Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox will air the first television ad of his reelection campaign today, a clip seemingly designed to suggest Cox has the support of minority communities. The 30-second spot features mostly people of color calling Cox, “one of us.”
The video is also among the first television ads of the 2019 General Assembly elections. Democrats said that’s a sign that Cox fears a mounting campaign from his challenger, African American building contractor Sheila Bynum-Coleman, The Washington Post reports.
“He’s one of the most powerful Republicans in Virginia, and he’s clearly scared of running his first competitive race in years,” Kathryn Gilley, a spokeswoman for the House Democratic caucus, told the Post. “Sheila Bynum-Coleman has the momentum and the support — and Cox knows it.”
Cox and Bynum-Coleman are both running in unfamiliar territory — the re-drawn lines of House District 66, which now includes more black voters after a federal court said the previous district lines were racially gerrymandered. In the old district, which Cox has represented in the House since 1990, 76 percent of voters were white and 18 percent were black. The new district, which now tilts Democratic, is 58 percent white and 34 percent black, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
Bynum-Coleman previously ran against Republican Del. Riley Ingram in the 62nd District in 2017, under the old electoral map. Ingram, like Cox, is an older, white, male GOP incumbent, who narrowly held onto his seat against Bynum-Coleman in the 2017 elections.
Though her opponent this year is more of a household name, Bynum-Coleman is optimistic about her chances.
“Everyone hates him because he’s done so many bad things,” she said in an interview.
While Cox is revered among Republicans for his pro-business policies and leadership on this year’s tax conformity bill, his far-right stances on issues like gay rights and gun violence have earned him many enemies over his 19 years in the House.
As House majority leader, Cox controls the flow of legislation through the Chamber, and he has come under fire for not allowing full floor votes on bills he does not personally support, like measures aimed at extending anti-discrimination protections to members of the LGBTQ community.
Recently, during a special session of the General Assembly on gun control, Cox played a leading role in sending lawmakers home after just 90 minutes without allowing for a single vote on bills like universal background checks. He called the session, “an election-year stunt.”
For Bynum-Coleman, that’s just the latest example of political leaders obstructing debate on essential issues that matter to their constituents, including Bynum-Coleman’s daughter, who was shot but survived. “My daughter getting shot was not an election-year stunt,” she said on Twitter.
“If you’re going to lead, then you should lead. But leadership to me doesn’t look like political interference, and that’s what he’s doing.”
Bynum-Coleman would be the first woman and first African American person to represent the district in the House — historic feats that are not lost on her.
“As a woman, you get the question what makes you qualified, and as a black woman, you get that even more,” she said. “I’m critiqued at every level in every space in everything that I do.” Bynum-Coleman added that she is constantly told that “…I’m not doing this right. I don’t wear the right things. I don’t say the right things.”
What’s more important than appeasing critics, she continued, is to keep doing what she’s always done, “hold my head up and fight through the week.”