Is GOP vulnerable in the 24th

Column by Chris Graham

Any guess as to why an independent is on the ballot in the 24th Senate District – and why Democrats last week had two candidates from which they could choose a November nominee?

Hint – it might have something to do with that primary that the Republicans are getting ready for on June 12.

“What we’re seeing is the breakdown of the Republican ideology that has prevailed for the last 15 or 20 years,” said David Cox, who last week won the Democratic Party nomination in the 24th.

“This becomes an opportunity now to refresh political life – and to bring people to a more centrist position where we can unite and really make some progress,” said Cox, who ran unsuccessfully for the 24th House District seat in the Virginia General Assembly in 2005.

But that race was run against an entrenched incumbent in Del. Ben Cline. This time around, Cox could actually end up being the most experienced pol in the November race – if the conventional wisdom holds, and Buena Vista businessman Scott Sayre upsets incumbent Emmett Hanger in next week’s GOP primary.

Or would that honor go to Libertarian Arin Sime – who despite being a third-party candidate has been in the race since early last year?

“The other thing that’s really interesting about this race is that it does demonstrate that split within the Republican Party – and it’s a split that’s not only at our state level, but it’s perhaps even more illustrated at the federal level or at the national level, where you’ve got a small-government libertarian wing of the Republican Party that believes that taxes are too high and that government is growing too fast, and then you’ve got another wing of the Republican Party that thinks that government spending is great as long as they’re the ones signing the check and as long as they’re the ones in control of it and doling it out to their supporters,” Sime said in an interview for this week’s “New Dominion” talk show.
“That’s a very distinct difference between those two wings of the party – in that at the federal level we’re seeing that come to a head with as much as President Bush spends, and with our state Senate, we’re seeing that fission within their party come to a head as well. Because there’s certainly a wing of the Republican Party of Virginia that sees no limit necessary to state spending,” Sime said.
“What we’re trying to do with my campaign is provide voters with an alternative that’s a combination of viewpoints that they don’t often see – where you see a candidate who believes in small government, but is not trying to use government to run your life, either, which oftentimes you see on the conservative Republican side,” Sime said.

Sime could also benefit from a more generalized feeling of discontent with both parties – Republicans for not being able to get their act together, on the one hand, and Democrats for basically being a second party in what has become in recent years a one-party Shenandoah Valley.

“One of the most consistent things that I’ve heard – and I’ve heard this really more than I expected – is just how much people are fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties,” Sime said. “I think people realize that their main motivation at this point is to stay in power – it’s a game for them, it’s very much a game. They do have some differences on the issues, but for the most part, it’s all talk and no substance.
“I think people are starting to see that – and I think they’re getting really tired of it,” Sime said.

“There’s a lot of people out there looking for an alternative – and if we can convince them that we’re that alternative, that I can bring that independent voice to Richmond, then I think a lot of those people will turn out in November,” Sime said.

Cox, for his part, is confident that he can convince voters that he is in line with Democrats at the state level like former governor Mark Warner and current Gov. Tim Kaine who have been able to rise above the partisan fray to focus on “governing well.”

“I see a lot of what the Republicans have been doing as pursuing a political ideology – and the Democrats, meanwhile, have been trying to govern well. And I think people are beginning to see that,” Cox said.

“Mark Warner came to be highly regarded for his term as governor. Tim Kaine, I think, has been coming on strong – especially these last months, when there have been a lot of crises in our state, and he has really stepped forward and led the state in both mourning the Virginia Tech incidents and making sure that they are properly analyzed and in other ways,” Cox said.

“And then we look at Washington, and we see a real breakdown in the current administration – and we find that a lot of it has been ideologically driven rather than by the principles of good government,” Cox said.

“The Democratic Party tends to be loyal to its own – and they certainly do want to encourage candidates,” Cox said. “This is a contrast to the Republicans at the moment – there is no litmus test for Democrats. We have a much broader tent than people might realize – so that you do have very conservative members such as Sen. Phil Puckett who are sitting in the Senate as good, strong Democrats, and you have people who are from the more liberal side, from, say, Northern Virginia, and we support each other.”

(Originally published 06-08-07)

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