Sadler still outspending Brewer in GOP Senate race

Published 1:25 pm Wednesday, June 14, 2023

With a week to go until the June 20 primary elections, Emporia businessman Hermie Sadler has continued to outspend 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 filed on June 12, Sadler, a retired NASCAR driver, had raised just over $679,000 and spent just under $500,000. Brewer, as of the same date, had raised just over $423,000 and spent just over $342,000.

The debate over slots-style “skill games” or “gray machines” that operate in truck stops and convenience stores in a largely unregulated gray area of Virginia law continues to play out among each candidate’s donors.

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Sadler, who operates such machines in his family’s convenience stores and truck stops and sued the state in 2021 over a 2020 law that would have reclassified the games as illegal gambling, received several $1,000-plus donations from gray machine manufacturers in January through March, and had received $12,500 as of May 31 from Amusement and Music Operators of Virginia, a lobbying organization for the gaming and entertainment industry.

Amusement and Music Operators had given Brewer an equal amount as of June 5, though she voted for the skill game ban when it was proposed as House Bill 881 in 2020.

Also backing Brewer is the political action committee Betting on Virginia Jobs, whose largest donors include the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Bristol. Betting on Virginia Jobs gave Brewer a $15,000 donation on May 3. Brewer had previously received $2,500 from a political action committee tied to the Norfolk Headwaters Resort & Casino that’s set to open in 2024, and for whom pay-to-play skill games in gas stations represent competition.

Two local elected officials are backing Brewer. Smithfield Mayor Steve Bowman gave Brewer just over $200 on May 11 and Isle of Wight County Supervisor Dick Grice has contributed $720 toward her campaign this election cycle.

Sadler’s and Brewer’s reports each show donations from GOP officials involved in the decision to change the method of nomination from a convention to a primary.

The 17th’s Legislative District Committee, a body of Republican Party chairs from its 10 localities, had voted in December to hold a convention, a party-run nomination method that caps the number of delegates each locality is allowed based on its GOP voting strength.

Four of the six GOP chairs who attended the LDC’s March 1 meeting revoted to instead hold a primary, which is state-run and open to all voters regardless of party affiliation.

Sadler’s reports show a $111 contribution on May 19 from Brunswick GOP Chairman Eric Brazeal, one of four to vote in favor of switching to a primary. Brewer’s reports show a $250 contribution on March 26 from Franklin/Southampton GOP Chairman Walt Brown, who’d left the March 1 meeting ahead of the vote following a disagreement with Brazeal.

The dispute, according to the meeting’s recorded minutes, concerned who would cast Suffolk’s vote. Emporia/Greensville GOP Chairman Fred Maldonado, who officially endorsed Sadler in May, had voted with Brazeal and two other members at the start of the meeting to allow ousted Suffolk GOP Chairwoman Dawn Jones to continue to cast Suffolk’s vote, despite regional GOP officials having voted in February to install Steve Trent in her place. Trent, according to Brewer’s finance reports, gave her $500 in December.

When GOP officials contended the March 1 vote for a primary to be invalid because Jones, not Trent, had cast it, Jones filed a lawsuit that resulted in a Richmond judge ordering the state Department of Elections hold a primary rather than a convention to decide the race.

The winner of the GOP primary will face Del. Clinton Jenkins, D-Suffolk, in November. Jenkins, the sole Democrat running for the 17th Senate District, had raised just over $117,000 for the 2023 election cycle and had spent just over $92,000 by June 8.

The 17th District seat is one of a handful of swing districts that is expected to determine which party holds a majority of seats in the state Senate starting in 2024.