Story by Chris Graham
Every time that Weyers Cave Republican Del. Steve Landes ran into Democratic Gov. Mark Warner or House Minority Leader Frank Hall the past couple of months, he would hear a familiar refrain.
“Do we have anybody to run against you yet?” was the refrain.
“They’ve obviously been trying to find candidates to run in the Valley, just as the Republican caucus has been trying to find candidates to run against incumbent Democrats and in open seats in Democratic and Republican areas,” Landes told The Augusta Free Press.
The job for Landes, the chair of the Republican caucus in the House of Delegates, where all 100 seats will be up for grabs in the November state elections, is a bit easier than it has been for his counterparts, given that his party currently holds 60 seats in the legislative body.
That doesn’t mean that GOP leaders are going to let themselves rest on their laurels.
“Those of us who run for office plan every election year to have an opponent, either for the primary or the general campaign or both. You have to be prepared for every eventuality,” Landes said.
Hall, D-Richmond, who is heading up the Democratic Party’s House-candidate recruitment efforts, is doing his part to make sure that Landes and other Republicans have more to prepare for than eventualities.
“We have been in contact with possible candidates in the Valley, yes. We are talking to a number of candidates right now,” Hall told the AFP. “I wouldn’t be comfortable telling you how many people we have contacted. I can say that we are in various stages of talks with a number of candidates.”
One Democrat already in the fold in the Shenandoah Valley is former Rockingham County School Board member Lowell Fulk, who lost a narrow decision to Del. Glenn Weatherholtz, R-Harrisonburg, in the 26th House District in 2003.
Fulk could emerge as the favorite to replace the retiring Weatherholtz in the seat before the winter changes over to spring.
Republicans are busily working to recruit current Rockingham County School Board chair Matt Lohr to run for the GOP nomination in the 26th.
Lohr is expected to announce his candidacy for the nomination at a news conference in Harrisonburg today.
“Our strategy has been to work on these kinds of things at least a couple of years in advance, because really you have to do that to be able to stay ahead in the event that there are retirements and that sort of thing,” Landes said.
Hall said the Dems have been efforting to recruit candidates to run statewide for going on 18 months now.
“We will be working hard over the course of the next several weeks to try to close the deal on a number of people that we’ve been working with,” Hall said.
“One thing that we’re hearing a lot of people talk about in the Valley and across the Commonwealth is that they do not like what the Republicans did last year to hold up the budget. More and more, people are looking for a change in the direction that the Republican Party has been trying to lead Virginia into,” Hall said.
“The party is being seen as having become too extreme for many people’s liking. We are there to offer the alternative to the direction that the Republicans would have us follow. Frankly, that has been an aid to us in our recruiting efforts,” Hall said.
“We have been at this now for the past 18 months, and one thing that we have stressed repeatedly to potential Democratic candidates for the House of Delegates is that we want candidates who take a common-sense, business-like approach who are interested in working for the betterment of all in the Commonwealth,” Hall said.
Landes, for his part, allowed his eyes to focus on the November prize for a brief moment.
“We think it’s doable to get to 65. Our high previously was 64. We think we can get there, but it’s going to take some work with Jim Dillard retiring in Northern Virginia and Allen Louderback and Glenn Weatherholtz retiring in the Valley. That’s three seats that we’ll have to work hard to keep right there, and you can bet that the Democrats will be targeting each one of them,” Landes said.