Cox will be defending three decades of incumbency after illegal gerrymandering caused some Virginia districts to be redrawn, including his own, making a victory for the Republican uncertain.
Now, Bynum-Coleman and Harris have a shot at unseating Cox in the Nov. 5 election, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, or VPAP. For 29 years Cox has held the 66th District, but after it was redrawn for being illegally gerrymandered to concentrate black voters, the Republican-leaning district has shifted party favorability by 32 points.
Bynum-Coleman says social media, mail lists and donations nationwide have been driving her campaign.
“We’re knocking on a lot of doors and we have a very large grassroots campaign,” Bynum-Coleman said.
On June 26, 2018, Democrats in the House won a lawsuit against district maps made by the Republican party, which found 11 districts were racially gerrymandered. This resulted in 25 districts being redrawn, including the 66th.
The race for House seat 66 has become one of the most competitive races in the state; if Cox does not win the election, he will no longer be the House Speaker.
If the election flips the majority party in the House, Virginians could see the first Democratic Speaker of the House in 19 years.
Cox, a former history teacher in Colonial Heights, was unanimously voted the Speaker of the House in January 2018. According to his website, Cox has focused on providing aid to veterans, active-duty military and their families, creating jobs in Virginia and supporting Virginians with disabilities.
“Democrats have relied heavily on liberal millionaires and out of state PACs to fund their campaigns,” Cox’s spokesperson Parker Slaybaugh said in an email. “On November 5th, we’re confident our record of results and running a positive campaign will ensure Delegate Cox returns to Richmond, representing the people of Colonial Heights and Chesterfield.”
Madelyn Purcell, a resident of Cox’s district and VCU alum, believes Cox has a good chance of winning the race thanks to his history in the district.
“I just think that he has done an awesome job,” Purcell said. “I remember him always being involved and actually caring about the issues for this district and really taking people’s thoughts and suggestions to heart.”
Cox’s stance against the legalization of marijuana is one issue Purcell does not agree with.
“With everything that’s been going on with the counterfeit THC carts, it’s time for the government to step it up and make it legal and regulate it,” Purcell said. “That’s the only way that people aren’t going to die and you’re going to be able to control what is put in there.”
Cox did not respond to three phone calls and two emails requesting comment.
Bynum-Coleman said criminal justice reform, gun violence and healthcare were the most polarizing issues in her district during this election.
“Virginia has a very latent and egregious problem with incarcerating children of color in schools and the numbers in which we incarcerate black adults,” Bynum-Coleman said.
Independent candidate Harris is fighting for more accessible benefits for disabled veterans and providing resources for the homeless population, like transportation to and from shelters.
“It takes forever for disabled veterans to actually get their disability,” Harris said. “The first time I tried to get my benefits it took two years. … It shouldn’t take that long to make a decision.”
His website says he supports tax reform that will “protect the middle class,” affordable healthcare and better pay for teachers and police officers. Harris said he believes the Second Amendment should be upheld, with the exception of assault weapons.
“I would first start by taking the assault weapons out of peoples hands, period,” Harris said. “I’m not trying to take handguns or take the right to defend yourself or your family away from you. I’m willing to defend my family too, but I’m not going to walk around with an assault rifle on my shoulders or sit on my porch with an assault weapon.”
This article was updated to include a statement from Parker Slaybaugh.