Since I first took an interest in politics in 1994, my hometown of Harrisonburg has been represented by 2 different Delegates, 2 State Senators, 5 Governors, 4 U.S. Senators, 3 Presidents, and a vast multitude of city council members. During this time, there has been only one consistent factor in the Harrisonburg political representation, Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte of Roanoke. First elected in 1992, he has been our voice in the United States House of Representatives, uninterrupted for these last 19 years.
Given that the 6th district is arguably the most conservative and most Republican district in the state of Virginia, it comes as no surprise that Bob Goodlatte has won so many times. But were you aware that the Democratic Party has fielded a candidate in only one of his last six elections? Furthermore, each time that Goodlatte has faced a Democratic opponent, he has turned back these challengers handily, capturing between 60 to 69% of the vote.
So what about the elections when the Democrats don’t try? Well, in those cases Goodlatte often has no opposition, as was the case in 1994, 2000, and 2004, or an assortment of third party and/or independent candidates. These opponents outside the two-party system fare even worse that the Democrats. For example, in the most recent contest back in 2010, he trounced both a Libertarian and Modern Whig, garnering a commanding 76.26%.
After taking the last election off, the Democratic Party seems poised to try to capture the seat once more. Right now, their probable candidate appears to be Andy Schmookler, a radio personality and author from Shenandoah County.
However, unlike every previous contest, save for his first in 1992, we have an unusual challenge; Bob Goodlatte is facing an opponent from within the Republican Party. Running as a liberty-minded Republican is Karen Kwiatkowski, a former Air Force Colonel, college instructor, and political author from Shenandoah County.
Now, if either the Republican nomination or the general election were held today, I would expect Bob Goodlatte to win both handily. After all, he has a massive advantage in name ID, war chest contributions, and is generally liked in political circles, Republican or otherwise.
According to Roanoke’s WSLS, at an event in Verona earlier this month Mr. Schmookler “compared his 6th District campaign to the rebel…mission to destroy the Death Star”. That assessment may not be too far from the mark. As fans of the Star Wars trilogy will recall, Han Solo declared Luke’s lucky shot at the end of the first film to be “one in a million”. With all due respect to Mr. Schmookler and the Democratic Party, given the conservative nature of the voters in the Shenandoah and Roanoke Valleys as well as the surrounding highlands, a Democratic victory in the 6th seems just about as improbable as the undermanned and under equipped rebels’ assault in that movie.
Although we don’t know if it will be decided by a primary, convention, or something else, which can certainly influence the outcome, I would expect the most exciting contest to be in the Republican nomination. Are voters happy with Mr. Goodlatte and our current representation in Congress? And what kind of alternative is Mrs. Kwiatkowsi offering? These questions are the central issue that the two candidates and their campaigns will need to answer.
Mr. Goodlatte has a clear advantage over any challenger at this stage, but I’m looking forward to watching the contest to come. As a fellow voter in the 6th, I encourage you to read about the candidates and visit their websites to learn more about our Representative, Bob Goodlatte, and his two contenders, Andy Schmookler, and Karen Kwiatkowski.
Is Bob Goodlatte unbeatable? So far that answer seems to be yes. But, there are other factors we must consider. First, when we mix the contest with a high profile Senate and Presidential race, the story gets far more interesting. Second, given that he is opposed from both the left and the right, it seems certain that 2012 will be the most intriguing House race that Virginia’s 6th has seen in decades.