Report from the 21st Senate District

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    In a brilliant move, the Virginia GOP somehow convinced Don Caldwell, commonwealth’s attorney and former chair of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, to run as an independent and third candidate in the 21st state senate race against incumbent Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat they would love to knock off as an insurance policy against losing their state senate majority. Edwards was already facing a formidable Republican candidate in Nancy Dye, a doctor who could eat into Edward’s votes from independents and moderate Republicans in Roanoke City.  Was Caldwell offered a judgeship? Was he somehow angry at John Edwards? Who knows? But Caldwell’s defection throws the race in the 21th into turmoil. My opinion is that the race is a toss-up.

    In 2011 the Republicans tried to knock off Edwards, at that time only one of three Democrats in the senate from west of Charlottesville. (We all remember Phil Puckett’s deal with the GOP to get his daughter a judgeship, resulting in his retirement. That leaves John Edwards and Creigh Deeds as the only senate Dems in the western half of the state.) Edwards in 2011 faced Dave Nutter a member of the House of Delegates from Montgomery County. It was felt that Nutter could garner enough votes outside of Roanoke City to beat Edwards. Edwards won with 56% of the vote. However, the turnout was, as usual, low. The total vote in the district was only about 38,000 votes, out of a total population of 188,000. Statewide turnout was about 29%, not a promising statistic for Democrats in off years.

    I have heard that Nancy Dye is doing door-to-door campaigning, a tactic that is very effective, but one that John Edwards is not known for. She is well funded since the GOP wants her to win, if at all possible. Edwards is ahead in fundraising, but Dye is close behind him.

    One good thing I saw today was a TV ad by the Edwards campaign. It wasn’t especially interesting, but it did have John Edwards speaking about his achievements since he was first elected.  If I were his campaign manager, I would tell him to resurrect an effective ad he used in 2011 with his mother telling why her boy should be re-elected. He needs to have ads that make people talk about them, something different from the usual.  Nancy Dye has also run TV ads, beating Edwards to the airwaves by several days.

    Edwards has a couple of Democratic Young Turks who may just help him. Sam Rasoul, who is Roanoke’s representative in the House of Delegates and who has no opponent this year, probably a strategic move by the Republicans to depress the vote because Sam excites the minority vote in Roanoke City, is actively  working to get out the vote for Edwards. Also, Mike Hamler, a candidate for the state senate in Ralph Smith’s district, one that is very Republican, is arousing interest among the African-American community. The senate and the house districts don’t overlap, but Hamler has roots in Roanoke that may keep his minority community more engaged in the November election.

    Being a Democrat, I’m going to make an optimistic prediction for the 21st senate district: Edwards wins with 51.8% of the vote. Dye captures 46%. Caldwell garners 2%. What am I using as my criteria? Hope…and prayer…That’s all I’ve got.