Del. Matt Fariss, the Republican-turned-independent incumbent in the 51st House District who was beset by legal problems this year, was soundly defeated by GOP nominee Eric Zehr in a three-way contest that also included Democrat Kimberly Moran.
By 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, Zehr led Moran by 7,758 votes, according to unofficial data provided by the Virginia Department of Elections. In total, Zehr had 9,347 votes, or 75%, while Moran had 2,589 (21%) and Fariss came in third with 531 votes (4%).
Zehr comfortably won in all the localities in the recently redrawn district, which includes parts of Bedford, Campbell and Pittsylvania counties.
Fariss’ defeat marks the end of an 11-year stint in the legislature that was overshadowed by a turbulent final year during which he missed his deadline for filing to seek the Republican nomination and was indicted on two felony counts in an alleged hit-and-run that injured a woman he was seeing romantically.
Zehr, a former member of the Campbell County Board of Supervisors who chaired the local GOP committee from 2015 to 2017, became his party’s nominee by default at the end of March, less than three weeks after the incident that led to the charges against Fariss. Just days later, Fariss failed to file his intent to once again seek the Republican nomination.
Whether Fariss missed the deadline by accident is not known. He filed his paperwork to run as an independent in June, but he is not known to have hosted any campaign events and didn’t respond to several requests for an interview.
Unlike his two opponents, Fariss was not seen campaigning much in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election. Last week, he still had more than $41,000 cash on hand, having spent just $75 during his campaign in October, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit tracking money in politics.
A Lynchburg native and a resident of Rustburg, Fariss, 55, was first elected to represent what at the time was the 59th House of Delegates district in 2011, succeeding Del. Watkins Abbitt Jr., an independent who retired after 26 years in office.
Until the end of his final term in the legislature in early January, Fariss will remain on the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources committee, the Appropriations and Public Safety committees, and the Health, Welfare and Institutions committee.
Zehr, 52, who moved to Virginia from upstate New York to attend Liberty University in Lynchburg and who considers himself a proud culture warrior, said in an interview last month that he decided to run for the House of Delegates “to change the culture” in Virginia.
As for his legislative priorities, Zehr underscored his determination to preserve the Second Amendment, traditional gender roles and the integrity of elections.
“We have got to protect our unborn, but we also have to protect our children as our culture is trying to undermine their God-given sexuality,” Zehr said in the interview. “I want to see us develop a culture where boys are affirmed to be men, girls are affirmed to be women, and to embrace that rather than reject and change that.”