CHRISTIANSBURG — Republicans on Thursday chose Blacksburg’s Chris Obenshain as their nominee in the race for the new Virginia House of Delegates 41st District.
Obenshain, who defeated businessman and farmer Lowell Bowman, will face Democrat and Blacksburg resident Lily Franklin in the November election. Franklin is the former chief of staff for Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke.
Obenshain emerged victorious following a mass meeting at the CrossPointe Conference Center. He received 294 votes, while Bowman received 213.
Following the announcement of the results, Obenshain thanked Bowman and his family and said he was grateful to continue running. He said he looks forward to serving the people of the district, but also noted the competitiveness of the district in an earlier speech prior to the start of the voting.
“Let’s go win,” he said.
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The 41st District contains western Roanoke County and much of Montgomery County, the latter locality being where both Obenshain and Bowman live. Unlike some other new legislative districts set by the Virginia Supreme Court, the 41st does not include an incumbent delegate.
In Obenshain, the Republicans nominated a career prosecutor and serviceman whose family has long been involved in Virginia GOP politics.
Obenshain’s cousin is state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham. Also, the 41st District hopeful’s uncle — and Mark Obenshain’s father — was Richard Obenshain, who was the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate from Virginia when he was killed in a 1978 plane crash prior to the election.
Obenshain is a prosecutor in Montgomery County and has long served in the U.S. Army Reserve. He has spent roughly two decades in the Army Reserve, first as an enlisted soldier and eventually as a major in the U.S. Army Reserve JAG Corps, the branch’s law practicing arm.
Obenshain has over the past few months received support from a number of elected GOP officials between the New River and Roanoke valleys. They include Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sherri Blevins, Montgomery County Sheriff Hank Partin and Roanoke County Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Holohan.
Partin and Holohan each touted Obenshain’s work as a prosecutor and described it as indicative of what to expect from him should he ultimately win the seat.
Obenshain on Thursday touted his prosecutor work.
“I work for you as a prosecutor,” he said. “I’ve faced off against some of the worst people in society.”
Obenshain spoke about taking on cases against drug dealers and sex offenders.
Obenshain argues state lawmakers on the left have made the work of the criminal justice system tougher due to their support for legislation he argues has led to issues such as softer sentencing. He on Thursday described Democrats as “soft on crime.”
While appreciative of the support he’s received from certain elected Republicans, Obenshain has said that he didn’t think the backing necessarily made him a frontrunner. He said his work and other experiences have prepared him to take on a lawmaking role.
Obenshain has said he identifies with the district’s voters because both he and his wife are working parents who deal with the same challenges. He said the current government at both the state and federal levels hasn’t done a strong job of softening the effects of inflation and other economic factors on working families.
Obenshain at the mass meeting touted his military service and his staunch support of both the 1st and 2nd amendments, the former of which he said he promises to protect by ensuring citizens can be free to worship wherever they want and by protecting churches against government intrusion.
Obenshain, along with Bowman, has frequently attended school board meetings in Montgomery County where he has been a vocal supporter of school choice.
The controversial issue of school choice involves the demand, largely from conservative leaning groups and parents, that the state provide families with vouchers to cover the transfer of their children to either homeschool or private school. Parents who support the measure have argued public school districts have in recent times become increasingly dismissive of their concerns and values.
Issues school choice supporters have pushed back against include measures for transgender students and certain classroom curricula and library materials.
Bowman’s run for the 41st District wasn’t his first time seeking public office as he previously ran for state House in 2021. He lost to Del. Marie March, R-Floyd, in a Republican primary that also involved Blevins.
Bowman has said that he was not intimidated by some of opponent’s backing and background and instead saw himself as the candidate who best represents the region’s working families. Among the personal points Bowman has noted is his journey from growing up poor to putting himself through school and eventually running businesses involved in blue collar work, points he made again during his pre-vote speech Thursday.
Bowman, for example, talked about owning and running his own sawmill when he was a teenager.
“If I was going to be successful, I learned I was going to have to earn every single step,” he said.
Looking to the general election, Obenshain took further aim at Democrats, who he argues want Virginia to look more like California. He made a promise of pushing measures that would lead to more jobs and safer streets.
“Let’s make Virginia a land of opportunity again,” he said.
Franklin released a statement Thursday evening:
“My campaign has been on the ground connecting with voters since December. When I speak with hard-working folks in the district, they don’t talk about culture war topics; they want to know how I’m going to help them keep down the cost of housing and get access to things like childcare, healthcare, and jobs. My vision for Southwest Virginia is one where folks thrive in all stages of life. I look forward to debating these issues with my opponent on the campaign trail.”