RICHMOND — Redistricting has put a major spotlight on Senate District 24, which runs from Williamsburg to Poquoson in Virginia’s Tidewater area and reaches south to a portion of Newport News.
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As national money floods into the race, both candidates are acknowledging the importance to their party of the seat, but remain determined to run locally focused campaigns.
Sen. Monty Mason, a Democrat, is the incumbent for about 65% of voters. He’s hoping a track record of bipartisan work, including advocating for tax cuts and pushing pro-business measures, will win over swing voters.
His challenger is Danny Diggs, who served as York-Poquoson sheriff for 23 years. A Republican, Diggs is aligning himself with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s “Parents Matter” agenda, while also emphasizing his public safety credentials from his time in law enforcement.
Both will be front and center in the statewide race during the coming weeks as they face what’s expected to be one of the tightest races of the fall. Voters in the district supported Youngkin for governor in 2021 by about 3 points and Biden for president in 2020 by the same margin, according to data from the Virginia Department of Elections. A testament to the closeness of the contest is the amount of donations pouring in: As of June 30, Mason had raised $1.01 million to $679,602 in contributions for the Diggs campaign.
“I’m certainly glad I had been the sheriff and have been involved in the political process for that long, because otherwise it would have been quite a shock to step into something of this magnitude,” Diggs said.
Mason said the race is “exactly what we knew it was going to be.”
“We’re just trying to do the job on the ground and not get caught up in some of the national fervor,” he added.
Mason noted that he has crossed the aisle on a number of initiatives. He provided a key vote in favor of allowing parents the final say over sexually explicit classroom materials, and sponsored a bill allowing small businesses to band together to create health care consortiums, a Chamber of Commerce initiative. Of the 17 bills he passed this year, he said 10 were patroned or co-patroned by a Republican.
Early television ads have touted his support for tax cuts, traditionally a Republican issue.
“I think that’s what people want,” he said. “And I still believe that’s where most people live, is somewhere in the middle.”
Diggs believes his law enforcement past positions him well among the district’s electorate.
“One of the top topics people talk about is public safety,” the former sheriff said. “They’re worried about security in their homes. They want to feel safe in their communities, and they want their kids to be safe in schools.”
On the hot-button issue of abortion, both candidates see themselves as representing the public consensus.
Mason is casting his support for keeping the state’s existing laws in place. Currently, Virginia places few limits on abortion in the first and second trimesters and permits it in the third if three doctors decide continuing the pregnancy would pose a severe risk to the mother.
“I think overwhelmingly, nationally and statewide, people support the right to choose, and want abortion to remain safe and legal,” he said. “I think Virginia has a strong law on the books, and we should not tamper with it.”
Diggs said he supports Youngkin’s approach and proposed legislation, which limits abortion after 15 weeks.
“The governor has come up with a plan that’s well-received,” he said. “And that consensus is that we limit abortion at 15 weeks with exception for rape, incest and the life of the mother.”
He added that he’s in favor of providing “as many resources for women as they need,” both during pregnancy and if they enter the adoption process, and would like to make the adoption process easier.
Diggs said while on the campaign trail he’s heard voters emphasize concerns about public safety and education.
“People are concerned about the low test scores, what happened during COVID, and they now want to see our kids really get back to the basics,” he said. “They want reading, writing and arithmetic to be taught. They also want an unbiased, unfiltered version of history. Everybody feels like, hey, you’re going to repeat the mistakes of history unless you know what that history was.”
In addition to emphasizing concerns about student learning loss, Diggs is also echoing Republican messages arguing for greater parental involvement in education policy, a platform widely seen as having helped usher Youngkin into the governor’s mansion in 2021.
“People feel that parents have a right to know what their kids are being taught, and to have input into what they’re being taught,” Diggs said.
Mason said his work with Senate Democrats holding out for more education funding in the recent state budget shows his commitment to the issue. A recent study by the state’s legislative watchdog found Virginia is underfunding its public K-12 schools, and Mason noted he had visited a school classroom recently where there were 22 first-grade students, nine of whom had special needs. He said it’s crucial that the state fully fund support staff positions so those resources can be made available to schools.
“You see what we approved,” he said. “That encapsulated a fair amount of the things we’re talking about with learning loss and reading specialists before eighth grade.”
Mason said he’s focused on introducing himself to the district’s new voters but believes his work on regional issues will make it a smooth transition.
“I’ve always represented the central part of York County, so I’m very familiar with my district,” he said. “This isn’t like Southwest Virginia where you pick up a county that’s an hour and a half away and have to start from scratch.”
Diggs noted that he wouldn’t have made the leap to running for state Senate without the redistricting, which pulled Poquoson into the district, giving him what he hopes will be something similar to an incumbent’s edge.
“I’m certainly very, very well known in this entire district, not just in York and Poquoson,” he said. “This is a very favorable district for me, and I feel very confident we’re going to win.”
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