Sex video roils critical fight for Virginia state House

Alex Harsha
Alex HarshaSep 18, 2023, 6:31 AM
Sex video roils critical fight for Virginia state House

The release of a sex video made by a woman running for a House of Delegates seat in Virginia is roiling the race for the majority in the state’s legislative chamber.

Susanna Gibson and her husband livestreamed a video of them performing sexual acts on the website Chaturbate and asked viewers to pay them money, The Washington Post reported Monday.

Gibson, a nurse practitioner and mother of two children, has gained traction as an abortion-rights candidate running in the district outside of Richmond.

The seat represents one of the commonwealth’s most competitive districts. No one currently represents the district, which was redrawn in 2022. The district voted Democratic by just more than 1 point in the U.S. House race last year.

As a result, the seat has the potential to play a determining factor in which party will control the chamber after November’s elections. Republicans have a four-seat majority in the House of Delegates.

“For the Democrats, this was a very important seat,” said Bob Holsworth, a veteran Virginia political analyst. “It’s not out of the question that they could get to 50-50 or 51 without it, but the question about what do they do now is really up in the air.”

Some Democratic strategists have suggested the scandal won’t end up making that much of a difference. They say voters will care more about Gibson’s promise to defend abortion rights than a sexually explicit video.

“It’s the 21st century, and voters don’t care much about what happens between consenting adults,” said Jared Leopold, a Virginia Democratic strategist. “Fundamentally there’s a choice in that district and almost every other district between a Democrat who supports reproductive freedom and a Republican who does not.”

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), a group dedicated to electing Democrats in state legislature races, in a statement sent to The Hill called the surfacing of the video “nothing more than a desperate attempt to distract Virginians from the fact that the Republican Party is working hard to dismantle our fundamental rights all across the Commonwealth.”

“The DLCC cannot comment on ongoing legal matters, but make no mistake, the rights and freedom of people across the state of Virginia are on the line this November,” the committee said. “It’s unfortunate that the Republican opponent of Susanna Gibson and his allies are willing to stoop to gutter politics to humiliate Mrs. Gibson.”

Not many Virginia Democrats have publicly rushed to Gibson’s defense, however.

When asked for comment on the situation, a spokesperson for the Virginia Democratic Party directed The Hill to Gibson’s campaign, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Gibson has support on Capitol Hill from two prominent Virginia Democrats: Rep. Abigail Spanberger and Sen. Tim Kaine, who has not formally endorsed her.

Both lawmakers are up for reelection next fall and have campaigned with Gibson and other House of Delegates candidates.

According to The Washington Times, Kaine said during a video conference with reporters Wednesday that he was taken “aback” by the news of Gibson’s video and said he met her for the first time last weekend during a rally.

“I don’t really have much sense of it because as far as I know, it’s the first time we’d met,” Kaine said according to The Washington Times.

Kaine’s fellow Democrat Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) told the publication he will weigh in on the story once he receives more information.

“I’m anxious to hear — there have been reports from her campaign of pushback,” Warner said. “I want to hear both sides and then I’ll weigh in.”

The publication also reported that when asked about the development, Spanberger said, “It’s a shocking, terrible situation, and I’m late to a meeting.”

Gibson has signaled she’s ready for a fight and won’t be pushed out of the race.

She released a statement earlier this week saying the surfacing of the footage “won’t intimidate me, and it won’t silence me.”

“My political opponents and their Republican allies have proven they’re willing to commit a sex crime to attack me and my family because there’s no line they won’t cross to silence women when they speak up,” Gibson said.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Gibson’s GOP opponent, David Owens, said he was focused on his campaign and found out about the video “like everyone else” Monday.

“I’m sure this is a difficult time for Susanna and her family, and I’m remaining focused on my campaign,” Owens said.

A few Democrats have publicly supported Gibson.

In a post X, formerly known as Twitter, Virginia state Senate Pro Tempore Louise Lucas accused Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) team of leaking the videos “to try to embarrass and humiliate her and they failed completely.”

“Now we are going to make this the biggest fundraising day of her campaign,” Lucas said, calling on her followers to “retweet and donate.”

Gibson has also received support from EMILY’s List, a group that is dedicated to supporting Democratic abortion-rights candidates.

“Susanna originally ran for office because of the overturning of Roe and she’s been very outspoken on standing up for reproductive rights. People are coming out in support of Susanna because they know that Republicans are coming after her because she was standing up for them,” Lauren Chou, the group’s spokesperson, said in a statement to The Associated Press.

The Virginia chapter of the National Organization for Women also issued a statement in defense of Gibson.

“It’s clear to us she is being attacked because she is an abortion rights advocate who is gaining momentum in an election that is increasingly about maintaining Virginia as the last Southern state with access to legal abortion and which offers safe harbor for girls, women, and pregnant people facing crisis pregnancies,” Virginia NOW President Lisa Sales said.

Holsworth, the Virginia analyst, noted the lack of public support from Virginia Democrats but predicted the situation likely won’t change many votes in the district.

“At least at the moment, the vast majority of Democratic leadership in the party have distanced themselves,” he said. “I don’t think there were people who were going to vote for her who were going to turn around and vote for a Republican who supports an abortion ban.”

Still, the situation could impact fundraising from those same Democratic leaders who are not rushing to her defense.

“At the end of the day, she’s really going to depend on the party, the party leadership groups to put money in,” Holsworth said. “That’s really the open question right now, is I think how is her fundraising going to be impacted and what will that say about turnout and her capacity to do the mailing and get out the vote.”

But Democrats point to past candidates who have faced much more serious and high-profile scandals, including former President Trump, who was heard bragging about groping women in a leaked tape ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

“It’s pretty rich for a Republican Party that has consistently defended Donald Trump’s blatant sexual harassment to be trying to draw a distinction about something that happened between consenting adults,” said Leopold, the democratic strategist.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.

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    Alex Harsha
    Alex Harsha

    Alex Harsha is a full-time writer.Before becoming a full-time writer, Alex was a public school teacher. He teaches writing workshops to children and adults. Lives in Connecticut & Works on next novel.

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