Family Feud Grows in Roanoke


    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.

    • lowkell

      I’m glad to hear you rate this “slightly leans Democrats.” I was thinking you were going to say “slightly leans Republican, so that’s a relief. :) Personally, I’m a bit more pessimistic than you are, would tends toward “tossup” at this point. But you know that district a lot better than I do, so I’ll defer to you. :)

    • Andy Schmookler

      When I was the Democratic nominee for Congress for the 6th District, I spent a lot of time in Roanoke. An obvious reason: Roanoke is clearly the biggest concentration of population (hence of voters) in the District, with Lynchburg second and Harrisonburg third, with half the people of Roanoke.

      My time in Roanoke gave me a lot of contact with John Edwards, and not a whole lot but enough to come away with impressions of Don Caldwell. I think rather highly of John Edwards, and while my impressions are not set in stone, I came away not feeling that way about Don Caldwell.

      So from my point of view, the importance of Edwards winning because it’s up for grabs what party will get to control the Senate is joined by my sense of the value of having a man like John Edwards in the Senate, and not like this man who is willing to betray the party he once served by acting as a spoiler in a race that is important for the balance of power in Virginia politics.  

    • NotJohnSMosby

      These guys are all that’s left south and west of Charlottesville.  Edwards and the delegate, those are the only Dems.  Is there a particular reason that, while surrounded on all sides by Republicans, these idiots decide to fight with each other instead of fighting Republicans?  Caldwell obviously cannot win, so all he’s accomplishing is allowing a Republican to take that seat.

      Why didn’t Caldwell primary Edwards?  He had all winter and spring to do so.

      If Edwards loses, be warned that NoVA Dems will just further concede the Valley and all of Southwest to Republicans.  You probably won’t win that seat back anytime soon, especially if Republicans control redistricting in 2021.  You would have one shot, probably with Rasoul, to get it in 2019.  After that, it’s probably chopped up 2-3 ways, and gone for good.

    • dave.arlington

      …that MONTHS AGO (prior to session) Gov. McAuliffe ousted all of the Senate Caucus’ staff for his own hand-picked favorites out of DC?  

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      The Virginia Democratic Party, like far too many state parties, and sadly most local committees where I live, all have lost the knowledge and ability to organize on the precinct level. Local committees always get bent out of shape when a statewide or presidential campaign comes in, organizes, finds volunteers, registers new voters, canvasses, etc., then packs up and leaves after the election. Well, that’s how the game is played, folks. I have given up on locals in my area working with the national or statewide campaign and concurrently organizing for the future. Example: Want to know the information of people who volunteered, say, for the Obama campaign? Simply volunteer to input data into VAN and jot down the contact information. Want to get canvassing maps and also identify likely Democratic or likely persuadable voters? Learn to use VAN, which has all that information.

      As for the DPVA, I served on the central committee for five years. Beats me how that organization can be effective. Dan is right about the chair. That office usually goes to someone who simply wants his or her ego stroked, a resume padded. I also never figured out the qualifications demanded of those who served as executive director. I never saw an effective attempt to raise money from the grassroots, instead of relying on big donors who then control the party agenda, the party they bought. I could go on and on, but…