Virginia lieutenant governor nominee scrubs extreme views on guns, abortion from website

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Winsome Sears' website quietly removed mentions of her opposition to abortion rights, gun safety, and voting rights in recent weeks.

Earlier this summer, Winsome Sears, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor of Virginia, made clear on her website issues page that she was a fierce opponent of abortion rights and gun control and a strong supporter of school vouchers and voter suppression legislation.

Now none of those positions are even mentioned.

Sears, a far-right activist who won a single term in the state legislature in 2001 before running unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives, won the nomination for lieutenant governor on May 8 during ranked voting at the state Republican Party's nominating convention.

As reported by the progressive website Blue Virginia on Sept. 11, Lauren Chou, the communications director for Sears' opponent, Democratic Virginia Del. Hala Ayala, tweeted on Sept. 10 about significant changes made to Sears' campaign website's issues page in recent days.

The previous version, last captured by the Internet Archive on July 1, had highlighted her views that abortion rights are "wicked" and that "God creates life: whether by test-tube or natural means." It noted her promise to "defend our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms" and that "Gun control laws DO NOT deter crime; rather it is gun ownership that deters crime." It affirmed her support for "parental school choice" to use public funding to allow parents to send their children to any "private school, public school, or charter school."

It also fear-mongered about "Ballot Box Integrity," touting her support for strict voter ID laws, tougher requirements for voting by mail, and increased purges of voter rolls.

As of Friday, all of those positions are gone, replaced by support for issues such as "Creating Good Paying Jobs," "Cutting Costs for Families," "Uplifting Black Virginians," "Serving our Veterans," and "Keeping Virginia Safe."

While her "Open and Strengthen Schools" section mentions that will "empower parents with choices," Sears now says only that she would do so "by Creating More Opportunities, Especially in Failing School Districts."

A Sears campaign spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry about why the site was changed.

But the alterations coincided with a report on Sept. 9 that, according to her former press secretary, Sears had replaced much of her campaign team two months before Election Day, reportedly some six campaign staffers, including the press secretary and her campaign manager. "Campaigns retool all the time," Sears told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "We're trying to be more lean and that's it. There is no big story here."

While the Sears website no longer highlights her most extreme positions, it does not appear her views have moderated. The Hill reported that in a Sept. 3 interview with Newsmax, Sears endorsed a Texas-style ban on abortion starting as early as six weeks into pregnancy. "When did it become the wrong thing for us to support the babies in the womb?" she asked. Both Sears' campaign and the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin told the Hill that such a ban would not have the votes to pass in Virginia, however.

But the lieutenant governor race could determine the fate of abortion rights in Virginia.

The Democratic-controlled legislature and outgoing Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam enacted multiple pro-choice laws over the past two years.

But both the governorship and all 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for election in November. The next state Senate election is not until 2023, but the lieutenant governor presides over the chamber and breaks any ties.

Democrats control the Virginia Senate 21 seats to 19, but Democratic Sen. Joe Morrissey has an anti-abortion voting record. If Sears wins, that would mean a narrow anti-abortion majority.

Ayala, Sears' Democratic opponent, has consistently backed pro-choice legislation and vowed to "expand access to birth control and contraception, and defend a woman's right to choose." She also favors legislation aimed at curbing gun violence, funding public education, and expanding voting rights protections.

Chou, the communications director for Ayala's campaign, told the American Independent Foundation, "You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. The fact that Winsome Sears is now trying to walk back her radically conservative platform is just further testament to the fact that even she knows she's too extreme for Virginia."

With polls showing little support for right-wing ideology in Virginia, Youngkin has been trying to hide some of his anti-abortion and other right-wing views. In July, he was recorded admitting that he would not be transparent during the campaign.

"When I'm governor, and I have a majority in the House, we can start going on offense," he said. "But as a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won't win my independent votes that I have to get. So you'll never hear me support Planned Parenthood, what you'll hear me talk about is actually taking back the radical abortion policies that Virginians don't want."

Recent polls have shown Democratic candidates, including Ayala, ahead by leading their Republican opponents. The election will be held on Nov. 2.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.