Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) is not deterred by the sexual assault allegations leveled against him, saying he is still “thinking seriously” about a gubernatorial run in 2021.
The embattled Democrat told reporters at a roundtable discussion on Thursday he was “hopeful” about his political future, especially given how the allegations have raised his profile across the commonwealth.
“Many people a year ago would not have recognized me, now they really do,” Fairfax said. “People come up to me at gas stations, they say, ‘Hey, we recognize you. We love you. We know what they are saying about you is false.'”
“I’m very hopeful about the future,” he added. “We’ve gotten a lot of encouragement about future political steps. I’m thinking very seriously about 2021.”
First elected in 2017, Fairfax was widely expected to succeed incumbent Gov. Ralph Northam this year when the latter was embroiled in a blackface scandal. Hope for a smooth succession, however, was dashed when two women came forward to accuse him of sexual assaulting them in the mid-2000s.
Fairfax strongly denied the allegations, even hinting they were part of a smear campaign organized by Northam to save his governorship. In February, Fairfax compared himself to victims of lynching for the lack of due process he’s received since the allegations were made public. Despite the stringent defense, an overwhelming majority of the Democrat Party’s leadership in Virginia and nationally has called on him to step down.
Fairfax’s accusers, on the other hand, have lamented the lack of “action” since they came forward. Meredith Watson, who alleged that Fairfax raped her while both were students at Duke University, explicitly questioned why the Virginia General Assembly has not moved to investigate the allegations.
“I want some action from the Virginia legislature,” Watson said in April. “I want the people of Virginia to know the truth, and I would like the Virginia legislature to do the right thing.”
The accusations would likely be a big obstacle if Fairfax were to launch a bid for governor. Not only has Fairfax’s fundraising shrunk exponentially since the scandal, but his staff has been by rocked by high-profile departures.
Fairfax would also likely face a contested primary for the Democrat nomination. Both former Virginia Gov. Terry McAulliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring, who is embroiled in his own blackface controversy, have signaled their interest in the race.