In her campaign for lieutenant governor, Jill Vogel is doing everything she can to differentiate herself from the rest of the Republican Party. Her opponent, Democrat Justin Fairfax, says Vogel can't run from her Republican record.
Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor, and Vogel, a state senator from Fauquier County, are running for lieutenant governor in next month's election -- a post that offers few formal duties other than breaking ties in the state Senate but invariably serves as a launching post for future gubernatorial runs.
Perhaps it's not surprising that a Republican candidate would emphasize bipartisanship in Virginia, where Democrats have won the last seven statewide elections, going back to 2009.
Vogel, though, says she comes by her bipartisan credentials the honest way, as a state senator the last 10 years, representing constituents in a mostly rural swath of northwestern Virginia who, while they lean conservative, expect and demand a close working relationship with their local legislators on bread-and-butter issues like fixing potholes. She has made “principle before party” a slogan in TV ads and in debates.
“I have broken with my party time and time again,” she said.
Vogel cites her willingness to break with her party in supporting an openly gay judge, on environmental issues, and on low-profile but important issues like redistricting reform, where Republicans have been accused of gerrymandering the maps to maintain a GOP majority in an increasingly Democratic state.
Fairfax, though, mocked the notion that Vogel should get credit simply for refusing to discriminate against a gay judicial nominee. On key issues, he said, she has been in lockstep with her party: opposing Medicaid expansion and gun-control legislation.
“It just shows how out of the mainstream you are” when you seek credit for refusing to discriminate against gays, Fairfax said.
Fairfax has also made a campaign issue of legislation Vogel sponsored in 2012 that would have required women to receive an ultrasound before getting an abortion. As initially drafted, most women would have been required to undergo an invasive form of the ultrasound procedure, and the legislation was mocked by comedians on ``Saturday Night Live'' and elsewhere. Vogel withdrew the bill, but maintains it was misunderstood and unfairly portrayed to as a political ploy.
Fairfax said the bill was mocked for good reason.
“It was a horrible piece of legislation,” he said. “Even her own party rejected it. She can't explain this away.”
Fairfax, who worked a two-year stint as a federal prosecutor in Alexandria, has long been interested in politics. After graduating from Duke University, he worked as a briefing coordinator for Tipper Gore during her husband's 200 presidential campaign. He also worked on the staff of then-Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.
He quit his job as a prosecutor to run for attorney general in 2013, and nearly beat state Sen. Mark Herring.
Fairfax says his lack of experience in local politics is not a hindrance. He cited multiple role models who broke into politics at a statewide level, including Rep. Don Beyer, former Sen. Chuck Robb, and Bill Clinton, who was elected Arkansas Attorney general at age 30.
“I've always been passionate about public service. And lieutenant governor is an office in which you can do a tremendous amount of good,” he insisted, ticking off with enthusiasm the various boards on which he would be entitled to serve, like a climate change commission and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.
Vogel, though, said experience matters, and her experience as a state senator gives her a huge advantage. She said the state Senate remains a bastion of bipartisanship in a polarized political landscape, and she has learned to work with Democrats to get things done.
While she says she loves her colleagues in the senate on both sides of the aisle, she also chafes at a political culture that leads her to conclude that “in many ways, we're just a day away from powdered wigs.”
Virginia's General Assembly takes great pride in tracing its roots to Jamestown and claiming the title of the oldest continuous lawmaking body in the New World. Vogel takes pride, and remains astonished, that she is the first lawmaker in that body to give birth to a child while holding office. She travels home to Fauquier County every day to take care of her four kids, ages 5 through 14, rather than staying nights in Richmond during the legislative sessions.
“It takes a very unique family situation that would allow a woman of child-bearing age that has a family” to be able to serve in the legislature, she said. “It also takes a borderline insane person.”