The gloves are off in the race for the House of Delegates’ 55th District seat.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, residents of the district — which includes a large swath of Albemarle as well as parts of Louisa, Nelson and Fluvanna counties — found a mailer from Amy Laufer’s campaign in their mailbox targeting her opponent Kellen Squire.
The mailers highlight comments Squire made online in 2017 calling himself “unashamedly pro-life” and advocating for “the addition to the Democratic party platform that we eliminate abortion in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
“Kellen Squire’s own words show you can’t trust him to protect reproductive rights,” the campaign mailer says.
Squire, an emergency room nurse who has campaigned as the progressive in the race and a champion for abortion access, has said the comments, published on the liberal-leaning Daily Kos blog and forum when he was running for the state’s 58th Distrct, are being taken out of context.
But in what context they belong isn’t particularly clear.
Confronted with his past comments earlier this month, Squire told The Daily Progress they were both a failed attempt at catering to voters in a much-redder 58th District and also some form of “Democratic counter operations” in order to bait Republicans into attacking him.
The posts, according to Squire, were both an attempt at reclaiming the term “pro-life” from Republicans — because “there’s nothing pro-life about what they want to do” — and a bid to get conservatives to respond so he could “expose them [the comments] as being made up.”
At the time, Squire was running against the heavily favored, and ultimately victorious, Republican Del. Rob Bell.
Squire claimed he was using techniques pulled from the playbooks of former President Barack Obama and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Laufer’s campaign isn’t buying any of it.
The former Charlottesville School Board member said in a Tuesday statement that while there may be some confusion over where Squire stands, she has a consistent track record as a pro-abortion Democrat.
“Always have been. Always will be,” the statement reads.
Asked what compelled the Laufer campaign to draft the mailers after what even Squire has referred to as a “civil, positive race,” Laufer’s campaign said it was simple.
“Voters deserve to know that Kellen claimed in his 2017 race to be unashamedly pro-life,” Dawson McNamara-Bloom, the deputy campaign manager for Laufer, told The Daily Progress. “Additionally, in the same posting, Kellen said that an abortion gave him nightmares. Anyone who says that is not being an ally to a woman’s right to choose.”
McNamara-Bloom said that Squire’s 2017 comments and his later framing of them comes across as duplicitous.
“He admitted to being deceptive about his views on abortion, and that’s something voters need to know,” McNamara-Bloom said.
Reached for comment after the mailers were distributed over the holiday weekend, Squire directed The Daily Progress to his previous remarks and his public statements made online.
“As I was knocking doors today, I heard some lies had been circulating about our campaign, so I wanted to take a moment to address them directly,” Squire tweeted on Saturday.
In a statement attached to the tweet, Squire’s campaign highlights his career as “a night-shift ER nurse who has provided life-saving abortion care.”
Republicans, the Squire campaign wrote, have been attacking those providers across the country for years.
“It’s shameful to see a fellow Democratic candidate use their tactics,” the statement reads. “Ms. Laufer clearly feels that she must mislead voters to win this primary. The voters of the 55th District deserve better.”
Regarding the “abortions give me nightmares” reference cited by Laufer’s campaign, Squire said in a Monday tweet, “It’s a story I’ve told over and over on the campaign trail.”
“I had a young patient who almost died from a burst ectopic pregnancy because she could not access the abortion care she needed in time. I still remember creating a makeshift pressure bag with my hands, desperately squeezing, trying to replace blood faster than it was being lost,” Squire tweeted. “The OB later told me if she’d have come in five minutes later, she’d have been dead. So, yeah. There’s a way someone’s face turns pale as blood pools on the floor that tends to stick with you for quite awhile.”
The response to Squire online has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’ve known Kellen since 2017 when both of us were running in deep red districts,” Katie Sponsler, a U.S. Air Force veteran who ran in the Democratic primary for the House of Delegates’ 66th District in 2021, said in a tweet. “The first conversation we had was about how to ‘run in the red’ on issues like abortion and guns. I know he was pro-choice then, and I know he’s pro-choice now.”
And offline, recipients of the mailers told The Daily Progress that it is Laufer who is misleading voters.
“The flyer Amy Laufer put out is a deliberate distortion of what I know to be Kellen’s views and statements,” Dr. Patrick Jackson, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases and HIV virology at the University of Virginia who received one of the mailers over the weekend and knows Squire, told The Daily Progress. “Frankly, I’m offended that she’s trying to mislead me and other voters about an important issue instead of actually contesting real issues. … The flyer is a lie and people who lie to me won’t get my vote now or in the future.”
But Laufer’s campaign isn’t backing down.
“Amy is the only candidate in the race who has always been pro-choice,” said deputy campaign manager McNamara-Bloom. “She was working to elect pro-choice legislators when Kellen was calling himself unashamedly pro-life, and voters should know that before they cast their vote.”