Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax announced Thursday that he is formally entering the already-crowded race to be the state’s next governor.
Fairfax, a Democrat who is set to kickoff his campaign for the 2021 gubernatorial election this weekend, faces an uphill battle to replace Gov. Ralph Northam after being dogged by two high-profile allegations of sexual assault he has strenuously denied.
The allegations of sexual misconduct -- made last year when Northam himself was facing controversy for appearing in black face while in medical school -- have complicated Fairfax’s election chances and fundraising prospects.
One of his accusers, Dr. Vanessa Tyson, claims that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on July 28, 2004, during the Democratic National Convention in Boston. The statute of limitations for an alleged rape is 15 years in Massachusetts, which means her chance to take legal action him has already expired.
Meredith Watson, a former classmate of Fairfax’s at Duke University, also accused him of sexual assault but did not file criminal charges. There is no statute of limitations in North Carolina.
Fairfax said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday he's the victim of unfounded political smears and is undeterred by the challenges in running for governor.
“The voters are incredibly smart. They see through this kind of destructive politically motivated kind of politics,” Fairfax said. “And they are ready to move to higher ground.”
He said his campaign will focus on his support for “justice, fairness and opportunity” for all Virginians, and he plans to highlight his support for Medicaid expansion, police reform and increased education spending.
Tyson's attorney, Debra Katz, released a statement on Thursday, calling the accusations against Fairfax "serious and credible" and accusing the lawmaker of "deplorable treatment" toward his accusers.
“Apparently Lt. Governor Fairfax believes that the citizens of the Commonwealth have forgotten about the serious and credible allegations of sexual assault made against him by Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson and about his deplorable treatment of them after they came forward," Katz said.
She added: "Now, with today’s announcement it is imperative that these women be given the opportunity to speak the truth publicly. This type of transparency is critical to ensure accountability – especially now that Mr. Fairfax seeks the to be governor."
Fairfax, 41, is a former federal prosecutor who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 2013 before winning the lieutenant governor's race in 2017.
Earlier this year, a judge tossed out a libel lawsuit filed by Fairfax against CBS, which he accused of slanted reporting on the assault allegations against him.
If elected, Fairfax would be Virginia's second Black governor. Two African-American women are also running for the Democratic nomination — Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy and Sen. Jennifer McClellan. The U.S. has never had a Black female governor before.
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, also a Democrat, has indicated he may announce a run later this year. Governors cannot serve consecutive terms in Virginia.
Fox News' Garrett Tenney and The Associated Pres contributed to this report.