Thirty years. It’s about how long Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds has served in Virginia’s state legislature and it’s how old fellow Democrat Del. Sally Hudson was when she was first elected to it in 2019. The two Democrats are now vying for the same seat in the Virginia Senate in a June 20 primary.
Senate District 11 encompasses the Democratic strongholds of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, plus Nelson and Amherst counties and part of Louisa County.
Neither candidate is new to many of the Democratic voters in District 11 — and they overlap on a lot of policy stances — but they represent different demographics and flairs of their political party.
Deeds, who served in the House of Delegates from 1992 to 2001, has represented Charlottesville as a senator since December 2001. He lived in Bath County, closer to West Virginia’s border, before the state Supreme Court reconfigured the state’s legislative districts. In 2021, he moved to Charlottesville to run for this seat. Since his move, he can sometimes be spotted on the Downtown Mall with his dog, Mila, one of the beagles rescued when federal authorities cracked down on a Cumberland breeder mill assailed for inhumane practices. (In 2021 legislators passed a “bipartisan beagle bill” to protect dogs and cats at research facilities.)
Hudson, an economics professor at the University of Virginia, has lived in the area since 2016. The first woman to represent the Charlottesville area in the House of Delegates, she considers herself among the wave of progressive Democrats who became more politically active following the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.
“It’s sort of ‘new wave’ versus ‘old guard,’” Hudson said of the primary contest with Deeds. “I think the more recent legislators, whether we’re young or old, have just been more community-connected because we were mobilized in the post-Trump era. We realized just how far Democrats had fallen from connecting with state and local politics.”
In the “blue wave” elections of 2017 and 2019 a surge of diverse Democrats were elected to the legislature — bringing more young lawmakers, women, people of color and lawmakers of varied religious backgrounds.
Deeds, the 2009 Democratic nominee for governor, noted legislative similarities between himself and Hudson, but said his experience sets him apart in the race. Redistricting lumped many lawmakers into districts with other incumbents, prompting a wave of retirements in the Senate this year. Deeds is poised to be the second-most senior Democratic senator if reelected — bringing with him his institutional knowledge and what he termed a high track record of passing bills.
“Substantively, there’s not a lot of space between us but the reality is that I get more stuff done, and I’ve done it for a long time,” Deeds said. “I think that’s a significant difference between the two of us.”
He boasts a higher success rate of his bills becoming law, according to analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project.
Hudson noted at a debate this spring, that she’s in the minority in her chamber Democrats control the Senate while Republicans have controlled the House during half of her tenure there.
“When I pass bills, I pass them with Republicans. That means you have to put your name as second fiddle on the list,” she said at the time. “Who cares if you get the credit?”
Hudson said she thinks another difference between them is “community connection.”
Constituents have hosted Hudson for “neighborhood house parties” around the district as part of her campaign. The gatherings give people a chance to speak with her more directly. Throughout her tenure in the House, she has routinely hosted town halls to update constituents on happenings in the General Assembly.
“This is not a policy difference, but it is a difference in how we do the job,” Hudson said. “It’s our job to be out and about the community making sure that people understand year-round why the state government matters.”
Deeds isn’t a stranger to the district’s voters, though. He may have previously lived further away from the Charlottesville and Albemarle base of the district, but he’s used his position on several committees to advance legislation that residents of the Democratic stronghold he represents care about.
Both legislators consider 2020’s expanded voter access one of several points of pride in their public service. The measures included expanded early and absentee voting, and were made possible, in part, through Deeds’ and Hudson’s votes. He also chaired the Privileges and Elections Committee at the time. Bills are filtered through committees before they can receive full floor votes and potentially end up on a governor’s desk.
Deeds currently is co-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and serves on Commerce and Labor, Finance and Appropriations, Privileges and Elections, and Rules. Hudson currently serves on the House Finance Committee along with the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee.
In primaries around the commonwealth, Democratic candidates have said they’re hearing about guns and abortion as key issues their voters care about. Deeds and Hudson note their work on these issues.
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal abortion protections last summer, it placed authority over access to the procedure into states’ hands. In the year since the overturn of Roe v. Wade, Virginia has become the least restrictive state in the South for abortion access.
With Gov. Glenn Youngkin and other Republicans pushing for a ban of most abortions after 15 weeks, abortion protections have emerged as a key issue in Democratic primaries. Both Deeds and Hudson have secured endorsements from reproductive rights groups — though a recent campaign mailer from Deeds insinuated otherwise.
“It’s just a strange mistake to try to claim that he’s the only candidate in the race who has support from abortion rights advocacy groups, when that’s clearly not true,” Hudson said.
Deeds is endorsed by advocacy groups ReproRising and the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for Women, while Hudson is endorsed by Whole Women’s Health, a national organization that has a clinic in the Charlottesville area.
“At the time, we didn’t know about Sally’s abortion supporters,” Deeds said of the early June mailer. Hudson was endorsed by the group in early May.
On the endorsements he received, he said the organizations backing him know that he is “an ally” to women.
Both Hudson and Deeds have co-sponsored and say they will continue to support a proposed constitutional amendment to enshrine abortion protections in the state’s constitution.
Hudson said she has more of a track record when it comes to abortion legislation.
In 2021 Hudson’s successful House Bill 1896 removed prohibition of abortion coverage from the state’s insurance exchange. Another abortion-related bill she carried fell on party lines this year. Hudson said it stemmed from listening to abortion providers and constituents to solve a specific issue.
House Bill 2097 would have required health care providers administer emergency contraception to survivors of sexual assault if they request it. Virginia law includes a conscience clause physicians can cite if performing certain care violates their moral or religious beliefs.
“I think that the hospitals have to at least have a backup plan in place so that if a survivor of sexual assault shows up in an emergency room seeking care, their options don’t depend on who happens to be on duty that night,” Hudson said. “You don’t hear those stories if you’re not working with providers.”
She noted the uphill battle for such legislation in the current political climate. She introduced her insurance bill unsuccessfully in 2020 before it passed in 2021.
Despite shifting political climates, Deeds said he is proud of his success rate in passing bills. Despite this, he’s also seen bills on contentious issues defeated.
This year, both candidates, who carried nearly identical bills such as the prohibition of guns at universities, saw their attempts to reduce gun violence defeated along party lines — and each has vowed to try again next year if elected.
Another bill that will be taken up again is a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons.
Though Deeds carried the Senate version of the bill this year, he was among four Democrats to vote against it in 2020.
In 2020, Deeds was concerned that the version of the bill then under consideration would have applied to more guns than intended. His 2023 version outlined that the definition would not apply to antique guns, bolt-operated guns, and ones manufactured before July 2023. The bill ultimately failed this session.
Still, Deeds attributes his higher success rate in passing bills to how he approaches other legislators.
“I work well with others. I understand that you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar,” Deeds said. “I get along with people and I’ve got relationships on both sides of the aisle.”
Amid redistricting, all districts are technically new, meaning there are no true incumbents. In challenging Deeds, Hudson is among about a dozen delegates seeking to hop from House to Senate, as Deeds did more than 20 years ago.
An area of voters accustomed to supporting both Deeds and Hudson must now choose between them — and each candidate is working to connect with the newer areas of the district as well. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, the district currently has the highest turnout for early voting.
“I think it’s a very good thing that we have competitive primaries right now,” Hudson said. “It pulls people out. They’ve got candidates working hard for their vote.”