A legal threat may have soured an already packed race for the 17th District state Senate seat.

Republican hopeful Rich Breeden said two-term incumbent Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, threatened to sue him for defamation this past week during a chat they had after filing their paperwork to run.

Breeden, vice president of government contractor Kingfisher Systems and an Air Force veteran, said that after he gave his paperwork for candidacy to the district chair on March 11, he approached Reeves to wish him good luck and ask whether he planned to run for a congressional seat.

During their conversation, Breeden said Reeves, an insurance agent who was first elected to the 17th District in 2011, threatened to sue for defamation if he did not stop “attacking him during the campaign.”

Breeden said he was taken aback and wasn’t sure what Reeves was talking about.

“He told me if I didn’t stop, he would sue me,” Breeden said.

Later, Breeden said he read more about Reeves’ contentious 2017 race for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in which he pursued legal action against his competitor, Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier, for defamation.

Judge denies request by Reeves to depose campaign opponent Vogel

In that case, Reeves filed a lawsuit against “Martha McDaniel” seeking an email sent to some constituents that claimed Reeves had had an extramarital affair with a campaign aide. Reeves said the allegation was false and, through subpoenas, determined that the “Martha McDaniel” email was registered to the cell number of Alexander Vogel, Vogel’s husband.

His attempt to depose the Vogels was denied by a Stafford County judge prior to the June 2017 primary. Vogel defeated Reeves in the primary election but ultimately lost to Democrat Justin Fairfax.

“I could care less about the affair stuff,” Breeden said. “That is not my business or something I would campaign on.”

Breeden said he suspects Reeves threatened him with a lawsuit to deter him from running for office.

“It is stuff like this that career politicians use to maintain power,” he said. “This is why I’m running — to stand up to behavior like this.”

Breeden denied mentioning anything about the affair allegations, something that he and Reeves are at odds about.

In a written statement to The Daily Progress, Reeves said he did speak of a possible lawsuit against Breeden, but only after Breeden admitted to “attacking” Reeves’ marriage.

“Over the weekend, I received reports that Mr. Breeden told someone in a tirade of profanity — that attacked my marriage — that no one should support me for office,” he wrote. “So when he came up to me saying he’d endorse me for another office if I didn’t run for the state Senate, I asked him why he was choosing to campaign in such a negative way.”

“He admitted he did in fact say something like that. At which point, I told him if he would continue to campaign that way, that he would find himself in court,” Reeves wrote. “We both agreed that we would not run those types of campaigns and he apologized.”

Similar to a written statement about the incident that Breeden posted on his campaign Facebook page, Reeves highlighted his past experience in the armed forces and said his opponent’s behavior was contrary to the public’s values.

“I take it seriously when someone tries to attack my country, my constituents and my family,” Reeves wrote. “That’s why I became an Army Ranger, that’s why I became a police officer and that’s why I ran for public office.”

“What my opponent fails to understand is that Virginians — and most Americans — are tired of these types of politics,” he wrote. “Frankly, it goes against what I’ve been working for the last eight years and is an insult to the Virginia way.”

Breeden, Reeves and writer Danielle Noel Gibeson will face off in a primary election for the Republican nomination on June 11.

Amy Laufer, a former member of the Charlottesville School Board, and computer analyst Ben Hixon are seeking the Democratic nomination in the June 11 primary.

The 17th District includes Orange County and parts of Louisa and Albemarle counties.

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Tyler Hammel is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7268, thammel@dailyprogress.com or @TylerHammelVA on Twitter.

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