Va 28-GOP heart or head?

NLS offers the most recent of his several succinct analysis of the current state of the Virginia 28th Senate District election.

For those of you who have been immersed in the NFL draft, let me bring you up to speed…

State Senator John Chichester, GOP, President Pro Tempore of the State Senate, scourge of no tax increase defenders everywhere, and representative of the 28th District since 1978, announced his retirement. Since then the Democrats have convinved former Delegate Albert Pollard to run for the seat. Numerous GOP types from Stafford County announced an intention to run, but lately former Westmoreland County Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard Stuart has announced his intention to run. Stuart is endorsed by both Chichester and House Speaker Bill Howell, two men who stood on opposite sides of the highway finance plan passed by the General Assembly last winter.

Stuart has given money to democrats in the past, and is being taken to task for this by GOP conservatives.

This election may decide whether the GOP keeps the majority in the General Assembly. I think it likely that if the democrats can get +3, then while there is a 20-20 tie some GOP maverick like Quayle or Norment will do a Virgil Goode and demand powersharing despite the presence of a GOP Lt. Gov.

The nomination will also say something about how the GOP is thinking these days. If is it thinking with its heart, the nominee will be someone from Stafford County, all pretty much true blue absolutist conservatives. If the thinking is with the head, then the nominee will be Stuart, despite the millstone of the Chichester endorsement (which would stand him very well in the general election).

There are those that say a GOP Stafford nominee would easily win. In the Va 2006 senate race, Stafford County cast 32,448, while the whole of the Northern Neck cast 23, 943. George Allen carried almost every county or portion thereof in the 28th, with the exception of Westmoreland (losing 49.4%-49.1%-which Stuart carried in 2003 with just over 60% of the vote). How is it reasonable to think the GOP cannot easily hold this seat, and why is candidate location of the least bit importance?

First, it is an open seat. Folks will cross party lines to vote for an incumbent who they like or has done right by the jurisdiction or just because they like the idea of increased seniority. All that goes out in an open seat.

Second is a matter of direction and turnout. The expansion of the DC suburbs into Stafford and Fauquier likely means a heightened focus on Washington, not Richmond. The Northern Neck, tucked between the federal bureaucracy of DC and the defense structure of Hampton Roads, tends to have a greater focus on state politics. In a non-federal year in Virginia with an open seat in the Virginia legislature I am betting that unless some way is found to fire up turnout in the DC suburban counties, then you are going to see a much higher percentage of turnout in the Northen Neck counties than in Stafford/Fauquier/PWCo.

Another aspect is the matter of Prince William County. The Quantico Marine base falls within the 28th, and as such serves to depress Prince William impact on the race. The residents of the Marine base count for population and apportionment purposes, yet they typically do not turnout for state legislative races. Result-while you have a portion of typically GOP PWCo in the 28th, the presence of the base makes it underrepresented and diminshes the suburban vote…another boost to a candidate from the Northern Neck.

From a high level view, this seat should be an easy GOP hold. The closer to ground one gets, though, the more one sees there are a variety of twists and turns that could make this a very interesting race. Candidate selection will be critical for the GOP, and there they will face a very severe fork in the road. Will they choose for the chance of winning and keeping the majority, and look to the Northern Neck? Will they seek ideological purity, and go with a true-in-heart from Stafford?

Ultimately, will the GOP follow its heart…or its head?

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