WASHINGTON — When his campaign got difficult, Chris Hurst said he thought about his girlfriend, Alison Parker, whose shooting death shocked the country, and drove him from journalism to politics.
Hurst, who grew up in Chester County, won his first-ever campaign Tuesday, capturing a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates as part of a historic Democratic wave, making the former TV news anchor part of a national story for the second time.
The first was in 2015, when Parker, a reporter at the same Roanoke, Va. station as Hurst, was shot and killed while broadcasting live.
“I wanted to do this to give back to a community that gave me so much strength and support when I needed it the most,” Hurst, 30, said by phone Wednesday. “I’d be remiss and I’d be disingenuous to say I wasn’t driven during some of the very hard and difficult times of this campaign to continue going to prove to myself, to prove to Alison up above, that I was going to work hard to show what one person can do in response to having their life upended.”
Parker’s murder spurred Hurst’s decision to run for state delegate in a district centered on Blacksburg, Va., home to Virginia Tech, site of one of the country’s worst mass shootings.
In winning, he upset a Republican incumbent who was born and raised in the Southwest Virginia district.
Parker’s parents campaigned with Hurst, and were there on election night.
“They were overjoyed,” Hurst said, adding that Parker’s father, Andy, shed tears after the victory. “I said, ‘I knew we were going to do it.’”
Andy Parker may now run for office, too. On Thursday he told CNN he was considering running for Congress in a Virginia district where the incumbent, Bob Goodlatte, just announced his retirement.
Hurst’s victory was part of a Democratic wave across Virginia that saw the party gain at least 12 seats, with several close races hinging on recounts. If they go Democrats’ way, they may turn a 66-34 GOP advantage into a tie or slight Democratic majority.
Many analysts saw the Virginia wave as a response to President Trump’s poor approval ratings.
“I think people wanted to get control of their government back and wanted to make sure that they were going to have people that were going to represent them and not special interests,” Hurst said. “They got active, they got mobilized.”
While Hurst’s personal story is now closely linked to gun violence, he argued in his campaign that it was not his main focus. His district, which includes rural counties in the Blue Ridge Mountains, has a strong hunting culture and he was accused by his rivals of being a “gun grabber.”
In an interview in September Hurst, who attended Conestoga High School, said his main objective was to focus on laws proven to reduce killings. He talked up proposals aimed at preventing domestic abusers from getting guns — an issue that has been thrust into the national debate this week after a known abuser shot and killed 26 people at a Texas church.
“What I hope to provide is a journalistic, objective mindset when it comes to gun legislation,” he said Wednesday, and not just attack a “culture.”
He said he still loves his roots in the Philly area — and as a longtime Eagles fan is trying not to get overly excited by his team’s fast start — but added, “I planted my flag down here in Southwest Virginia.”