Virginia Political Tradition Going Strong

Posted April 16, 2009 at 4:25pm

WAKEFIELD, Va. — “I wish more politics were like this,— former Sen. George Allen (R) said gazing through passing clouds of cigar smoke as the crowds mingled beneath beer tents and oak trees at the Wakefield Ruritan Club on Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s a mixture of a country fair, a tailgate party, a sporting event and a convention … and it’s all brought together by a fish nobody really likes to eat,— he said.

The fish that Allen was referring to is the notoriously bony Shad and the event was the 61st annual Shad Planking festival, a bipartisan gathering that marks the traditional kickoff of the Commonwealth’s political season.

Wednesday’s overcast skies and occasional light rain did little to deter throngs of Old Dominion politicos from descending on this normally quiet town that lies 50 miles southeast of Richmond.

Shad Planking’s main feature — besides the cold beer and political glad handing — is the rousing and humorous speeches given by the key players in that year’s top political race.

This year, Virginia’s gubernatorial race will lead the ticket and three of the four gubernatorial candidates took turns roasting each other before a raucous crowd.

Former state Attorney General Robert McDonnell (R), former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and attorney Brian Moran, brother of Virginia Rep. Jim Moran (D), all took their turns giving and taking jibes.

“I’m particularly pleased he put a map of Virginia on [his campaign signs] so he knows what state he’s in when he’s campaigning,— McDonnell said of McAuliffe, in his attempt to paint the well-funded Democrat as a carpetbagger.

The notable absentee was former state Sen. Creigh Deeds, the third Democrat in the race, who skipped Shad Planking to spend time in his southwest Virginia base with Rep. Rick Boucher (D).

The chilly and wet weather also didn’t dampen the ferocity of the annual “sign war,— in which opposing candidates compete to fill miles of nearby roads with a nauseating amount campaign signs.

In that symbolic contest McAuliffe was the clear winner. His 25,000 blue and yellow signs — along with a blue and yellow airplane trailing a McAuliffe banner — dominated the approximately 6,000 signs placed by McDonnell’s team.

McAuliffe’s fellow Democratic candidates didn’t even try to compete in the sign war, which some political insiders interpret as a way to flex a campaign’s organizational and financial muscle.

Moran, whose supporters tout his grass-roots campaign style, said Wednesday that McAuliffe’s sea of signs goes to show that “when you have too much money, you waste it.—

To emphasize the point, Moran’s team blasted the Beatles tune “Can’t Buy Me Love— in the general direction of McAuliffe’s tent for most of the afternoon.