Once again speculation runs rampant about whether Senator Chuck Colgan will seek re-election. This familiar discussion is refueled by comments reported in the Virginian-Pilot and replayed at Virginia Virtucon that disclose health concerns may force Senator Colgan to retire from public service. This is not at all the retirement scenario Prince William County Republicans were hoping for, but the prospect of an open seat in the 29th Senate District immediately following redistricting is certainly enticing. There’s even a possibility that an opening could develop before then, so may the scrambling begin in earnest.
There’s nothing that particularly prevents Colgan from stepping down before the 2011 elections, since Democrats hold a two seat advantage on the Senate and a flip in the 29th District wouldn’t by itself change the balance of power there. That’s an awfully thin margin however, and Democrats wouldn’t relish the idea of depending on having nothing happen in the Senate makeup between now and November of 2011. Something always seems to happen, and a thin margin can easily shift if just one Senator runs for a different office, retires for some reason, or manages to land a cabinet position with the McDonnell administration. While it will be hard even under usual circumstances to browbeat Colgan into staying in place until 2011, there still isn’t an absolutely convincing argument for Dick Saslaw to make that the balance of power is in absolute jeopardy if he retires mid-term, it’s simply in potential jeopardy. But it always is with a two seat advantage.
Bob Fitzsimmonds seems eager to take on Colgan again if the opportunity arises, and if this seat is vacated I’m pretty sure he’d jump at the chance to run for it. Delegate Jackson Miller is also mentioned as a likely contender for this seat. That would set up a very interesting primary, pitting folks who were on opposite sides in the 2006 50th District Primary against each other in a rematch that’s sure to be entertaining to political observers, at the very least. In such a matchup, Jackson Miller would likely have the advantage given his experience and consistent record of electoral victory, something that has doggedly eluded Fitzsimmonds. A battle between the two would center on who could gain the support of the activist conservative base, and in this Fitzsimmonds might find the daylight needed to be competitive, but at the same time Fitzsimmonds would have to effectively counter the pretty compelling narrative that he’s run for this seat three times and lost.
There’s a slight possibility that Bob Marshall might be interested in the seat, but I think he has his eyes set on something different. Gainesville Supervisor John Stirrup could probably be convinced to run, but only if there were concerns that no conservatives were running for the Republican nomination, and that’s not likely here. Depending on how redistricting is done, he might be tapped for the House of Delegates instead. Brentsville Supervisor Wally Covington seems content where he is. That’s pretty much the list of potential candidates with current experience in elected office.
On the Democrat side, there’s Bruce Roemmelt and Jeanette Rishell, and perhaps some relative unknowns that might step up, or someone could move into the District. This would be a really tough district for a Democrat to win, even if they had a strong candidate, and there just aren’t a whole lot of them (or arguably any) in this part of the county.
If the seat opens up before the 2011 elections, Miller has an easy choice here, and if somehow he didn’t win in a special election, he’d still have his House seat. If Colgan holds out until 2011, then Miller has to choose whether he runs for the 50th House District or the 29th Senate District, and that would put the 50th House District into play. There are a lot of strong potential candidates to succeed Jackson Miller in the 50th, but unfortunately the only one mentioned very much is Sheryl Bass, who despite her broad appeal has a rather suspect grasp on her City Council job and appears to mouth conservative principles as more of a convenience than an actual conviction. Andy Harrover (a fine pick) isn’t interested in the job, Marc Aveni (a great pick) isn’t saying “no”, but would need some serious pushing to run for this, and as far as other potentially excellent picks like former Mayor Doug Waldron, they’re not saying anything about this. Unless 50th District residents want Bass to get the Republican nod by default, they better start encouraging a few conservatives to get ready.
On the Democrat side in the 50th, the likely candidate would be Kermit Dance. Rishell has worn out her welcome, and is done. I can’t imagine any Democrats wanting to see her name on a ballot again in the district.
Any Republican winning the 29th Senate District would have the option of staying in that seat for as long as they want to hold it in all likelihood, and that makes it an awfully attractive race to jump into when the seat opens up. That’s going to make this race one of the most expensive and hard-fought election battles in Virginia.
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