VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Missy Cotter Smasal says her new campaign ad featuring a city employee who survived the mass shooting is an issue-based ad, but her opponent, State Sen. Bill DeSteph, accuses her of trying to capitalize on the tragedy.
"This is completely issue-based," Cotter Smasal told News 3 over the phone on Tuesday. "It's a serious issue that we really need to pay attention to."
The Democrat is challenging DeSteph, the Republican incumbent in the 8th District, which covers the eastern part of Virginia Beach.
"I am really proud that we are letting voters know about an issue that affects all of us here in Virginia Beach," Cotter Smasal said.
The TV ad was paid for by Cotter Smasal's campaign and the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund. The pro-gun control group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is contributing $100,000 to Smasal's campaign.
In the ad, Karen Havekost, a city employee who worked inside Building 2, describes surviving May's mass shooting at the Municipal Center. "I was lucky, but not everyone was," she says.
Then, Havekost criticizes DeSteph. "I asked Senator Bill DeSteph to do something so this doesn't happen again. Senator DeSteph did not meet with us." She also blames DeSteph for helping to shut down a special legislative session on guns in July.
Republicans quickly adjourned the session, sending all gun violence bills to the State Crime Commission for further study. "He has a chance to make a difference, but he refuses to do it," Havekost says.
Havekost has donated more than $800 to Cotter Smasal's campaign, according to the non-partisan Virginia Public Access Project.
In response to the ad, DeSteph told News 3 his office offered to meet with Havekost, but never got a response. "Instead of engaging in an honest debate about our policy differences on the 2nd Amendment, my opponent today sought to capitalize on the unspeakable tragedy that befell our community earlier this year," he said in a statement. "My opponent has a lot to learn about our community if she believes voters will be fooled by her attempts to gain political advantage from such a horrific tragedy."
DeSteph notes he introduced a variety of bills that are currently being studied by the commission. "I’m proud of my record to protect Virginia Beach families and I look forward to continuing my efforts with the support of the Virginia Beach citizens once I’m re-elected to serve the people of the 8th Senate District," he said.
Smasal said she hopes voters understand the differences in their positions when they go to the polls next month. "We are highlighting this issue because we are focused on saving lives," she said. "We want to make sure that we can prevent future acts of violence."