Amanda Chase as has a history of picking competitive races and winning candidates, and this time she is picking herself to challenge Steve Martin in a primary for the 11th district. Known for her grassroots activism and strongly expressed opinions, Chase has made a name for herself as a campaign worker for Cuccinelli, Cantor, Brat, and Forbes. Her strong opinions have made her somewhat controversial in certain circles, but she seems to connect very well with tea-partiers and grass-roots activists. She is now stepping out in front as a candidate herself and thinks she has picked a race she can win. Is Amanda correct that Martin is ripe for a primary challenge? The answer could be yes.
Martin entered politics thirty years ago, winning a seat in the House of Delegates as an unexpected challenger to Democrat Leslie Saunders in 1987 in the 67th District. Other than fending off Saunders in a rematch for the Delegate seat in 1989, Martin has had a remarkably easy road since then. When the District lines changed he ran unopposed to become the Delegate for the 27th District where he remained until 1994 when he easily won a special election to become the Senator for the 11th District. The 11th is one of the safest Republican districts in Virginia with McCain winning the district by 14 points, McDonnell winning by 37 points, Romney winning by 14 points, and Cuccinelli wining by 24 points.
The reality, however, is that Martin isn’t that strong in his own district. Martin was last challenged in 2007 and won easily against the split competition of one democrat and two independents gaining 62.75% of the vote. That seems very strong until you consider that two years later, McDonnell won the 11th with 68.56%, Bolling won with 65.81% and Cuccinelli won with 68.34%. That indicates that other Republicans are significantly more popular than Martin in his own district. Martin’s attempt to gain the nomination for Lt. Governor in 2013 is also telling. Martin’s LG campaign was almost comical in its ineffectiveness. Martin was eventually knocked out on the first ballot and he failed to win his home county of Chesterfield in that vote. Martin raised a meager $115,000 state wide, far in last place out of the seven candidates, and was seen standing nearly alone in his suite at the Convention while the other six candidates held rallies.
Martin doesn’t seem primed to face a contest in his Senate district either. While Chase is boasting Chesterfield’s popular Commonwealth’s Attorney Billy Davenport as part of her “host committee” at recent fundraisers, Martin’s Endorsements page on his website is disturbingly blank. This could be a major issue for Martin as Davenport is usually lockstep with equally popular Sheriff Karl Leonard and former Sheriff Dennis Profit. Davenport, Leonard and Profit have shown considerable power in getting candidates nominated in Chesterfield. This power was first evident Leonard’s remarkable win for the Republican nomination for Sheriff over the highly endorsed party favorite, Jerry Baldwin. More recently, Davenport, Leonard and Profit joined forces to get newly elected Clerk of Court Wendy Hughes the nomination over the highly endorsed party favorite, Tracy Seredni. In both of these races Steve Martin strongly endorsed and supported the losing candidate, and it is possible that those chickens are coming home to roost. A recent Facebook post by Martin indicates that he believes that Profit, Leonard and Davenport are supporting Chase against him, and that could be decisive in any sort of primary.
If Davenport, Leonard and Profit truly are backing Chase, as Martin seems to believe, Martin has a reason to be concerned. Martin strongly campaigned for his hand-picked candidate for sheriff, Jerry Baldwin, and Baldwin conceded the nomination for sheriff to Karl Leonard before a single vote was counted because Leonard had packed the convention hall about 3-1 with vocal supporters. Wendy Hughes won her firehouse primary for clerk over Martin’s candidate, Seredni, 1686 to 727, and won the general election with 68.1% of the vote, while Gillespie only received 52.7% of the vote in Chesterfield. That means that the candidate handpicked by Davenport, Leonard and Profit beat out the Republican senate nominee by almost 16 points in Steve Martin’s home county. If Davenport, Leonard and Profit are the power that they appear to be in Chesterfield, and Martin is correct that they are backing Chase, Martin looks like he may be in trouble.
So – did Amanda Chase pick the right race? It appears she very well may have.