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Democrats say they have an unprecedented number of candidates for the House of Delegates, which has been in Republican control since 1999.
Friday, June 21, 2013
Virginia Democrats say they plan to fight to pick up more House of Delegates seats from Southwest Virginia this year, with a message that they are more mainstream than their GOP rivals.
Six Southwest Virginia legislative candidates — all but one making a first bid for office — came to Roanoke Thursday in one of a series of events around the state meant to highlight the party’s effort to win the House.
“We’ve got a lot of people in the field,” House Democratic leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, said as he introduced the Southwest Virginia lineup.
He said the 37 Democratic challengers and 30 Democratic incumbents seeking re-election statewide make up an unprecedented number of candidates for the House.
But the Democrats have also given up on one Southwest Virginia seat they had held for decades, when they didn’t field a candidate to succeed Del. Joe Johnson, D-Abingdon, who is retiring after 22 years in the House.
“How serious are they about Southwest Virginia if they won’t even run in that district?” said Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem.
Habeeb said only two districts in southwest Virginia — Democratic Del. Onzlee Ware’s Roanoke district and Republican freshman Joseph Yost’s Blacksburg-centered one — gave Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney less than 60 percent of the votes. Republicans have controlled the Virginia House of Delegates since 1999.
Politicians from both parties agree that Yost’s race will be a high profile one. His challenger, James Harder, is a fifth-generation Blacksburger whose grandmother, Joan Munford, represented the area from 1982 until 1993.
“I think the big difference between us is women’s health issues,” Harder said.
House Republicans’ focus on abortion and birth control issues prompted Katie Cyphert to challenge Del. Kathy Byron, R-Campbell County, who had sponsored controversial legislation requiring trans-vaginal ultrasound examinations of women seeking abortions.
“I was looking at no money for schools, no money for pensions, no money for police and firefighters, and our senator and delegate were down there in Richmond talking about birth control,” Cyphert said.
“I think it’s ironic that the Democrats criticize us for running on social issues and here they are talking about them,” Habeeb said. He said he felt Byron was more in line with her district’s views on social issues than was Cyphert.
Democrats and some Republicans are looking for a battle in the district covering Carroll, Smyth and Wythe counties, where Democrat Jonathan McGrady, Republican Jeff Campbell and independent Barbara Hall hope to succeed Anne Crockett-Starke, R-Wytheville.
Toscano said that district tends to care less about party labels and more about the individuals running, adding that McGrady, whose family roots run deep in Carroll and Wythe, is well known as a lawyer and businessman in the area.
Michael Abraham, who is challenging Del. Nick Rush, R-Christianburg, said he figures that district would normally split 55 percent to 45 percent for any Republican, but said he thinks his message of pragmatic politics could swing 5 percent of the district’s voters his way.
Freeda Cathcart, who is challenging Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt County, said she’s already hit the streets, knocking on doors to talk to voters.
“It’s important to hear what they have to say,” she said.
The Democrats’ Southwest Virginia lineup also includes James O’Quinn, who is challenging Will Morefield, R-Tazewell, and Lewis Medlin, who is running against Republican Terry Austin and the Constitution Party’s Joshua Ball to succeed retiring Del. Lacey Putney, I-Bedford. Medlin was not at Wednesday’s event.
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