GOP Attack on Vet Could Backfire

Posted October 20, 2004 at 6:39pm

The fairly low-profile race to succeed retiring Virginia Rep. Ed Schrock (R) bubbled onto the national radar screen this week, as both national parties launched television ads to boost their respective candidates.

State Del. Thelma Drake (R) and attorney David Ashe (D) are squaring off in the Tidewater-based 2nd district, which Schrock has represented since 2001. He hastily dropped his bid for a third term in late August amid never-confirmed allegations that he solicited gay sex via a phone service.

While the seat favors Republicans, Democrats have remained hopeful that a competitive race would emerge based on Ashe’s profile as a veteran of the war in Iraq. Ashe, an attorney from Virginia Beach and retired Marine officer, served six months as a legal counsel to coalition forces before leaving active duty in November 2003.

Both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee went on broadcast television in Norfolk on Wednesday to supplement the ads each candidate already is running. The ads come in the wake of a controversial mailer sent out by the state GOP that accused Ashe of “weakening the war on terror” by supporting Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the presidential race.

The flier describes the two men as “two peas in a pod” (and shows the faces of Kerry and Ashe sticking out of a pea pod) on “issues like higher taxes, abortion on demand and the war on terror.”

The mailer received considerable press in the district, and at least one local newspaper editorialized that it was “cheap shot” at an Iraq veteran.

The DCCC ad that began airing this week highlights the attack on Ashe — and the negative press it generated for “politician” Drake — and encourages voters to “send a Marine to Congress.” The ad cost $168,000, and the spot is running this week at 1,000 points in the Norfolk market.

Ashe already is on television with an ad introducing him to voters as a lifelong resident of Virginia Beach who joined the Marines after finishing law school and then volunteered at Ground Zero in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“The challenge that’s facing us requires a Congressman who will put what’s right ahead of any political party,” he says in the spot. “I’m David Ashe and I approve this message because I’m ready to serve my country again, in Congress.”

Greg Speed, a spokesman for the DCCC, maintained that the recent mailer only boosted Ashe’s chances in an open-seat race that the party believes has been in play from the start.

“David Ashe has a great profile for a staunchly military district, so he’s been in the game all along,” he said. “Thelma Drake didn’t help herself here by smearing the service of an Iraqi war veteran for political reasons.”

Meanwhile, the NRCC’s new spot contrasts the two candidates’ positions on taxes, highlighting Drake’s vote against a $1.3 billion tax increase that passed the Virginia General Assembly in May.

“David Ashe?” an announcer says in the spot. “He says he wants to increase income taxes by rolling back part of the recent tax cut.”

Drake, a Norfolk real estate agent who was first elected to the General Assembly in 1996, has been running an ad that features Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

About two-thirds of the district’s population lives in Virginia Beach, and the rest reside in Norfolk and Hampton. The district is home to 12 military installations, including the world’s largest Naval base and 80,000 active-duty military personnel.

Republicans remain confident about their prospects in a district that would have voted 55 percent for President Bush in 2000.