Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, is running a hard-right campaign for governor, but before she takes on any Democrats, she’s battling leaders of her own party.
The state GOP voted last weekend to select its candidate for governor in a convention rather than an open primary, prompting Chase to threaten to enter the race as an independent unless the party reverses course.
Chase has embraced a Trump-like persona — a style of campaigning that, in Virginia, has worked for neither Trump nor past candidates who have tried to emulate him.
Party leaders fear Chase could win in a crowded primary, dooming their chances of taking back the Executive Mansion in a year they view as their best chance after more than a decade of statewide losses. The decision to hold a convention instead, where a candidate would have to win at least 51 percent of the vote, is widely understood as an effort to block Chase’s candidacy.
In the second of a series of interviews with Virginia’s 2021 gubernatorial candidates, Chase promised a hands-off approach to the pandemic, talked about her battle with the state GOP and assailed her only announced opponent as “weak-kneed.”
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Mercury: You’ve described yourself as “Trump in heels” but Trump himself hasn’t really done very well in Virginia and neither have candidates who have tried to emulate him. Why do you think you’ll fare any better?
Chase: Well, I will fare better in Virginia because people know me as a fighter of the people. They know that I don’t back down on issues that are important to them. The Second Amendment — I was one of the main speakers at the Second Amendment rally. I held a Reopen Virginia Rally to advocate for reopening Virginia. I have stood with Virginians during this COVID crisis as the leading voice to say, “Educate, not mandate.” I have been a leading voice for businesses. … I truly understand the issues. I have been campaigning for the past nine months listening to the people, averaging 17 to 18 events a week. I have listened to the people. And they support my campaign for governor. They see me as the people’s governor. And that’s the way they saw President Trump.
But, again, Trump lost in Virginia, and this year by an even wider margin. Why do you see that as an asset?
So, I am stronger on gun rights than President Trump. I am the loudest advocate in the General Assembly. President Trump and I are different on that. There are similarities and there are differences. I support President Trump. I support his policies and I am similar to President Trump in that I don’t back down. I move forward. I do the right thing that’s best for the people instead of caving in like many weak-kneed Republicans do. I have a backbone and I stand up to the establishment elite, the pay-to-play system in Richmond. Just like President Trump didn’t kowtow to the media or the pay-to-play system. He just did what he thought was the right thing for the people. And on that, we’re very much in line with each other.
What I hear you saying is you’re like Trump, but have even stronger conservative credentials and in a General Election, why would that help you in a state that’s been trending blue?
Oh, because the Second Amendment is the great unifier of Americans and Virginians. I have Democrats and independents who are openly denouncing the Democratic party. And (Confederate) monuments, by the way — because I’ve been a fierce defender of protecting and not erasing, not censoring our history.
You’ve been at odds with the GOP in Virginia for a few years now. You were booted from your local GOP committee after you endorsed an independent candidate for sheriff, you left the Senate Republican Caucus and now you’re threatening to run as an independent yourself. Where in your view has the state party gone wrong in Virginia?
I think the Republican party in Virginia has strayed from the very principles and policies in the Republican creed. They’ve strayed. And I have held people accountable, and instead of holding the offenders accountable, they’ve attacked me. And that’s unfortunate. I will continue to hold people accountable. I work for the people of Virginia, not a party, not a caucus. I am a Christian conservative Republican, in that order. And people know my voting record, they trust me and we have unfortunately Republicans who have supported bills along with Democrats — everything like Kirk Cox, who has supported expanding Medicaid in Virginia. We have Republicans supporting tax increases. We have Republicans who have said if you’re transgender it’s OK to change your birth certificate. We have Republicans who are supporting gambling here in Virginia. So they either need to run under a different party label or we need to better define the principles and the mission of the Republican party.
Running as an independent would almost certainly help the Democratic candidate, dividing the Republican vote. I understand this is something you said you would do since you announced your candidacy, but does splitting the GOP vote concern you?
Yes, it concerns me greatly. I have said from the beginning that I will fully run for governor and I won’t quit. Secondly, that I will seek the Republican nomination in a primary. If the Republican Party of Virginia State Central Committee selects a convention, knowing that I will follow through like I did when I chose to leave the Republican Senate caucus because they chose failed leadership, that is their fault. Not mine. They are splitting the vote, not me.
You have a history of talking about discrimination against White people. Most recently you were alleging the Democratic party “hates white people.” It’s well documented that Black people face ongoing and persistent discrimination in housing, employment and in the criminal justice system that White people don’t. Do you acknowledge that anti-Black racism is a problem and, if so, is that something you would try to combat and how?
I believe in equal rights, not special rights. And I believe there are members in the General Assembly who are advocating for special rights, which I oppose.
But do you believe that anti-Black discrimination continues to be a problem?
I would say that I believe in equal opportunity, but not equal outcomes. Everyone should be given the same opportunity, but we cannot guarantee equal outcomes. I believe that racism is bad. I mean, racism is bad, but we need to address racism as just that — it’s not just White against Black and Black against White. We cannot tolerate any racism, at all. Blacks hating Whites. Whites hating Blacks. We have to unify all people as Virginians and we need to stop the identity politics.
How do statements like “the Democratic Party hates White people” help unify Virginians?
There are members of the Democratic party who have advanced and pushed forward and signed into law legislation that elevates one particular group above another, saying that we treat them differently than another group of people. And I don’t care what color skin you are, that is wrong. No matter what the color of skin is. We are Virginians. We should treat everyone equally and the legislation that has been put forward by members of the Black Caucus elevate one group over another. And I believe in equal treatment and not special treatment.
Well how do you think the state should address all the racial disparities we see where Black people are, for instance —
It’s not just Black people. Racism is wrong. It’s not just toward Black people. We have racism toward Asian people. They’re discriminated against in our colleges and universities and I can show that with the numbers.
— when you look at the statistics, Black people in Virginia do face extensive barriers — 2.3 times more like to be charged with possession of marijuana than White people, two times more likely to be denied a mortgage, on average earning 30 percent less. The numbers are just staggering when you look at them —
Well here’s what I would tell you, I believe we should give people equal opportunities. I believe that, 100 percent. Give everybody an equal opportunity.
You recently posted a photo of yourself on Facebook next to Rosa Parks with the text “We never back down.” What similarities were you suggesting you share with the civil rights icon?
I never back down. I have been bullied for standing up for what I believe is wrong. I have exposed the pay-to-play system in Virginia politics. As a result I have been bullied by members of the Senate of Virginia. Even members of my own caucus for taking a stand against the pay-to-play system, which works against the will of the people which emboldens the political action committees and the lobbyists.
Sometimes it reads like you’re intentionally baiting criticism and attention with posts like that.
I speak the truth and sometimes people can’t handle the truth. But you can know one thing, I believe in transparency. I’m not a politician. A lot of politicians like to avoid the hard realities that we face and I believe we need to address issues by talking about them and addressing them head on, and that’s what I do. I say what the average Virginian is thinking and what the average Republican refuses to say because they’re too politically correct to address the real issues.
You’ve protested COVID-19 restrictions, you were the only state senator who refused to wear a mask in the chamber when they were meeting in person, which obviously goes against mainstream medical advice. What would the response to the pandemic look like in a Chase administration?
Number one, educate not mandate. It should never be a Class 1 misdemeanor to violate an executive order. Executive orders are not law. There should not be an indefinite executive order in place. There should be a limitation on the governor’s orders. We should never have a situation where we have one person making all of those decisions for Virginians without any limitation. I would allow the businesses in Virginia to determine whether they wanted people to wear masks or not, whether they wanted to incorporate social distancing or not. It is their private property and it is their decision to either require patrons to wear the masks and to social distance and to not.
Studies have shown that areas with fewer restrictions or where restrictions aren’t observed there’s higher rates of spread and then obviously sickness and deaths. Does that concern you?
It does concern me. But If we’re doing our job educating the public about the dangers, they on their own will take those necessary precautions. Nobody wants to get sick. Nobody wants to die. We as Virginians, we as Americans, have an innate desire to protect ourselves and our families. We don’t need overreaching government to come in and make those decisions for us. It’s self-preservation. If the numbers continue to go up and we’re educating Virginians that the numbers are going up, they will take the necessary precautions. Government does not have to dictate every solution.
What would your top policy priority be as governor?
Number one, I would get rid of the executive orders. That’s the first thing I would do. The second thing I would do is use executive orders to return us back the constitutional plumb line — restoring our Second Amendment rights and our First Amendment rights. I would reverse this attack on our businesses by allowing businesses to open. We need to put policies in place which help our businesses grow and thrive. We need to stay out of their way instead of adding more burdensome restrictions instead of making it against the law to earn a living.
What bill would you say you’re most proud of that you passed in your legislative career?
Probably the most significant one would be the historic coal ash cleanup here in Virginia in which known carcinogens were leaking into our rivers and cleaning that up. I worked across the aisle on that and we worked together to get that done.
Thinking about your only announced opponent, Kirk Cox, what would you say the biggest difference is between you two?
The biggest difference between Kirk Cox and I is I fought against Medicaid expansion. He worked with Gov. Ralph Northam to expand Medicaid here in Virginia, which was against what we campaigned for as Republicans. He’s also voted for tax increases. I would argue the Central Virginia Transportation Authority that was newly created that added an additional regional tax here in the greater Richmond area — he voted for that. Another big difference is Kirk Cox goes along to get along whereas I stand up to fight for the people. Just as I am fighting for the primary over the convention. I took a very strong stand because I believe I could win either a convention or a primary but the point is this: People are very upset about the current governor and I believe they should have a say in who their next nominee will be. In conventions, people can get blackballed. You can sign up to be a delegate and told you can’t participate in the process. I’m a fighter whereas Kirk Cox tends to just go along to get along.
Chase called the day after this interview was conducted to say that she forgot to mention a key element to her case for why she believes her Trump-style campaign will succeed where Donald Trump himself failed: Her unfounded claims that there was widespread voter fraud in Virginia.
“I believe that when we clean up the fraud in Virginia, that will also give me a better chance to win,” Chase said. “Does that make sense?”
Mercury: Yes, except we haven’t seen any evidence of voter fraud.
Chase: We’re in the process of proving that. There is a path to victory, and yes we have to conduct an investigation so we can show the fraud, and that’s what we’re working on. It may or may not help President Trump this year, but I’m committed to spending the time working with Sidney Powell, David Gordon of The Virginia Project, to expose and deal with the fraud in Virginia. We are going to prove it. A lot of people are like, “Prove it, prove it.” Well, it takes time to prove it. And so, that’s one of the top things on my list.
I was reading a PolitiFact interview where they were looking at your statements in a radio interview and you had said there was overvoting in this one Chesterfield precinct always. They looked into it and found none. And then your reply to that was, “I wouldn’t put any credence in what I was saying.” [PolitiFact rated Chase’s claim “Pants on Fire!”]
That was the frustrating part for me. That (alleged fraud) was not this year, that was like 10 years ago. Why are you asking me that question? I said, “I’m talking about a Southside precinct where I saw it happen years ago.” I’m not saying that this happened here. It was a memory that I had and he’s trying to factualize it and get it proved. And I was like, I can’t prove this. I’m being honest with you.
One of the things I have to be careful of, is they’re not listening to the entirety of what I’m saying or the context of what I’m saying. … My frustration is people are trying to make things black and white and they’re not.
I mean, I think voter fraud is a pretty black and white issue. It either happened or it didn’t.
I disagree with you.