By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Aug. 20 — Republican candidate for lieutenant governor Winsome Sears paid a visit to Luray on Friday to address about 50 GOP-faithful at the party’s new election headquarters on East Main Street.
“You know who isn’t coming here…the Democrats,” Sears said. “Where is she?”
The GOP nominee for the state’s second-highest office in the executive branch called out her opponent, Democratic nominee Del. Hala Ayala, for not getting out to meet the voters.
“I think she was about seven points ahead of me, and then we started to get into the communities we needed to and now we’re neck and neck,” Sears said. “We’re hearing from people who are tired of the ‘woke’ movement, tired of the cancelling…we can’t be afraid. We must be able to speak our minds…when did we get so soft?”
Del. Todd Gilbert (15th-Woodstock), who will face a challenge from Democrat Emily Scott this fall, opened up Friday’s events by introducing Sears to the local Republican Committee.
“She’s a history major…she’s the first in a lot of ways [in the General Assembly]…first legal immigrant, first female veteran, first black woman…lots of firsts…she’s a Marine, a wife, a mother, a small business owner…and if I can say…tail kicker…she does a lot of that too,” Gilbert said in his introduction. “She’s an amazing woman and an amazing leader, and we have an amazing opportunity to take the top seat in the [Virginia] Senate, flip the House and take the other top seats too.”
“Voters have buyer’s remorse on what they bought into,” Gilbert said, referring to the Democratic sweep of the top three seats in the executive branch four years ago.
Sears opened her remarks by addressing the current situation in Afghanistan. She criticized President Biden’s withdrawal from the war-torn country and how the withdrawal was carried out.
“We broke our word to them,” Sears said of the Afghan people who helped the U.S. “One trillion dollars down the drain and we get nothing from it…We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”
Sears also addressed why she focused on several issues some might deem as “federal” problems.
“The strike zone…we’re in it,” Sears said. “People ask me, isn’t that the federal level, you are a state candidate…when the bomb drops, is there a federal level? Does it matter then?”
With the election seeming to tighten as Election Day draws closer, Sears noted that many Republican counties in Virginia have not recently been voting in high enough numbers to overcome the “blue wave” in Northern Virginia.
“In Republican counties…you are not voting…only in presidential elections,” Sears said, quoting a figure of 400,000 registered Republicans who did not vote in the last statewide election for top offices. “Ask your neighbors to vote starting Sept. 17…that’s only a month away because of early voting.”
“Don’t assume that just because we are in a Republican county or area that everyone will vote,” Sears continued. “Take people, sign them up…this is all hands on deck…because the only poll that matters is Election Day.”
The 45-minute address took on the feel of a church service as Sears began a call-and-response exchange with the crowd at one point, repeating twice and then getting the crowd to repeat: “We’re gonna pray, and then we’re gonna get to work.”
“Frederick Douglas once said, I prayed 20 years and nothing happened, until I prayed with my feet,” Sears told local Republicans.
Several supporters in the room pointed out the need to widen margins in Republican strongholds in order to overcome more densely-populated areas of the state that typically trend toward Democrats.
“Let’s not say we didn’t win because we didn’t come out,” Sears said.
The Republican candidate for lieutenant governor addressed questions about education, immigration, vaccine mandates and Second Amendments rights, but she spent the majority of her Q&A time trying to reassure the crowd of the integrity of the election process.
Page County supervisor Allen Louderback (District 2), a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, asked on two occasions about where Dominion voting machines were placed in the state.
“Do we know where they are…Northern Virginia, do they have it?” Louderback asked. “If those areas have that, they may keep that 70/30 [Democrats votes compared to Republican votes] and not get 60/40.”
“I swear…I don’t think we have anything to worry about there,” Sears told Louderback in reference to voting machines.
Sears noted that she wanted to require photo identification for all voters, rewrite election laws to “give them teeth”, do away with drop boxes and encouraged volunteers to serve as “poll watchers.” She also referenced a court order to “clean up the voter books” before the election. She liked the idea of paper ballots, as one person in the audience suggested, but noted that, “You have to be willing to pay for it…because it’s going to cost money. If you want to pay for it [in your locality], then I’m all for it.”
Sears also noted the importance of voting in all elections, especially local elections.
“We didn’t think as much about the importance of school boards did we?” Sears asked. “What can a school board do? Well now we know what a school board can do.”
With regard to vaccine mandates, Sears stated: “I don’t like it. I’m not forcing anybody to do that…but you all should take precautions.”
As the candidate walked through a number of issues, the discussion came back around to the integrity of the election.
“I really think you need to look into this Dominion thing,” Louderback said again. “We want you to win, and we don’t want someone to be able to manipulate it with a computer.”
“Trust me, I don’t want to do all this work and then lose to a computer…but I don’t know how we would get [a full forensic audit of all the machines] done,” Sears told the crowd.
“We can trust the results,” Sears said. “If you really feel that’s the case [and the voting machines can’t be trusted], then don’t vote…but we can’t do that can we?”
“I swear, I don’t think we have anything to worry about there.”
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