Ballot-fraud scandal gets new life in Taylor-Luria debate

Rep. Scott Taylor, left, and Elaine Luria, right, listen to moderator Bob Holsworth, center, during a debate organized by Hampton Roads on Tuesday. (Joshua Weinstein/Southside Daily)
Rep. Scott Taylor, left, and Elaine Luria, right, listen to moderator Bob Holsworth, center, during a debate organized by Hampton Roads on Tuesday. (Southside Daily)

VIRGINIA BEACH — A ballot-fraud scandal that clouded the re-election campaign of Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor in Virginia was given new life Tuesday when his Democratic challenger attacked his handling of the matter during their first debate.

Elaine Luria claimed Taylor continued to employ a handful of campaign staffers even after it came to light that they allegedly forged voter signatures to place a third-party “spoiler candidate” on November’s ballot.

“He said this was a ‘nothing burger,'” Luria said during the debate in Virginia Beach, which was hosted by the Hampton Roads Chamber.

“I have a 9-year-old fourth-grader,” she continued. “That’s the kind of vocabulary I expect her to use and not my elected representative.”

Taylor denied that he was involved in any of the alleged fraud. And he said he got rid of staffers tied to the scandal.

The freshman congressman also accused the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee of airing “defamatory” TV ads regarding the controversy. And he hinted at possibly taking legal action against the DCCC after the election.

“When you look at some of those ads, you think I’m a criminal,” he said. “You think I’m running from the law right now. Well, you better turn me in and get a reward — I’m right here.”

The ballot-fraud controversy had dominated this race on Virginia’s coast over the summer. It helped fuel the Democrats’ hopes of flipping Virginia’s 2nd District as they try to retake the U.S. House.

The controversy had mostly died down in early September. That’s when a judge removed the independent candidate, former Democrat Shaun Brown, from the race. The judge ruled that there was evidence of “out-and-out fraud” on ballot petitions submitted by Taylor’s campaign staff to help place Brown on the ballot.

The judge made his decision after Democrats sued to end Brown’s candidacy, which they said Taylor’s campaign bolstered to take votes away from Luria. A criminal investigation is ongoing.

The ballot fraud discussion capped nearly an hour of debate that focused on the Republican tax plan, the Affordable Care Act and President Donald Trump’s trade policies, among other issues. The candidates mostly stayed true to the diverging talking points of their respective political parties.

But they also appeared to find some common ground. For instance, both candidates said they supported changes to the nation’s immigration system and stressed the need to preserve visa programs for temporary foreign workers. Some work as crab pickers and in other jobs vital to the local economy.

Taylor and Luria also worked in the details from their own resumes and life experiences as they spoke. Both are Navy veterans running in a district that is home to the world’s largest Navy base and one of the nation’s largest populations of veterans.

Luria is a former Navy commander who spent 20 years in the service and once led a combat-ready unit of 400 sailors. She and her husband now own a small business where customers drink wine and paint plaster casts of mermaids, a regional icon.

Taylor is a former Navy SEAL who served as a sniper in Iraq. He worked as a security contractor in countries such as Yemen and more recently served as a state lawmaker.

Taylor carried Virginia’s 2nd District by nearly 23 percentage points in 2016. But Democrats believe a victory is possible there. They point to antipathy toward President Trump and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s victory in the district in 2017.

The Cook Political Report, an independent elections analyst, rates the district as a “toss up.”

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.