Sadler outspends Brewer in GOP Senate race

Published 9:08 pm Monday, May 8, 2023

Hermie Sadler of Emporia has outspent Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, in their race for the new 17th State Senate District’s Republican nomination.

According to campaign finance reports both GOP candidates recently filed with the Virginia Department of Elections, Sadler had raised just over $385,000 and spent just over $163,000, as of March 31. Brewer, as of that same date, had raised just over $312,500 and spent just over $104,900.

Sadler’s reports show the retired NASCAR driver-turned-businessman has invested $75,000 of his own money in the race, and has received more than $10,000 in non-monetary contributions from his family-owned businesses.

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Donors backing Sadler include several makers of slots-style “skill games” or “gray machines” that operate in Virginia truck stops and convenience stores in a largely unregulated, “gray” area of Virginia law. Among them is McMinnville, Tennessee-based Brewer Amusement Co. President Jimmy Brewer, the listed contact in a 2021 Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority report for the machines in Emporia’s Sadler Race-In and Sadler Travel Plaza.

Jimmy Brewer, who appears to be unrelated to Emily, has given Sadler just over $7,600 to date. Sadler has received another $5,000 from Amuse-O-Matic Inc. of Frederick, Maryland, and $2,500 to date from King George County-based GKG Amusements LLC.

In 2021, just as a 2020 law that would have reclassified the games as illegal gambling was to take effect, Sadler sued the state in an effort to overturn the ban, and secured an injunction in late 2022 against its enforcement. State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, who’s Sadler’s attorney, argues the ban hurts small-business owners like Sadler by giving casinos an unfair advantage. Stanley’s reelection committee gave Sadler $5,000 in cash 20 days after Sadler announced his candidacy last November, and Stanley’s law firm has contributed another $5,000 to date in legal services toward Sadler’s campaign.

Donations to Brewer, who voted for the skill game ban when it was proposed as House Bill 881 in 2020, include $2,500 from a political action committee tied to the Norfolk Headwaters Resort & Casino that’s set to open in 2024, and another $5,000 from Charitable Gaming PAC, for whom pay-to-play “skill games” in gas stations represent competition.

Virginia’s state chapter of the Amusement & Music Operators Association, an advocacy group for coin-operated gaming machines, has donated $10,000 to each candidate. However, another skill game advocacy organization, Cure Group of Virginia LLC, gave Brewer $7,500, but not Sadler. Two other donors with ties to skill game software developer Pace-O-Matic each gave Brewer $14,000.

Unrelated to the skill games issue, Brewer has received $15,000 from Dominion Energy’s political action committee during the 2023 election cycle. Dominion had previously given Brewer $57,500 when she last ran for her House of Delegates seat in 2021.

Brewer closed out her “Friends of Emily Brewer” campaign committee in early March and transferred just under $120,000 from that account to a new committee titled “Friends of Emily Brewer II,” due to a Department of Elections requirement that candidates create separate committees when running for an office different than their current elected role.

When Virginia’s Supreme Court adopted new legislative districts at the end of 2021 based on the 2020 Census, the adopted redistricting maps moved Brewer from the strongly Republican 64th House District, into a new, more competitive 84th District that now spans the Isle of Wight County-Suffolk border and is expected to break narrowly for Democrats based on a Virginia Public Access Project analysis of its share of votes from the 2021 governor’s election. VPAP’s analysis predicts the 17th Senate District, which was also created from redistricting and now spans the North Carolina border from Suffolk through Brunswick County, could lean Republican or Democratic based on the last two governor’s races.

Volpe Boykin, the recently appointed chairman of the Republican Party’s 84th District’s legislative committee, speculates that Brewer’s and Sadler’s differing styles of campaigning may have played a role in Sadler outspending her. Legislative district committees are bodies composed of the party chairs from each locality in the district, who then vote on a method of selecting a candidate for state office.

According to Boykin, in mid-January Sadler began campaigning “as if he were running for a primary,” while Brewer “continued running her campaign as if it were going to be a convention.”

The 17th District GOP race, which was to be a convention as of December, changed to a primary and back again in early March, resulting in a Richmond judge finding in favor of an ousted GOP official’s lawsuit later that month, and ordering the state hold a June 20 primary to settle the race.

In state-run primaries, which in Virginia are open to any registered voter regardless of party affiliation, “you go full-forward just like a general election,” with campaign signs, television advertisements and the like, in hopes of appealing to independent and swing voters, Boykin said.

Conventions, on the other hand, are party-run and capped at a fixed number of voting delegates from each of the district’s localities.

“You’re only going after Republican Party members that signed up as delegates,” thereby saving the bulk of the chosen candidate’s money for the November general election, Boykin said.

The campaign finance reports for Jan. 1 through March 31 were due April 17. The reports for the next period, which spans April 1 through June 8, are due June 12.