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Another Dem-less year in the Sixth

It had been 10 years since the last Democratic Party nominee challenge to Republican Bob Goodlatte when Sam Rasoul made a run at the Sixth District seat in 2008. Goodlatte’s 61 percent showing in 2008 was convincing enough to convince Democrats not to field a candidate against the incumbent in 2010. The question today – is it too early to write off 2012 as well?

“The 2012 cycle is probably just as difficult, because you’ll have the president on the ballot, and it’s almost certain that the Republican presidential nominee will win this district, so the coattail effect would also be on Goodlatte’s side looking ahead to 2012,” said Isaac Wood, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Candidate recruitment can be tough in the Sixth, which stretches from Harrisonburg to Roanoke along the spine of Interstate 81 and juts over to Lynchburg along the Route 29 corridor in one of the more conservative congressional districts in the country.

Goodlatte received 61.5 percent of the vote in his re-election contest with Rasoul in ’08. GOP presidential nominee John McCain received 56.9 percent of the vote in the Sixth in ’08, and Republican Senate nominee Jim Gilmore picked up 40.8 percent of the vote in his race against Democrat Mark Warner, his best showing in a race in which Gilmore got only 33.7 percent of the votes cast statewide.

The best bet for Democrats, Wood said, would be “another Democratic wave year, like 2006 or 2008,” except that even in 2008, with Rasoul running a nearly two-year-long campaign, and polling better through early September than Tom Perriello was doing over in the Fifth in advance of Perriello’s eventual upset win over Republican Virgil Goode, Democrats were still bushwhacked.

Perhaps the best insight into Democrats’ chances in the Sixth comes from retired Bridgewater College history and politics professor David McQuilkin, who has long said that the best hopes for local Democrats to land one of their own in Congress would involve being redistricted into another congressional district.

Goodlatte appears infallible at this point, and thoughts of his retirement don’t make light appear at the end of the tunnel given the paucity of elected Democrats in the district.

“Recruiting can be difficult. You don’t have a deep Democratic bench in the Sixth,” Wood said. “There isn’t a slew of popular elected Democrats at the state level. You don’t have candidates who have been almost successful in the past running for Congress. That adds another set of challenges.”

Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at