Incumbant, Dr. John O'Bannon-R is being challenged by University of Richmond, Director of the Center for Leadership in Education Tom Shields. Shields announced his candidacy early this year with very little fanfare frankly, but as the months have passed Shields has been gaining momentum.
Shields can attribute this "mo" to the fact that he is waging a community by community campaign and has embraced hitting the street and meeting with residents of the 73rd. Shields has not simply gone the way that so many incumbants do with so-called "meet and greets", but rather has systematically hit major neighboorhoods and knock on doors and spoken with residents on their own porches delivering a focused message.
Shields is hitting those streets that in the past may very well have voted Republican and not merely focusing on trying to get the historic Democrat vote out at the polls. This strategy is paying off. His name recognition is climbing as a result of a campaign maintaining a consistent strategy. (Maybe the Deeds camp should be calling these folks for advice)
The payoff? To be honest I can attest to many former McCain supporters from last fall taking a second look at Shields in this race. Why? Neglect. The biggest issue facing incumbant O'Bannon is in reality the perception to many that he is disengaged with constituents. That criticism is always a hard one to overcome, but the O'Bannon camp is trying. For many residents it is the first time that Republican volunteers are working to get the vote out in this district for a "local" race. Many folks have expressed the feeling that they fel as though their votes appear to have been taken for granted in years past and given the rising tide of apathy toward Washington and the political game lately that hurts any incumbant.
Many bloggers left this race in the 73rd alone early this year in large part because it looked as if it was pretty much a safe seat for the Republicans. It appears as though many bloggers took for granted those votes as well.
Shield's folks have stopped by my parents home in the 73rd at least three times. Once to introduce Tom Shields, then to touch base and then to followup on some answers to some questions.
Shields has held 2 town halls, one on the economy and one on education, this month with plans on a few more before Election Day. I was particularly interested in the Education meeting. It intereested me because Virginia Democrats have always historicially taken education on as a campaign piece and I wanted to see if Shields was planning on offering something substantively different than many other Democrats.
There is no doubt in my mind that Shields has the Education debate down solid and his background can attest to his understanding of the issues facing our local school systems throughout the Commonwealth. The problem though is if your a voter and you did not get the opportunity to hear Shields speak on Education and you get word that the Virginia Education Association Fund has endorsed him there could be a real disconnect. Many voters, especially Independent ones, in the 73rd will see such an endorsement as a negative given rising criticisms on entrenched educational bureaucracy that has created much of the unneccessary expenses associated with the education budget.
I have no doubt that Tom Shield' head and heart is in the right place on Education, but only a few months remain to see if he can reach more voters on other issues facing the Commonwealth. For example, where does Shields stand on Transportation? On Federal Stimulus Money allocation?
If you happen to be one of the fortunate voters with the opportunity to have Tom Shields knock on your door; a few questions
Where do you stand on leasing out the Virginia Lottery to a management company?
Would you support the privatization of the Virginia Alcohol Board of Control (VABC)?
What released plans offered by the Deeds or McDonnell campaign could you endorse?
As an educator, where do you stand on illegal immigrants receiving State Finanacial Aid for college?
How would you as a Delegate work with the Congressional Delegation to get Federal permission for rights to the Virginia Rest Areas along Virginia's interstates to lease to private companies to be maintained? (Why is it MD can have the Chesepeake House in the middle of I95?)
Would you support localities being forced to implement "impact fees" over cash proffers through State legislation?
Will you committ to not supporting any increase in gas or sales taxes from the current levels?
How will you work to alleviate the burdens placed upon our commercial fishing enterprise?
Will you support or work to support opening up Virginia to offshore drilling?
Some of these may not have direct GA implications but it may offer voters greater insight to where the candidate is truly coming from over rhetoric or campaign releases.
In the end, Republicans took for granted they had the 73rd in hand this Fall but it appears as though Tom Shields is in this to make this a real race come November.