Two weeks into the abbreviated campaign to succeed retiring Rep. Ed Schrock (R-Va.), the newly-minted Republican nominee is off and running while Democrats are still vowing to make the long-shot race a competitive fight to the end.
State Del. Thelma Drake (R) and attorney David Ashe (D) are seeking to replace Schrock, who abruptly announced his retirement on Aug. 30, amid never-confirmed allegations that he solicited sex from other men.
Drake was the unanimous choice of Republican leaders in the Tidewater-based 2nd district, after another interested contender dropped out.
“We’re rocking and rolling,” said Drake campaign consultant Ray Allen. “This is essentially for us a special election.”
Drake, who dropped her first piece of direct mail to voters this week, will be up with her first television ad as soon as next week.
She has hired the Richmond-based political consulting firm Marcus & Allen, which had been working for Schrock, and pollster John McLaughlin of the GOP polling firm McLaughlin & Associates. Jeff Palmore, who most recently served as Schrock’s legislative director, is managing Drake’s campaign.
The 54-year-old state legislator made a lasting first impression on her would-be colleagues last week when she traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with House GOP leaders. The Norfolk real estate agent was first elected to the General Assembly in 1996.
“She’s got huge energy,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.). “[Drake] made a tremendous first impact among the conference. She’s getting under way very nicely.”
Drake has also gotten high marks — and more importantly an endorsement — from the conservative, anti-tax Club for Growth.
David Keating, the group’s executive director, said the club is recommending that its members donate to Drake, who opposed the state’s $1.4 billion tax-increase plan passed in May.
State Sen. Ken Stolle, who supported the tax increase, was also interested in replacing Schrock on the ballot but he withdrew after realizing Drake had locked up support for the nod.
“We want to make sure that she crosses the line first,” Keating said.
Other help from the group is possible should Drake need it down the stretch but Keating, like other Republicans, doesn’t think it will be necessary.
“It’s a race that we fully expect she will win on the strength of both her record as a state legislator and the performance of the seat,” Reynolds said Tuesday.
This week Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) guaranteed Drake, if elected, a seat on the Armed Services Committee — an all but given assignment for any Member representing this military-rich district.
The 2nd district, which encompasses most of Virginia Beach and portions of Norfolk, is home to 12 military installations, including the world’s largest naval base and 80,000 active duty military personnel. An estimated 20 percent of the adults in the district are veterans.
The redrawn district would have voted 58 percent for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election, the same year Schrock was first elected.
Schrock beat Democrat Jody Wagner by a closer-than-expected 52 percent to 48 percent showing in the race to succeed Rep. Owen Pickett (D), the 14-year incumbent.
Although the demographics of the seat favor Republicans, Wagner’s performance combined with Ashe’s profile as an Iraq war veteran, gives national Democrats some hope they can make this year’s race competitive.
Ashe, 36, is a lawyer from Virginia Beach and a retired Marine officer who served six months in Iraq as a legal counsel to coalition forces before leaving active duty in November 2003.
For his part, Ashe maintains he’s still focused on running the same campaign he was before Schrock’s announcement.
“It just doesn’t change the campaign,” Ashe said. “It’s going to remain a strong campaign based on veterans, transportation and education.”
Ashe’s campaign team includes many of the same players who worked for Pickett and Wagner in 2000.
His pollster is David Petts of Bennett, Petts & Blumenthal, Doug Heyl and Tom Oppel of All Points Communications are doing his media work and Cunningham, Harris & Associates is his direct-mail firm.
As of June 30, Ashe had $55,000 in the bank. But since Schrock’s announcement his campaign has raised well over $100,000.
Next week both Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) and Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) are scheduled to travel to the district to do events for Ashe.
The Marine reservist is also slated to travel to Washington, D.C., on Monday for a fundraiser with organized labor groups. Former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) campaigned for Ashe in early August.
“It’s become clear to us that we’re going to have all the money we need to do all that we need to do to win this election,” Ashe said. “It will be a very well resourced campaign.”
Drake isn’t hurting for resources or endorsements either.
Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) will attend a fundraiser for her campaign in the district tomorrow and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) will endorse her at a press conference there next week. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House Chief Deputy Whip, is slated to do a D.C. fundraiser for Drake in early October.