Staunton: Back to the drawing board for conservatives

Special Report by Chris Graham
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Two years ago, the Staunton May elections saw conservative Dickie Bell elected for a fourth term, Amdrea Oakes, fresh off her work with a community group that had raised a fuss over the opening of a porn shop, elected for a first, and musician Bob Campbell outpoll incumbent Dave Metz in two of the city’s five voting wards and nearly do the same in a third while falling just short of being added to City Council.

Which almost makes one, in the context of the almost silent spring that we saw in 2010, want to wonder aloud, What the heck just happened?

Carl Tate seemed poised to take on the conservative mantle from Bell, who stepped down from his seat in December after being elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. The former 20th District Republican Committee chair was the only conservative candidate in the four-person at-large race for the three open seats on City Council, and there was a thought that he might benefit from being the center of attention for conservative voters looking for an heir to Bell.

Of course, that Tate was the lone conservative on the ballot had some, including incumbents Carolyn Dull, Bruce Elder and Lacy King, scratching their heads. Nine people had submitted their names for consideration for the open Bell seat, leading King to conclude that the incumbents were in for a “dogfight” in the May elections, he told me in a March interview.

Or as Dull said in March: “I have given it some thought, and I can tell you my humorous answer. And that is that we’ve done such a great job that everybody is happy.”

And that may have been the case, as it turns out. Tate was able to poll just 739 votes in last week’s election, barely half what Rusty Ashby, who came in last in the six-way race for the four open seats on City Council on the ballot in 2008, was able to register in that election. And even with lower voter turnout in 2010, Tate still trailed the third-place finisher in the race, Elder, by 523 votes, and his total was just 58.6 percent of Elder’s.

(Ashby’s last-place total was 78.2 percent of the fourth-place finisher in 2008, Metz.)

The 58.5 percent showing for Bob McDonnell in Staunton in last year’s governor’s race is starting to look like an aberration, in light of the results the past two Mays in addition to Barack Obama’s majority showing in Staunton in November 2008.


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