Sixth District race nears its close as early voting ends

Cook Political Report rates Virginia’s Sixth District as “solid Republican” this election cycle

Shauna Muckle

The Sixth District congressional race between incumbent Rep. Ben Cline and Democratic challenger Nicholas Betts has entered its final stretch, with polls closing at 7 p.m. on Nov. 3rd.

Both candidates have spent the last few weeks conducting voter outreach and attending events throughout the district. Saturday, Oct. 31 was the last day for in-person early voting in Virginia, and the campaigns spent the day canvassing and phone banking in a final push for early votes.

Cline’s campaign visited Staunton and Harrisonburg on Saturday, and Betts’ campaign also held a get out the vote event in Harrisonburg, according to the candidates’ Facebook pages.

While local Democrats have been more cautious about in-person campaign events, citing the risks of transmitting COVID-19, a few weeks ago Betts’ campaign began organizing in-person canvassing events where volunteers drop off literature in support of Betts from a safe distance. The campaign has generally prioritized phone banking instead, Betts said.

“With COVID and everything, we’ve had to focus heavily on the phone calls,” Betts said. “That’s been a really effective way to reach out to voters and have conversations with them.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have continued to canvass regularly throughout the campaign season. Volunteers, typically masked, knock on voters’ doors and speak to them from a distance.

Betts’ campaign is also airing TV and radio ads in the final days of the race. The campaign has launched TV ads out of stations in Harrisonburg and Roanoke and radio ads out of stations in Harrisonburg, Lexington and Lynchburg, as well as more northern areas such as Front Royal.

“We wanted to have coverage throughout the district,” said Nick Reuter, Betts’ campaign manager. “We want to make sure that Nicholas’s message is getting out and being heard and or seen by as many people as possible.”

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates Virginia’s Sixth District as “solid Republican” this election cycle. In 2018, Cline bested Democratic challenger Jennifer Lewis by nearly 20 points. The Roanoke Times also reported a significant cash disparity between the two campaigns—Cline’s campaign had $391,699 on hand ten days before Election Day, and Betts’ campaign had $11,641 on hand.

Betts and Reuter, however, say that the circumstances of this election will make the race much more competitive than expected. Reuter pointed to the significant uptick in early and absentee voting and increased overall voter turnout as reasons to be optimistic.

“It’s easier than ever to vote in this election,” Reuter said. “This is the first year that everybody can vote absentee with no excuse. We’ve had record numbers of early votes all across the state, and the Sixth District is no exception. This is a race that can’t really effectively be compared to races of the past.”

Betts also said that his priorities for the district—making healthcare accessible to all, expanding broadband access for remote areas, increasing renewable energy—resonate with voters during the pandemic.

Registrar’s offices in Rockbridge County and across the district will re- open Nov. 3 for a final round of in-person voting on Election Day. Polls open at 6 a.m. and close 7 p.m. For voters choosing to mail in their absentee ballots, those ballots must be postmarked Nov. 3 and received Nov. 6.

The Sixth District race is one of the few contested local races that Lexington voters will decide on. Lexington Mayor Frank Friedman has no challengers in his fight for reelection. There are five candidates on the ballot vying for three Lexington City Council seats.