As the Democratic primary is heating up, allies have become adversaries as District 25 Sen. Creigh Deeds and 57th District Del. Sally Hudson are facing off for a new Charlottesville-Albemarle seat.

The voting districts of Virginia were redrawn in 2022, so this year, Charlottesville and Albemarle County (minus a small sliver of the county) will vote as a single unit as State Senate District 11.

The District 11 candidates met face to face for the first time Monday night to debate their records and answer constituent questions in a forum hosted by Charlottesville Tomorrow and students from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

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It’s a race that is drawing interest locally.

Charlottesville Tomorrow got about 150 questions from its online form, via its live stream of the forum and on index cards that those who attended passed to the moderators. The questions covered a wide range of topics: school curriculum, workers’ rights, housing availability, greenhouse gas emissions, transgender rights, abortion access, the death penalty and gun violence among them. Those questions informed about half a dozen questions moderators tossed at candidates during the debate.

The forum drew about 100 people to Minor Hall, on UVA’s campus, and more than 600 people watched the live stream and recorded video, which has improved audio quality and captioning.

There was a fair amount of overlap between the Democratic candidates, who have similar platforms. But Hudson and Deeds also clashed, sometimes sharply, on their legislative track records and on how they want to see the General Assembly evolve. 

Deeds and Hudson agreed that, to accomplish the bigger changes local Democratic voters are seeking at the state level, a Democratic governor must be elected and Democrats need to win a majority in the House of Delegates.

More about the candidates

The tone of the debate was at times jovial and both candidates praised the other for the accomplishments.

“I want to thank Senator Deeds for the work that he’s done over, especially the last decade, but for much of his career to elevate behavioral healthcare to the rightful place that it deserves in our priorities,” Hudson noted when asked by audience members about the future of mental health services in the state.

Deeds returned the favor later in the debate when discussing community revitalization, complimenting Hudson’s assessment of the situation and agreeing her positions.

“One of the most important things that we can do to support economic revitalization in towns is make sure they have the infrastructure that they need to run modern businesses,” said Hudson. “That’s about continuing to roll out and oversee the deployment of federal funds, largely for broadband and for business-ready sites, some of which we’ve got money in the state budget for this year. I think there’s a lot that we can be doing at the local level to support workforce development in the kind of skilled trades that you need to support new businesses.”

But the candidates worked hard to distinguish themselves, which did generate some clashes.

Hudson argued her credentials shepherding legislation forward in a “rabidly partisan” House of Delegates, without much regard for whose name goes first on the bill, makes her the ideal candidate for the state’s evolving political scene.

“I think it’s really important that we start to diversify the Senate, on all of those markers — on race, on region, on gender and on professional perspective — because I think we could get a lot of good work done if we broaden the range of voices that’s in the room,” she said. “In particular, why I’m running for the Senate right now. I think that this election presents an extraordinary opportunity for generational turnover in the General Assembly.”

Deeds, for his part, focused on his career effort as “a workhorse, not a show horse” building both the relationships and seniority necessary to get things done in the Statehouse. A long track record, he said, will put Charlottesville and Albemarle County in a position of greater power in the Senate than it has known in some time.

“I’m the first member of the State Senate to represent Charlottesville since 1980, to be on the Senate Finance Committee,” Deeds said. “I’m on the Budget Conference Committee, I’m on the capital outlay subcommittee, which is critical to our colleges and universities. I’m in a place where I can get things done and I get things done.”  

Both candidates said they worked on the Affordable Energy Act, a bill to help prevent customers from being overcharged for electricity, which passed in February. That debate was heated enough that the candidates had to be moved along by the moderator.

They also dusted up on ranked choice voting, and how realistic a possibility it is for Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Ranked choice would allow voters to rank their preferred candidates, rather than choosing just one. In District 11, four different kinds of voting machines are in use on election day, Deeds pointed out, while Hudson said she carried legislation that makes ranked choice possible in Virginia. They also debated the tax bills that did not pass that makes funding the long overdue rehabilitation of Buford Middle and Walker Upper Elementary schools challenging.

Primary voting begins on Friday, May 5 in person at your local registrar’s office. The last day to vote in the primary election is June 20 at your local polling location. Voters who register online must do so 22 days before the primary election on May 30, or do same-day, in-person registration to be eligible to vote.

We’ve updated this story with a more detailed explanation of voter registration.


Eileen was Charlottesville Tomorrow's democracy reporter from March through August 2023.