House District 53. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
House District 53. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

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Two candidates will be vying for the Republican nomination early next month in the newly created 53rd District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Redrawn in 2021, the district encompasses all of Amherst County, a large chunk of Nelson County, and the northern half of Bedford County — one of the strongest House districts for Republicans, according to analyses from the Virginia Public Access Project. Whoever is selected at the May 6 Republican convention at Jefferson Forest High School will be running against Sam Soghor, an Amherst County Democrat who ran an unsuccessful 2021 bid against Ronnie Campbell.

For either Tim Griffin or Sarah Mays, winning the seat would be their first stint as a politician.

Tim Griffin. Courtesy of the candidate.
Tim Griffin. Courtesy of the candidate.

Griffin is no stranger to the political sphere, though, having worked at a right-wing law firm and related agencies pursuing “ballot integrity” and fighting “shadow government” in different parts of the country for the past few years. Having worked for several years as a criminal prosecutor in Amherst and Bedford counties, he also campaigned in 2017 to be elected commonwealth’s attorney in Lynchburg, but lost out to Bethany Harrison.

Mays, who operates a day care in Amherst County, said in an interview that she’d previously been a disillusioned voter but was mobilized to support banning abortion in Virginia after the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

“I’ve never been a political person and I’ve never aspired to be a career politician,” she said, adding that she’s running as a regular citizen. “…I hear a lot of people are just tired of the textbook politicians.”

Sarah Mays. Courtesy of the candidate.
Sarah Mays. Courtesy of the candidate.

Both candidates have taken up some of the same rallying cries, with an abortion ban and changes to election laws foremost among them.

Mays supports a full abortion ban without any exceptions for rape, incest, or life of the mother, saying she believes “God is sovereign and I believe that there’s purpose for everything that happens.” Griffin has stated he supports abolishing abortion, but did not answer a question about exceptions.

The issue is a personal one for Mays, who has spoken outwardly about having her daughter after she said she was raped by five men while attending Liberty University in 2001.

She joined a lawsuit filed in 2021 against the school, in which multiple women claimed systemic mismanagement of sexual assault complaints over the course of decades. The case spurred several protests and calls for increased oversight by officials, but was ultimately settled.

Mays didn’t accept the settlement, saying she was offered far less money than she initially expected and that she was told to “shut up” about her experience. She added she’s not sure whether the case is still active for her and the other Jane Doe who refused the settlement.

In the 2021 governor's race, every precinct in what is now House District 53 voted strongly Republican. Overall, the district cast 73.35% of its votes for Republican Glenn Youngkin. This ranged from 87% in the Thaxton Baptist Church precinct in Bedford County to just over 50% in the Nellysford precinct in Nelson County. Courtesy of Virginia Public Access Project.
In the 2021 governor’s race, every precinct in what is now House District 53 voted strongly Republican. Overall, the district cast 73.35% of its votes for Republican Glenn Youngkin. This ranged from 87.43% in the Bedford County precinct that votes at Thaxton Baptist Church precinct to 50.83% in the Nellysford precinct in Nelson County. These figures don’t account for the early vote, which in 2021 wasn’t allocated by precinct. The early vote in Nelson County trended Democratic so it’s possible some of those Nelson precincts should be blue. Courtesy of Virginia Public Access Project.

Among the agencies Griffin lists working for on social media, but not on his campaign website, is the Thomas More Society, a Catholic-aligned law firm that’s litigated against gay marriage and for abortion restrictions.

And through the Amistad Project, which Griffin also lists working for, lawyers with the society partnered with Donald Trump’s campaign to challenge the 2020 election results in key swing states, pushing claims that were routinely discredited and ultimately losing its court cases.

Griffin, whose campaign manager did not respond to requests for a phone interview and provided emailed statements to only some reporter questions, did not respond to questions about his specific work and duties for those organizations.

Several press releases and blog posts related to Amistad’s work to overturn the election bear datelines from “Amherst, Virginia,” including one post on a since-deleted website announcing the lawsuits and claiming “hundreds of thousands” of fraudulent votes. Reporting from the Journal Times last fall covered Griffin hosting closed-door sessions to train poll watchers in Racine, Wisconsin.

Phill Kline’s name also appears on Griffin’s campaign website and as an in-kind donor to his campaign. Kline, whose law license was indefinitely suspended in 2013 by the Kansas Supreme Court for misconduct, has been a central figure at Amistad and the Thomas More Society and teaches at LU.

Griffin’s campaign site calls for “over ONE-HUNDRED” election reforms in Virginia, including elimination of no-excuse absentee mail-in voting and automatic voter registration. He said he’d also support withdrawing Virginia from ERIC, a nonprofit information sharing system between states designed to improve the accuracy of voter rolls. Mays said she also would do away with no-excuse absentee voting and would push for, with few exceptions, requiring in-person voting with proof of identity.

Though Mays said she doesn’t believe Virginia’s voting infrastructure is sound or that Joe Biden legitimately won in 2020, she added that she never really thought voting fraud existed before campaigning.

She referred to a targeted release of information about Griffin’s residence over the past couple of years — much of it tied to court records from a drawn-out child support case with his ex-wife — in questioning the integrity of the race leading up to the convention.

Met with lack of information on Griffin’s address from his own attorney in November 2021, a circuit court judge characterized his situation as “essentially being homeless,” and Griffin told the same judge in late January 2023 that he was living in a garage in Forest, according to those records.

Mays insisted her campaign didn’t publish that information. Griffin has criticized it as “mudslinging” and insisted he has lived in Forest since before he filed to run. He did not answer a question about whether he’d still categorize his residence as being in a garage.

“Attempts to claim my travel for work makes me unable to run for office is not just legally false, it’s a desperate attempt to upend democracy and the will of voters in the 53rd district and is a gross misunderstanding of Virginia Code which makes this issue clear,” he wrote in an emailed statement.

Recently filed campaign finance reports show Mays working with a higher budget: $14,968 to Griffin’s $8,881. Most of Mays’ money in has come from loans, whereas a little over half of Griffin’s money in has come from donations and the remainder is self-funded. By the end of March, Griffin had a balance of $4,737 and Mays had a balance of $6,128.

Mays hasn’t posted any endorsements, while Griffin has published one from state Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, and two others from local law enforcement officials.

Rachel Mahoney has worked as a journalist in Virginia for seven years and has won several press awards....