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ELECTION NEWS: Obenshain In, Gilbert “pretty much” in

June 10, 2011

In know that this is relatively old news at this point, but I wanted to post just quickly on the status of Shenandoah County’s two representatives in Richmond’s bids for re-election.

Incumbent Republican Senator Mark Obenshain, 48 of Harrisonburg, announced his re-election bid late last week. He’ll be seeking his third term in the Senate, where he has served since defeating independent Rodney Eagle in the 2003 General Election. In the Senate Obenshain serves on the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources; Courts of Justice; Local Government; and Priveleges and Elections Committee. He is not a chair of any committees, as Democrats currently hold a 22-18 majority in the Senate. However, it is widely believed that the Senate is in play this year, with pickup opportunities existing for both parties, due not only to changing demographics and party affiliations (more Republicans in southside and southwest, more minorities, moderates and Democrats in the suburbs) but also due to redistricting. However, while most of his caucus will have to introduce themselves to new voters (and some have had to make the difficult decision on whether to challenge a fellow incumbent of the same party), Obenshain is looking good, as he picked up just one precinct, and that’s only due to the fact that it had not been created prior to his last election. That precinct, Signal Knob just outside of Strasburg, is slated to have its voters folded into Toms Brook and Strasburg if the redistricting stays the same. What it comes down to is Obenshain has nearly the exact same territory. As this district voted 71% for McDonnell and 58% for McCain. Indeed, Rockingham County, part of which comprises roughly 20% of the District, was one of the few counties in the state to vote for Jim Gilmore for Senate in 2008. Obenshain has twice scored over 65% in the district, so barring any unforeseen developments, any challenger will have an uphill battle in this solidly Republican district. For a great look at the district, visit the district profile at VPAP.org. Curiously, Shenandoah County actually makes up the largest part of the district (though just 23%).

Obenshain is the heir of the legacy of his father, Richard Obenshain, whose 1964 Congressional and 1969 Attorney General campaigns saw conservative Democrats continue their transition that began in the mid-1950s. His leadership of RPV in the early 70s solidified this movement and led to an era of fairly rapid Republican resurgence before the Democrats were able to become competitive again in the 1980s. Obenshain was the 1978 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate but was tragically killed in an airplane crash, leading to his replacement on the ticket by and the eventual Senatorship of moderate Republican John Warner. So to say that Obenshain is part of one of the First Families of Virginia Republican politics is probably going a little short–indeed, the Party’s Richmond HQ is named the Obenshain Center. In the Senate Obenshain has carried on his father’s legacy as part of the solidly conservative bloc within the Senate Caucus. That wing consistently battled with many of the more moderate Republican Senators from 2003 to 2007, when the GOP lost control of the Senate. Relations since have been relatively more cordial and the party has hung closer together, but that hasn’t meant much other than alot of 22-18 votes. For his part Obenshain, while considered a solid social conservative, has focused primarily on criminal justice/law enforcement and fiscal issues. Take a look at his record since 2007 here at Richmond Sunlight. Many Valley Republicans have encouraged Obenshain to seek higher office, but he hasn’t done so yet. However, with his children in or off to college, the timing may be getting better. This is a race to watch, if only in regards to its potential implications for 2013. Obenshain had roughly $174k on hand as of March 31st. Check out his donors here at VPAP.

Meanwhile, in the 15th, it appears that Delegate Todd Gilbert will run for a fourth term. He has yet to announce yet, but he has promised a formal announcement soon while turning down the chance to run for Commonwealth’s Attorney. He has stated repeatedly over the last few months he intends to run again, so we’ll count him in the yes column. Gilbert won the seat over Jim Blubaugh over Rappahannock County in 2005 and has since risen to become Assistant Majority Leader in the House, which pretty much means he leads floor debates. Gilbert is in a different position than Obenshain, as he has new territory to introduce himself to. He shedded the entirety of Rappahannock county to pick up several precincts in Warren, and shed the area east of Elkton in exchange for areas just north and east of Timberville and Broadway. However, this process actually made his district MORE Republican, as the old District was 72% for McDonnell in 2009–now its 74%. It went 62% for McCain. Since Gilbert will be on the ballot for the first time in some areas, past results may not be the best predictor, but with Shenandoah County making up more than half of the district (and Page makes another 30%), they’re not bad. Gilbert scored 60% in 2005 and 69% in 2009. He was unopposed in 2007. Again, this district will be a toughie for any challenger, barring any unforseen circumstances. For a more in-depth look at the district, check out VPAP’s profile.

Gilbert is a career prosecutor, having worked in Lynchburg, Shenandoah, Warren and now Frederick. He is an alum of the University of Virginia and Southern Methodist University School of Law. He attended Central High School in Woodstock. He also served as the chair of the Shenandoah County Republican Committee. While in the House Gilbert has been part of the conservative wing, though the differences between conservatives and moderates in the House is far less pronounced (read: there just aren’t as many). Given his background as a prosecutor, its not surprise that Gilbert is largely focused on criminal justice issues, particularly on drugs and immigration. He’s also become something of a go-to on firearms. He serves on the Courts of Justice; Priveleges and Elections; Militia, Police and Public Safety; and General Laws committees. Check out his record since 2006 here at Richmond Sunlight.  Gilbert had roughly $24k on hand as of March 31st. Check out his donors on VPAP.

The filing deadline for both seats is June 15th. See the calls below for more information. It is widely expected neither Gilbert nor Obenshain will be challenged for their respective nominations. Keep coming back to Shenandoah Sunshine for more coverage if/when any other candidates emerge.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have worked for Todd Gilbert and his campaign in a paid capacity in the past and consider him a good friend. Additionally, I have been a volunteer on the campaigns of Senator Obenshain in the past. However, we will bring you announcements of all candidates as we receive them, as well as information later today about the Democratic party process.

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