Senate District 27 race: Republican Durant vs. Democrat Griffin vs. Independent Gary
Republican Del. Tara Durant, Democrat Joel Griffin and Independent Monica Gary are competing for the Fredericksburg-area Senate District 27. (Courtesy of Durant, Griffin and Gary campaigns)
Virginia’s Senate District 27, a newly drawn district around the city of Fredericksburg in a region with a history of tight margins, has the most crowded ballot in the state.
There, Republican Del. Tara Durant, Democrat Joel Griffin and Independent Monica Gary are sparring on abortion access, learning loss and electoral reforms. Republican Matt Strickland, who lost the primary to Durant this June, is also running a write-in campaign.
In past elections, voters in the district have gone for Democrats including U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine. But they also threw their support behind Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and former President Donald Trump.
More funding in the race has so far gone to Griffin than Durant, with the Democrat raising about $1.7 million and the Republican $1.3 million, according to the latest data from the Virginia Public Access Project. Gary has raised about $213,000.
Durant, a former schoolteacher who has represented the region in the House since 2022, is focusing her campaign on addressing learning loss, reducing crime and lowering taxes.
“These are still the staple issues, the ones I hear about when I talk to people in the district the same as two years ago, and they remain a top priority,” Durant said.
Griffin, a veteran who is founder and CEO of an investment firm and served as chairman of the Stafford County Economic Development Authority, has centered his campaign on enshrining abortion access in the state Constitution, preventing book bans and supporting the economy through data center development.
“I think the reality is that people don’t want their government stepping in and telling half the citizens what they can do,” said Griffin.
Gary, a Stafford County supervisor who has been open about her past as a stripper, is focusing on abortion access, school funding and electoral reforms like ranked choice voting and campaign finance limits.
“I understand the difficulty of trying to get out of the assistance and out of the system, how hard that is,” Gary said.
Griffin and Gary are highlighting abortion in their campaigns, while Durant has been relatively quiet on the issue.
Virginia currently allows abortion with few restrictions in the first and second trimesters and permits it in the third if three doctors agree continuing the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother. After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, many Virginia Republicans have backed a proposal by Youngkin to ban the procedure after 15 weeks except in cases of rape, incest and a threat to the life of the mother.
Griffin has said he supports a constitutional abortion amendment that Senate Democrats passed in the most recent legislative session but House Republicans defeated. Republicans have criticized the amendment as going further than the state’s current law to allow abortions under any circumstance.
The amendment stated that the “right to make and effectuate one’s own decisions about all matters related to one’s pregnancy shall not be denied, burdened, or infringed upon.”
“We pass that in this legislative session by having a blue Senate and turning the House blue,” Griffin said. “Then we come back next year for the next session, and we vote on it again.”
While Durant early in her campaign was quiet on the issue of abortion, she released a statement in support of the 15-week restrictions after Griffin ran an ad stating she supported legislation that would force a rape victim to “carry to term.”
“The lies touted by Joel Griffin’s campaign are a failed effort to cloud the extreme, partisan stance he’s recently adopted in exchange for campaign cash,” read the statement, which also noted Griffin donated to her campaign in 2022. Griffin’s campaign said the donation was made “before he knew how extreme she was.”
Meanwhile, Gary said she wants to make access to abortion easier by reducing the number of referrals needed for the procedure in the third trimester from three to two.
“I think that’s very cost restrictive, especially with the increasing costs of health care,” Gary said.
All three candidates are focusing strongly on education, with Durant dialing in on learning loss, Griffin focusing on halting districts from banning books, and Gary highlighting the need to improve school funding.
Durant has accused Democrats of “reducing standards” in education, leading to learning loss exacerbated by pandemic-era school closures. In an interview with the Mercury, she specifically said she wants to revive legislation to provide extra math instruction in districts with lagging SOL scores or rural or economically disadvantaged areas.
“Math is so challenging because it becomes a snowball effect,” said Durant. “It really kind of compounds itself over time.”
Griffin is focusing on additional school funding and blocking legislation that could lead to book bans. The issue has gotten special attention in Spotsylvania, part of which lies in the district, after division leaders removed 37 books from county high school libraries.
“We need to stop creating this adversarial relationship between the students, the parents, the teachers, the administration,” Griffin said.
Funding for schools is also a top priority for Gary, who argued the state needs to keep its cost of competing adjustment in its funding formula, despite criticism of the instrument as outdated by Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.
Replacing the current system with one-time funding sources is “just going to continue to cause other neighboring localities to struggle more,” Gary said, pointing to local school divisions’ decision to put classrooms in trailers when faced with building problems.
Crime, economy and electoral reform
The three candidates are also running on a varied slate of other issues.
Durant is emphasizing the need to reduce crime by funding law enforcement.
Police “need the resources and tools in order to do their job and to keep us safe,” Durant said. “That is not happening. That gets blocked by the Senate repeatedly.”
Griffin is zeroing in on encouraging the growth of data centers in the region.
“I want to make sure that we address all of the issues and concerns regarding being environmentally conscious, making sure that we have a local workforce here in the area to be providing the services,” Griffin said.
And Gary is pushing for changes to the state’s electoral system, including campaign contribution limits and ranked choice voting.
“People are frustrated, because they don’t feel they often don’t feel like they can vote for who they really believe in,” Gary said.
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