Harrisonburg/Rockingham Politics: Late June

Virginia is gearing up for another election year.  Then again, every year is an election year in this state.  Like New Jersey, Virginia is a bit of an oddity in that we elect our representatives in state government in the odd numbered years.  Although this method does allow our state government to be partially detached from fluctuating national trends, it also means that we elect some legislator or another every November.

Here in the central Shenandoah Valley, office seekers to the House of Delegates, State Senate, and the various constitutional offices are in the early stages of winning allies and expanding their coffers.  We have five House members up for re-election as well as two State Senators.  Right now the field is pretty stable.  None of the present members (all Republicans) have any primary challengers and only one of them, Delegate Dickie Bell of Staunton, currently has a Democratic opponent for the fall.  I’m working on an in-depth analysis of the 20th district contest for an upcoming post.

No doubt the biggest race in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County for 2011 has to be sheriff.  Currently, there are three people seeking the post.  Kurt Boshart and Bryan Hutcheson are vying for the Republican nomination that will be decided on July 12th.  The winner of this contest will face independent candidate C.M. Hess on the November ballot.

But what are my predictions regarding these two races?  Well, for the House of Delegates, Laura Kleiner is pretty green politically (her experience only reaches back to 2009 according to her website) and the newly drawn 20th district is still conservative.  Also, the more I listen to Delegate Bell, the more I like him.  I have to assume that other conservative activists in the Valley are reacting likewise.  Given these factors, I expect Dickie Bell will retain the seat.

As for the sheriff’s race, I’ll wager that once next month’s dust settles that Boshart will be the GOP nominee.  He seems to have a greater support among the Republican faithful and, as far as I can tell, has done a better job courting their support.  However, if the general election were held today, I believe Mr. Hess will prove victorious.  First of all, he is winning the sign war.  Drive around the city and especially the county and you’ll likely see a much greater number of his signs up at local businesses and the yards of supporters than either Hutcheson or Boshart.  Second, partisan leaning seem to have little influence over this race.  Although the area is heavily conservative, voters don’t necessarily favor the Republican nominee over an Independent when it comes to sheriff.  For example, in the last contested race in Harrisonburg in 2003, the Independent beat the Republican by a hefty 18.5%.

When considering either the sheriff or the delegate race, one should always remember that a lot can happen between now and Election Day.  After all, it is only late June now.  As 2006 and 2009 showed, one grievous slip of the tongue or a perceived ethical lapse by a candidate can easily scuttle months or years of effort.  Barring any major setback, the strength or weakness of a campaign effort will have a far greater impact than anything else…except maybe the lines of the district in question.

As with any political campaign, it should be interesting to watch.

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