What may be the most interesting race in our area for 2011 is shaping up as former Republican State Senator Brandon Bell says he will likely challenge Republican Senator Ralph Smith in the 19th district.
In a phone call, Bell, who was traveling on business said, “it is highly likely that I will run.” He is preparing to put together his committee and gather signatures he said. Bell said he is running as an Independent.
There was a rumor that he might run several weeks ago, but he had to get approval. Bell works for a broker-dealer who had to approve any activity outside of his financial securities firm. He received that go-ahead just a few days ago. He said he can now “pursue this as an outside venture.”
“There are a lot of interesting challenges when you start looking at things from an Independent perspective,” he said, indicating that is why it has taken him so long to come to his decision.
“I don’t foresee anything that will prevent me from running at this point – though nothing is 100 percent,” said Bell, who is still exploring possibilities for a campaign manager and staff.
Being a Republican all his life, Bell said that this is a big step for him, but he feels that being an Independent in the current political climate is an advantage. He will “represent all the people in the 19th district and what their needs are, regardless of party.”
Bell said he gradually came to his decision after seeing that no one else was challenging Senator Smith. “Once they pulled out the U-Haul and moved everyone around it started me thinking,” he said.
Bell will be looking for those who think he can represent them better than Smith. If Bill Stanley had stayed in the 19th district he “would have supported him,” said Bell. He was not recruited he said but has fielded many requests to run. “I made up my own mind … I’m more and more encouraged that it might be a two-way race,” said Bell.
Roanoke Attorney John Lichtenstein who said earlier that he was contemplating a run as a Democrat in the 19th district did not return phone calls.
In 1991 Bell represented Roanoke’s 21st District before losing to current Democrat John Edwards in 1995.
In 2003, Bell was elected in the redrawn 22nd Senate District. Now the 22nd district is no more and Smith moved to run in the 19th district where Bell is a resident. Bell said, that the precincts that were moved from the 22nd district to the 19th district he won by eight percent in 2007 against Smith. The precincts included Salem, Montgomery County and Roanoke County.
In 2007 Smith moved to Bell’s 22nd district and set out to take Bell’s senate seat. In the June 12, 2007 Republican primary, Smith won over Bell by 75 votes—a one-percentage point margin.
By moving into the 19th district, Smith pushed Senator Bill Stanley to the 20th district in a Republican strategy to take over the Virginia Senate. Governor McDonnell is supporting Stanley in his challenge against Democrat incumbent Roscoe Reynolds.
Bell later broke with Republicans endorsing Creigh Deeds for governor in 2009. He endorsed Bob McDonnell over Deeds for Attorney General in 2005.
Governor Tim Kaine appointed Bell to the Radford University Board of Visitors in 2008.
Having solved some work-related issues, Bell says that the timing is now right.
Bell lives in Roanoke County with his wife, Debbie and their two children and is President and owner of Bell Wealth Management, a personal financial services consulting firm in Roanoke.