Calling all Valley Democrats: Party having trouble finding candidates to challenge well-heeled GOP incumbents

Story by Chris Graham

There has been a lot of talk about the Democratic Party running a slate of candidates in the Republican-friendly Central Shenandoah Valley in the fall House of Delegates elections.

But when it comes to action …

“I haven’t ruled it out. My brother Danny and I have both been approached about running by different people,” said Mike Breeden, an Elkton resident and member of the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors.

Both Mike Breeden and his brother, a member of the Rockingham County School Board, are Democrats who live in the 25th House District, which is currently represented by Republican Del. Steve Landes.

Landes, the chair of the Republican caucus in the House of Delegates, isn’t waiting on the Breedens to decide whether they want to enter the race for the seat to ramp up his own campaign effort.

“The first thing that I’ve had to deal with since the end of the General Assembly session was the nomination process, making sure that I have enough signatures and setting up a campaign organization, those kinds of things,” Landes told The Augusta Free Press.

“I also had to do some things related to fund raising before the session and then after the session. I’ve been trying to pull together a fund-raising event in Richmond that I’m hoping to hold some time in the near future. These are the kinds of things that you have to do whether you have an opponent or not,” Landes said.
Staunton Republican Del. Chris Saxman has been taking a similar approach in the 20th District – even as it looks like he might go this election season unopposed.

“I don’t ever consider it where I’m running against an opponent. I run on what I feel the most important issues are and what my qualifications are to do something about them and let the people decide if I’m the right person for the job,” Saxman told the AFP.

“I think that kind of politics can be successful in the 21st century, and it has for me to this point. I might run into an opponent who engages in the attack style of campaigning, and if that is the case, I will respond. But it’s my thought that you can rise above the fray and talk about the issues and still be successful, and that has worked for me to this point,” said Saxman, who was elected to the seat in 2001 and reelected without opposition in 2003.

One name that had emerged as a possible Democratic Party challenger to Saxman in the 20th was that of Bridgewater College professor David McQuilkin.

“I don’t know who is bringing this up. This is the first that I’ve heard of it. It’s flattering, but no. As much as I might think that Chris Saxman is an idiot, I would have to be a bigger idiot to run against him,” McQuilkin told the AFP.

“The way that district is drawn, it is set up for a Republican to win it. And it’s also set up for someone from Staunton or Augusta County to win it. I would think that a candidate from Rockingham County, either Republican or Democrat, would have a hard time,” McQuilkin said.

“I don’t have the resources to do it, the connections. It would be an uphill battle for me, to say the least,” McQuilkin said.

Also not interested in running in the 20th is Augusta County Board of Supervisors member Tracy Pyles, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully against Saxman in ’01.

“Not this year, and not in the foreseeable future, either. Maybe one day down the road when I retire, but even then it would be an uphill battle. I wouldn’t want to discourage anybody, but I would think that it would be an uphill battle for any Democrat to win in this district,” Pyles told the AFP.

“The reason I made a run for it when I did was because it was still an open seat at that time, and it seemed to be as good a time as any to make a run. But now that Chris has been through four years of getting a handle on the job and the inner workings of state government, it would be even more difficult to knock him off than it was four years ago,” Pyles said.

“That’s not to say that somebody can’t do it. But it will take a lot of effort and a lot of resources, and frankly, I’m not sure that the effort and resources wouldn’t be better spent elsewhere,” Pyles said.

There is talk that 24th District Republican Del. Ben Cline will face a Democratic Party opponent in November. It won’t be Washington and Lee University faculty member Mimi Elrod, who ran against Cline in a special election in 2002.

Green Party member and 2003 24th challenger Eric Sheffield has taken his name out of the running this time around as well.

Cline isn’t planning on breathing easy anytime soon.

“I never stop campaigning, it seems,” said Cline, who is gearing up for his third political campaign in four years.

“One thing that I’ve learned is that you have to always keep on your toes. It’s an ongoing effort, and I plan to continue with the way I’ve been doing things through the fall regardless of whether or not I have an opponent,” Cline told the AFP.

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