Stakes Are High in Upcoming Elections

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(top) John Edwards and Dave Nutter. (bottom) Brandon Bell and Ralph Smith.

by Valerie Garner

As the final days of local elections play themselves out culminating on Election Day Tuesday November 8th, it is clear that both Republicans and Democrats are pulling out all the stops.

The Republican Party of VA is putting money into ads that are hitting hard against incumbent Democrat John Edwards in Roanoke City’s 21st Senate district. His opponent, Republican Delegate Dave Nutter, is working Roanoke City and especially the Lee-Hi precinct where he was heavily supported in the primary against Tea Party candidate Tripp Godsey.

Governor McDonnell has been there for Nutter. U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb were here for Edwards.

Several forums highlighted the differences between Nutter and Edwards. Nutter says Edwards will raise taxes and kill jobs. Nutter signed the no-tax increase pledge. Edwards said Nutter voted to cut public education funding and that he has no plan for funding transportation. Nutter voted against outgoing Del. Bill Cleaveland’s work-around that allows the Roanoke City School System to start their school year prior to Labor Day.

Chris Head and Freeda Cathcart

Another closely watched Senate race pits old rivals Republican Senator Ralph Smith and former Republican and now Independent candidate Brandon Bell. The two candidates fought it out in  a 2007 Republican primary in the 22nd Senate district with Smith getting the win.

Senator Bill Stanley moved to the 20th district to challenge Democratic incumbent Roscoe Reynolds, leaving his 19th district open for Smith to relocate. It seemed Smith would have no challenger until rumors proved to be accurate when Sen. Bell announced his run as an Independent.

This 19th Senate district race quickly became interesting. At first Bell’s campaign seemed lackluster. In response Smith appeared to be laid back, appearing complacent, as if to say why spend money when his opponent barely has $6000 in his campaign fund?

Then the Bell press releases starting appearing, charging that Smith didn’t live in the cabin rented from his campaign manager, Steve Mabry. Bell charged Smith with lying about where he was living, even producing ads showing a secluded cabin on Bent Mountain.

Smith countered saying that he owns four properties in the area besides the cabin he rents on Bent Mountain and that his residency “meets the letter of the law in all regards.”

 The first sign that Bell was getting funds before the State Board of Elections disclosure deadline came with a plethora of TV ads. Many wondered where Bell was getting the money for all the expensive TV ads.

When the disclosure deadline came, it revealed that the Senate Democratic Caucus contributed over $200,000 to Bell’s campaign. Smith quickly pointed out that Bell’s true colors were now evident and took to thee airwaves himself with TV ads disparaging Bell’s votes to increase taxes. November 8 will tell if Smith has an unshakable hold as the more conservative candidate.

The 17th House of Delegates race with Republican Chris Head hoping to fill the shoes of outgoing Delegate Bill Cleaveland is less contentious. His opponent, Democrat Freeda Cathcart, though mounting a heartfelt campaign with little funding, has mostly kept a lid on the rancor and it looks like Head has smooth sailing to the House of Delegates seat.

Head, as a conservative, admits to bucking his Republican Party leaders on some issues. As owner of a senior living center, “Home Instead,” he believes regulations for the protection of seniors’ welfare are warranted. He contends that some regulations are sensible but too many make business operation difficult. Weeding out the unnecessary senseless regulations for business will be one of his goals.

Another surprise came when Head said he supports passenger train service. He said he rides the train south as often as he can.

Head’s Democratic challenger Freeda Cathcart has touted her midwifery initiative, support for public education and women’s rights. She home schools her three sons.

Democrat Onzlee Ware in the 11th district, Democrat Clerk of Circuit Court Brenda Hamilton and Republican 8th district Delegate Greg Habeeb are unopposed.