Why Did Sen. Dick Saslaw (D) Give $200k to a Republican Wolf in Independent’s (Sheep’s) Clothing


    Meet “Independent” (err Republican) Brandon Bell of Roanoke (photo adjacent). He’s running against another Republican, Ralph Smith. By 2011 “standards,” Bell is now called a “moderate.” It wasn’t so long ago he wasn’t. He really is a pragmatic conservative, who once in a great while votes with Dems.

    While we have bonafide Democrats running for office in other districts right now, this week Sen. Dick Saslaw (D) gave Brandon Bell $202,500. With all the resulting hell Ralph Smith is raising (calling Bell a “liberal”), and using Saslaw’s donation as “proof,” Saslaw probably assured a Smith win. However, even if Bell wins, he has publicly stated he will not caucus with Dems. What’s up with Saslaw then?

    Why throw this large sum away? Does Saslaw  really believe Bell will be more helpful than, say, Sen. John Edwards from nearby District 21? Thanks to significant gerrymandering, and better funding of Edwards’ opponent by the GOP, Edwards is in a real contest. But Saslaw gave Sen John Edwards less. Take a look at how different it is on the other side of the aisle, where Edwards’ opponent, Dave Nutter gets some real support:

    Nutter received $321,206 from the Senate Republican Caucus and state GOP during the month, while Edwards received $150,748 in Democratic funds. Nutter had a cash balance of $196,835 on Oct. 26. Edwards had $64,309 on hand.

    Just this AM Mary Margaret Whipple emailed Democrats requesting more money for the Caucus to dispense to Democratic Senate candidates. Sorry, Sen. Whipple. The Senate Caucus is not making good decisions with donor money. My precious non-deep pockets cannot afford you. They especially cannot afford Dick Saslaw’s bad decision-making.

    I now donate directly to candidates, not to the Senate or House Caucus (or relatedly the DNC, DSCC or DCCC). We all have internet service. If, after donating to our Virginia races, we happen to have spare change, we can find worthy candidates in other states via their websites (you know, like Elizabeth Warren). In fact I have been doing that for some time. Why let them make bad decisions with OUR money.  

    Additionally, why are the whole cast of Democratic “stars” so stingy? The GOP is throwing money at their candidates while ours struggle.

    While we are at it, why isn’t the Senate Democratic Caucus grooming/mentoring candidates to run. Instead few incumbent Republicans have real contests. This too is a job for the Caucus, as well as other Democratic incumbents in Richmond. Until our state leaders fund candidates and help prepare/mentor them, we will not have all races ably contested.

    For those who would like to bypass the Senate caucus, you can donate to Senator John Edwards at his website.

    • truthteller

      I don’t know what it is, but I’d make calls to DPVA and the Senate Caucus asking why they are doing it rather than posting it on blogs.

      Bell’s voting record IS far preferable to Smith’s and his victory might send a message for moderation at a time whe RPVA is going further and further off the deep end.

      And given how difficult a fight we have on our hands, I don’t think fighting amongst ourselves and slamming the Senate Caucus while the Senate is hanging by a thread and we have a fighting chance to hold it as our last bulwark against extremism is the most prudent approach

    • sallybee

      …I heard/read that Mark Warner has endorsed Brandon Bell in this race.  Smith is running in a district that really doesn’t know him, so while he is an incumbent he doesn’t have the usual benefits that an incumbent possesses.  I have no idea what chance Bell has but he did come the Franklin County Democratic Picnic and asked for support.  I’m not in that district but my Democratic friends who are, are supporting him and have even put up Bell signs in their yards.

    • Paba

      but I’ve been told by a reliable source that Bell has stated that he will caucus with the Dems as an Independent should he win. This has been mentioned elsewhere, so I guess someone else out there knows the same folks I know in this respect.

      In the case that the Senate has only 20 Ds, Bell’s support could matter in keeping the deciding vote away from Bolling.

      The bigger problem here is that this creates a pretty significant fundraising line for Smith as he tries to turn out Roanoke County Republicans. Bell is no longer the Independent Republican that could take in more of those folks.

      At the same time, Bell has campaigned with both Warner and Ward Armstrong, so it’s not like this is that big of a shock to the locals.  

    • Paba

      it looks to be broken.

    • jwsevert


      I’ve known John Edwards for more than 30 years.  I know his wonderful, lovely wife, Cathye, and their really bright son, Jack, and his wife.  I have every confidence that if Senator Edwards could use a dime more, he would get it.

      I live in Washington now and remember when a Republican U.S. Senator by the name of Jim Jeffords became an independent and gave us a majority in the U.S. Senate.  Because of Jim Jeffords we didn’t get so much good done, but we stopped a lot of bad.  Some days/years, that’s not such a terrible thing to do.  

      One of the reasons that I’m Democrat is because we welcome people into our party, while Republicans throw them out.  I’m proud to be a Democrat with Nancy Pelosi and Heath Shuler, with Ben Nelson and Bernie Saunders (Independent who votes to organize the Senate as a Democrat), with Bev Perdue and Jerry Brown.  We’re Democrats.  We fight like hell, like only a family can; but, at the end of the day, we’re still family.

      If you want to complain, do it after we’re under attack.

    • notlarrysabato

      This post is such a fail, I don’t even know where to start.  Kathy, you have really embarrassed yourself with this one.

    • Bwana

      …but this post talks about Edwards fighting back in the face of” significant gerrymandering”.  Unless the papers got it wrong, Edwards district is the result of a plan drawn up by the Democratic majority state Senate.  I have to ask how did McDonnell massively tweak the Democratic plan to reach this “significant gerrymandering”, or did Saslaw and his staff just do a bad job with redistricting?

    • kindler

      Money donated to elect Democrats should go to elect Democrats.  Sure we can manuever behind the scenes to help potentially friendly independents. But $200k?  There are a lot of struggling, loyal Dem candidates who could really use that money, every bit of it.  Don’t just write them off, DPVA — fight to the bitter end for them.  

    • NotJohnSMosby

      is that, for practical purposes, Bell is the Democratic candidate.  He won’t say he his, elected Dems won’t say he is, but he really is.  If he’s the 21st vote, he’ll keep Saslaw as the majority leader.  That may not sound much, if he votes Republican a lot on the floor, but remember, whoever is in charge fills up the committee seats and that’s where the vast majority of the Teapublican nuttiness goes to die.  You have large Dem majorities on those committees whether there are 21 or 25 Dems in the Senate.  

      Saslaw raised well over a million dollars last week for the Senate Dem caucus.  He’s going to put that money where he sees races that are winnable with the additional funds, and incumbent races we might lose without more money.  Bell’s race is a very possible pickup. I think Barker has a thin lead in his race, and Houck and Puckett are toss-ups.  I don’t think that Edwards is a toss-up at this point, nor Marsden, they should be leaning Dem.  But, all of the guys with small leads or behind by a few points are going to get that money.  Bell fits squarely into that category.

      Putting money into races that will win regardless is a waste of funds.  Putting money into races that will not win regardless is a waste of funds.  Triage is always needed, and the painful reality is that not everyone’s favorite candidate gets a big chunk of money.  There isn’t an endless pool of money that you could shower on fringe races in the hopes you can buy a seat in the Senate – or House of Delegates.

      While I hope that Mitchell beats Dick Black, the fact is that we should have had a candidate up and running in Loudoun at the beginning of the year with the express understanding that they would be taking on Dick Black.  Hello Stevens Miller?  He stood up, but basically got slapped down.  The prevailing wisdom was that John Stirrup would win the Republican primary and be the overwhelming favorite in the general election, so why bother?  Oops, Dick Black pulled it out, and suddenly, a Dem candidate – any Dem candidate – is needed to jump in the race.  Mitchell is a good guy, but started with no money, no name recognition, and started six months too late.  

      The race in the new 22nd, quite honestly I think we’ve done about all that could be done there, given the reality of redistricting.  It wasn’t drawn as a Democratic district, and I think it’s playing out that way.  Dodson will at least finish respectably.