The race for Virginia’s 9th Congressional seat is hotly contested and competitive for the first time in many years. Bristol has now had a chance to see both candidates debate within city limits at The Bristol Hotel. After meeting with Anthony Flaccavento (D) and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R) individually and closely following their progress on the campaign trail, we’re ready to make an informed endorsement.

We want to first applaud Flaccavento’s energy, fresh ideas and the route he’s taken throughout the district in 100 town hall meetings. He has consistently shown a hyperlocal perspective toward the issues facing the district, which is reflected in the high number of individual donors who support him. He has displayed a somewhat moderate position on many issues. Most of all, his efforts and person-to-person approach have compelled the sitting congressman to engage with his constituents.

We note that in his tenure, Griffith has done relatively little for 9th District residents. At the Bristol debate, Griffith did not talk about his own accomplishments for the district so much as President Donald Trump’s national agenda. Griffith has also voted in ways that would actively harm the district, such as his 2017 vote on the Stream Protection Rule, which allows companies to dump mining waste into waterways.

Moreover, our examination of Griffith’s donation base over his term and this campaign shows that he is supported by big-money donors in an overwhelming majority.

However, we believe Griffith’s positions align more closely with our readers and the electorate of the 9th District, which is why we endorse him in this race — albeit conditionally.

The most consistent complaint levied against Griffith is that he is not present in the district. Our continued support is contingent on a new direction for the congressman that involves serious face-to-face time with the people he represents. A schedule released for a series of town hall meetings before the next session of Congress would make for an excellent start.

We also insist that the congressman refrain from using fear as a tactic. For example, he has falsely claimed that the migrant caravan traveling toward the U.S. border numbers 10,000 people. Scare tactics aren’t necessary and only serve to divide us further; we expect more from a member of the United States House of Representatives.

Our continued support also depends on Griffith’s ability to express independent thought representative of the 9th District. Neither party line is an entirely perfect fit for Southwest Virginia; our needs are too specific to be completely parallel with national trends. When those needs — energy, broadband access, environment, rural health care, etc. — run counter to the party line, we expect our representative to advocate for us, regardless of whom he crosses: fellow congressional members, the House majority leader, or even the president.

We expect to see changes from the congressman if he is re-elected. With the many issues facing the 9th District, we don’t just need a leader in the House — we deserve one.

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