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Is the 20th a wide-open race now?

So now that Chris Saxman is out in the 20th House District, what happens next?
Republicans will meet this weekend to name a replacement on the ticket for Saxman, a four-term incumbent. Names that are being bandied about include Scott Sayre, whose rumored interest in the 20th was first mentioned to me last fall, when Saxman appeared to be on his way to some sort of appointment in a John McCain administration as a reward for his work as the McCain campaign co-chair in Virginia in 2008. Sayre, you might remember, mounted an impressive but ultimately unsuccessful bid for the 24th Senate District Republican Party nomination against Emmett Hanger in 2007.

I’ve talked politics with Sayre since, but we didn’t get to the 20th in our conversation, so all I can say is that’s what was being talked about last fall.

Another name we’re hearing is that of Staunton City Councilman Dickie Bell. Bell could be an intriguing choice. Like Saxman, Bell is a Republican with a reputation for being able to work across party lines. I worked closely with Bell earlier in the decade on the movement to build a skateboard park in Staunton and left the experience with a ton of respect for him.

Whoever ends up getting the nomination is in for a tough battle with Democratic Party nominee Erik Curren, who for the moment has the advantage in terms of organizational strength and is a sure bet to get a bit more backing from the likes of the state Democratic Party.

“I’ve always felt like this was the best chance that a Democrat will have had in years to win this seat, and I now feel even more strongly that this is the case. We have a real chance to make a change this year. And yes, we will redouble our efforts, we will fight on the hills, we will fight on the plains, we will fight in the cities, we will fight everywhere,” Curren told me this morning by phone from New York City, where he has been attending an arts conference the past few days.

Curren’s campaign will no doubt be in contact with the state party and the House Democratic Caucus and PACs like Tim Kaine’s Moving Virginia Forward PAC. I’ve talked or left messages for several party sources today to try to get a feel for their thoughts on the Saxman news and its impact on the 20th District race, but the general message I received back from them was that they’d need some time to digest the news before being able to make public comment one way or the other.

My feeling is that Curren has to be at least an even bet in November. Saxman at his press conference thinks Republicans still hold the upper hand in the district as long as they can find the right candidate.

“Two of the four localities that I represent went for Jim Gilmore in the last Senate election. My district overwhelmingly went for Sen. John McCain,” Saxman said. “There is some balance. Any political campaign has to have money and a message, and we have to make sure that we get the right message out and that we can fund that campaign. And get a good candidate who’s well-known in the area and respected. And I think we’ll have one.”

 

– Column by Chris Graham


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