This year is an anomaly, of sorts. Monty Mason, running for the 1st State Senate District, knows a situation like the one he finds himself in is rare.
"It's an interesting election this year," Mason said. "You've got a state legislative race in a federal election year. That usually never happens."
Mason — previously the delegate for the 93rd District — chose to run for a Senate seat after the death of John Miller, who succumbed to a heart attack in April.
Miller and Mason were close, and when Miller died unexpectedly, Mason felt compelled to try and carry on the work they were doing. He wants to do that work from the Senate seat Miller held.
"Serving with John as a colleague, we worked very well together," Mason said. "With his unexpected loss, it shocked everyone, including myself. I just felt with my experience, I could continue that work."
Mason's Republican opponent is former police officer and firefighter Thomas Holston, a native of Hampton's Phoebus neighborhood, whose wife wasn't too keen on his entry into politics.
"She asked me if I was crazy when I decided to run," said Holston of his wife. "My daughters did, too."
Adding to an already unusual race is independent candidate, John Bloom, who is running under the Constitution Party.
Bloom was a Republican until the party chose its presidential nominee in late July. His campaign is focused on butting against both Democrats and people who he believes hijacked the Republican Party, including GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The three candidates will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.
One of Holston's issues is keeping the best and brightest in Virginia from leaving. Seeking a career in professional sports management, one of his daughters eventually will leave the state to pursue her career.
While she is not an example of the type of student he has in mind, she represents the issue Holston believes the state has to address.
"We have a lot of kids leaving the state," he said. "We don't have enough vocational schools."
Holston says vocational schools would expand the options for students who may not want to attend college, and they could also help them shore up the wage disparity.
"Seven twenty-five an hour isn't going to take care of your wife and a kid," he said of the state's minimum wage.
Mason sees it differently: He wants to make sure Virginia has the modernized jobs to match the number of students coming out of the colleges and universities across Virginia. A large part of that is the defense industry, namely cybersecurity.
A contract to add 5,000 new jobs to the Jefferson Lab, a state-of the-art national laboratory in Newport News, weighs on his mind heavily. He also realizes the long-term health of the Virginia economy depends on figuring out how to find other strongholds outside of the military.
"We need to continue to diversify our economy," he said. "We have to look toward the future. Our reliance on the defense industry for so many years is going to cause us some pain in the next few. It already has."
Bloom has some views that don't align with any major party. He's against drug arrests outside of those involving minors, and he believes localities should have more power to create laws.
Holston spent much of his life as a policeman or firefighter. He says he understands the struggles of those jobs, having been in them. That, he says, should get him votes.
"I'll look after you," he said. "I'll look after everybody."
Mason referenced Richmond as an example of why policeman in particular should be paid a bit more. In that city, he says, more than 100 officers left the force this year, and dozens who were not beat cops left the department as well.
"The two percent raises every now and then? Those aren't going to work," Mason said. "We revere our first responders as we should, then we don't pay them."
Raising the starting pay for those jobs in the state could make them much more attractive and perhaps decrease the turnover, said Mason.
Education in the state
Both Mason and Holston come to the issue of schooling Virginia's youth from different perspectives: One man has children in the school system now, while the other has children who have already gone through it.
"I've got two young kids," Mason said. "I see it, I feel it, I breathe it. Every child should be ready to learn when they get to kindergarten. That's easy to say, but boy is it hard to do."
Holston mentioned that school throws so much at children today that they miss simple lessons.
"I think we should go back to the basics," Holston said. He referenced a time when a cashier at McDonald's needed a calculator to figure the amount of change he needed.
He also wants to give kids the opportunity to get two years of college done while they are in high school.
Several states around the country have lowered the amount of business taxes that owners pay. Mason warned that the idea may not be as simple as it sounds, and he mentioned that Virginia has one of the lowest overall tax rates in the country.
"Other states jump out at you, and they lower taxes just to say they did it, then you see this enormous squeeze on public resources," Mason said. "On its face, everyone would like to lower taxes.
"It's about a 21st century economy. What we need to do is create incentives to attract those type of jobs."
Holston is on the other side: He feels dropping taxes will encourage more business in the area, and it should be considered as Virginia moves forward.
"North Carolina is getting a lot of business because they lowered their taxes," Holston said. "I want to lower business taxes. A lot of businesses are leaving here because of them."
Bloom believes changing tax codes will be helpful. He wants to abolish the income tax in favor of a higher sales tax, which he estimates would need to be around 15 to 20 percent.
"It isn't as regressive as people think it is," he said. "You're not getting taxed on your income, you're just getting taxed on what you spend."
Holston thinks his life as a regular man living paycheck to paycheck should give him some appeal. He thinks that many state politicians are out of touch with what their constituency wants.
"I think we need somebody new in Richmond," he said. "It's actually the taxpayers' money. I think some of the people in Richmond tend to forget that."
Bloom says the most important issue to him is protecting America's borders. In lieu of deporting immigrants, he'd like to put pressure on the companies who hire them, perhaps by jailing those responsible. In time, he thinks, companies will let go of illegal immigrants, who will then self-deport once they can't find jobs.
"The reason immigrants are coming in isn't to rob or kill like Trump says," Bloom said. "They come here to get a job, send some money home, and take care of their families. Once they can't do that, they'll leave."
That cities are superseded by state law is also an issue that Bloom holds close. He used Newport News an example of a city where people do not want immigrants, but the city is powerless because of state laws that allow them.
"Our cities can't tell them no," he said. "I'm going to try and change that."
For Mason, the race is another is a long life where public service has been a recurring theme. The mother of a childhood friend taught him how to carry himself if he wanted to serve the public later on.
"It was always community driven," he said. "From the beginning, it was instilled in me that you had volunteer, you had to be out in the community."
Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.
Who's running: Monty Mason, D, vs. Thomas Holston, R. vs. John Bloom, Const.
What seat: Senate District 1
Election Day: Nov. 8
Polls open: 6 a.m. – 7 p.m.
For more election information, visit elections.virginia.gov/.
About the candidates
Experience: Elected to the House in 2013, re-elected in 2015; former chairman of Williamsburg Economic Development Council. Works in fraud prevention for VISA
Where he's from: Hampton
Experience: Former police officer and fireman, also spent 10 years on the Newport News Disability Board
From: Brentwood, New York
Experience: Ran for state delegate positions in Virginia and New York, recently worked at Busch Gardens as a seasonal employee
Money in the election
Here's the funding each candidate has at his disposal.
These reports cover money raised and spent from July 1 - Aug. 31.
Total raised in the campaign: $104,976
Top three donors: Virginia Dental Association, Virginia Wine Wholesalers Association, Virginia Beer Wholesalers Association
Total expenses: $71,822.
Ending balance as of Aug. 31: $33,152.
Total raised in the campaign: $1,085
Top three donors: Republican Party of Newport News, Heather Cordasco, Friends of the Elephant.
Total expenses: $200.
Ending balance as of Aug. 31: $885.
Total raised in the campaign: $355
Top three donors: N/A, only he has donated for his own cause.
Total expenses: $317
Ending balance as of Aug. 31: $38
Source: Virginia Public Access Project.
Local organization holding forum
The League of Women Voters of Williamsburg is having a forum on Oct. 13, and all three candidates will be there.
Where: Williamsburg Regional Library, 7 p.m.
Moderator: WHRO's Barbara Hamm Lee
Event is open to the public. Audience members may pose written questions to the candidates.