All eyes on the 26th: Fulk-Lohr race getting statewide attention
Story by Chris Graham
Political observers across the Commonwealth have the 26th House District race on their radar screens – and for good reason.
The contest between Democrat Lowell Fulk and Republican Matt Lohr is very much a toss-up at this stage – which is headline news for a political campaign in the Republican-leaning Shenandoah Valley.
“We knew all along that this was a race that was going to capture the attention of a lot of people, both locally, across the state and even in D.C.,” said Lohr, a member of the Rockingham County School Board and a Broadway farmer.
“It’s interesting to have statewide attention. But all too often people forget that you’re not running for statewide office. I’m running in the 26th District. And I’ve got to speak to people in the 26th District. I have to speak to the issues here and talk to people here. The attention is nice, but my race is right here,” said Fulk, a former county school board member and a Linville farmer.
Fulk laid the foundation for his challenge to the GOP hegemony in the Valley with his strong showing in 2003 against incumbent Del. Glenn Weatherholtz. Weatherholtz, who announced his retirement from the General Assembly earlier this year, won the war – but Fulk, by garnering 45.4 percent of the vote against the former Rockingham County sheriff, effectively won the first battle in the 2005 campaign.
“As I go out in the community, and I feel that’s a good barometer for the general mood and feel of people, it’s very positive. As I go door to door, as I make phone calls, meet people at the fair and at different events like that, I’m receiving a lot of positive feedback from people, a lot of positive comments. The campaign has a real good feel right now,” Fulk told The Augusta Free Press.
Fulk, a self-styled conservative Democrat who has said that he wants to bring his party back to the center of the political spectrum, has come under fire from Lohr for what Lohr has termed as Fulk’s “liberal Democrat approach to government.”
“The record speaks for itself. Over the last few years, Lowell has proudly chaired the county Democratic committee, proudly worked hard campaigning for John Kerry. George Bush got almost 70 percent of the vote in Rockingham County, but my opponent was on the other side campaigning for John Kerry, one of the most liberal senators in D.C.,” Lohr told the AFP.
“He also helped draft the state Democratic platform. He says he was brought on the committee because he’s a moderate, and he was there to bring the party back to the center, but at the end of the day, his signature is still attached to that, and if he signed it, he must believe what it stands for. Those are some of the things that tell me that he’s not as conservative as he lets on,” Lohr said.
Fulk said efforts like that of Lohr’s attempt to “paint him a liberal” only work “on the national scale, when there’s no chance for someone to meet the candidate, and they don’t know them.”
“But when Matt does that, he’s telling my neighbors that about me, and they know me. They’ve grown up with me. They’ve done business with me, a lot longer than they have with him. And so when he comes out and says that Lowell Fulk is a liberal who wants to take your guns and promote gay marriage and push people to have abortions, and all those types of things that they’ve been saying, people look at him and look at me and say, that’s not the Lowell Fulk that I know,” Fulk said.
Both candidates have been able to tap into their growing statewide star power to bring out the heavy hitters to go to bat for them – within a four-day period in mid-August, Gov. Mark Warner was in Harrisonburg stumping for Fulk, and U.S. Sen. George Allen was in the Friendly City on behalf of Lohr.
“We had over 250 supporters who came to lend their support and show their support for Sen. Allen,” Lohr said of the fund-raiser featuring Allen, like Warner a talked-about 2008 presidential contender.
“Certainly, the campaign is going to be expensive. They sure take a lot of money. So the amount of money was incredible, but the amount of support that people showed, and the senator’s endorsement, we were just tickled to death to be able to take part in it,” Lohr said.
“We knew that Gov. Warner was going to be in town stumping for Lowell, but we were excited that we were able to outraise them, and that’s a sign of support for not only me, but for Sen. Allen as well,” Lohr said.