The latest kerfluffle making news in the 21st state senate district, now represented by Democrat John Edwards, is the recent cancellation of a fundraiser for Attorney General Mark Herring’s One Commonwealth PAC. The fundraiser was to take place at the law offices of Ray Ferris, a Roanoke city councilman who ran the last time as an independent after serving on council as a Democrat. There are conflicting stories about just how the fundraiser, at which John Edwards was scheduled to appear, got pulled.
According to Tommy Jordan, a long-time Democratic campaign activist who has helped Ferris in previous elections, the Edwards campaign wanted the event canceled because they said Ferris was going to use it to announce his support for Don Caldwell, 35-year veteran commonwealth’s attorney for Roanoke City, who bolted the party he used to chair to run as an independent against Edwards and his Republican opponent, Dr. Nancy Dye. Jordan adamantly denied that was going to happen. Meanwhile, Sam Barrett, campaign manager for Edwards, said that Edwards wasn’t involved in the decision to pull the plug on the fundraiser.
The statement from Adam Zuckerman, the director of Herring’s PAC said, “This particular event was becoming a bit of distraction for local Democrats, but Attorney General Herring strongly supports Senator Edwards’s re-election.”
This newest pothole in the road to Edwards retaining his seat makes me wonder if he can pull off re-election or not. Jordan’s disavowal notwithstanding, I believe that Ferris WAS going to sabotage Edwards with a Caldwell endorsement. Why? First, after he graduated from law school in the late 1980’s, Ferris’ first job was in Don Caldwell’s office as an assistant prosecutor, staying there until he opened his own firm. They have remained fast friends. Plus, Ferris evidently has not gotten over the fact that in the last council election in May 2014 two other Democrats filed to run against the three Democratic incumbents up for re-election for the three available nominations. Thus, there would have been a primary. To avoid that, Ferris broke with the party and ran as an independent. He was joined by fellow incumbent Bill Bestpitch, who also had been elected as a Democrat.
Since getting a Democratic nod is usually tantamount to being elected in Roanoke City, Ferris, I think, still has a pretty big grudge against the city Democratic Party committee. I’m also sure that the fact both he and Bestpitch won their seats as independents reinforced that grudge. That incident also showed splits within the city Democratic committee as Mayor David Bowers and David Trinkle, the one incumbent who ran as a Democrat, backed Ferris and Bestpitch, instead of the other Democratic candidates, Freeda Cathcart and Linda Wyatt. That whole election was a clash of egos that evidently is still poisoning city politics.
In 2011 Edwards won re-election against Republican Del. Dave Nutter by capturing 56% of the district vote. Roanoke City comprises about 45% of the votes in the 21st. This time around, Edwards may well not get anywhere near the 63% of the city vote he did in 2011 because of Don Caldwell’s independent bid. Last time out, Edwards carried the city and Montgomery County, but lost in Giles County and the small portion of Republican Roanoke County that’s in the district. He has little or no room to make up big losses of votes in the city. Besides, his Republican opponent will have a huge war chest to spend this time around, while Caldwell will probably act as a spoiler at best.
Edwards had been lagging in fundraising, but he did better in May, finally outraising his Republican opponent. The keys to his winning against these two opponents are going to boil down to aggressive campaigning and identifying his voters and getting them to the polls. John Edwards hasn’t had to fight this hard before, and the implications of this election are huge. Control of the state senate may hinge on the outcome in the 21st district. Is Edwards up to the task before him? I really don’t know. If I had to rate it, I would say a sure Democratic seat is now a “slightly leans Democratic” one.