The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Saturday, August 05, 2006

This Has Been a Test of The Daily's Political Depot...

After more than a year software tests, research and other geeky news fun, our little experiment in cyberspace has come to an end. The Northern Virginia Daily has moved into new territory, and has made a concerted effort to upgrade our presence on the Internet.

This test bed, as devoted (or pathetic, however you want to look at it) readers will recall, was set up during Campaign 2005 to explore methods of putting our stories in the hands of campaigns outside of our immediate circulation area.

And as such, it has outlived its usefulness. It will remain online until Blogger decides to take it down, primarily for reference purposes, but it will no longer be updated.

How will The Daily go forward in cyberspace? In large part, it's in the form of our revamped web site. You asked, and we delivered — full stories online, along with links to The Wire and other news sources.

What have we learned? Lots.

Readers all around the state want to know what's going on in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, and not just in the world of politics. New technology has opened up a world of possibilities for media companies that were the realm of science fiction just a few years ago. And there's a lot to learn when you sit back and just listen.

And that, gentle readers, is what this test was about from day one. Learning about this brave new digital media frontier, and those who populate it.

Thanks for reading. We now return you to regularly scheduled program.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Feder challenges Wolf to energy debate; A1

10th District candidates already scheduled to debate twice

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

The Democratic candidate in the 10th Congressional District has challenged the Republican incumbent to a debate on federal energy policy.

But the campaign of Rep. Frank Wolf says the invitation from Democrat Judy Feder is nothing but a publicity stunt.

Feder, the dean of Georgetown University’s public policy institute, wrote to Wolf last week challenging him to appear with her on Aug. 1.

“She’s moved from cherry picking votes to cherry picking news,” said Wolf spokesman Woody Patrick.

Patrick’s assessment of the situation was blunt. “We’ve already signed up for two debates,” he said, slated for mid-October.

“Now she’s throwing this [proposed debate] out there because [Feder] figures we won’t go to it, and then she has a news story saying we’re trying to duck her,” he said.

“While I’m pleased that Frank Wolf has agreed to two debates in the fall, they will cover multiple issues and the seriousness of our energy crisis demands that we devote an entire debate to this issue,” Feder responded in an e-mail to reporters.

Wolf has a history of debating his opponent twice. In 2004, he shared the stage with challenger James Socas two times.

Feder’s campaign has repeatedly hit the theme of gas prices and the GOP’s record on energy, taking every opportunity to tie Wolf to President Bush, whose approval numbers have sagged as gas prices have climbed.

Gas prices spiked last year when Hurricane Katrina took out a significant portion of the country’s refining capacity and damaged a number of oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. But after a brief reprieve at the $2 per gallon level, fuel prices headed skyward again as demand climbed with the summer driving season.

Recent fighting in the Middle East and unrest in other oil-producing regions have forced crude oil to nearly $80 per barrel as of late, and gas prices have kept pace.

Regular unleaded averaged about $2.93 per gallon across the commonwealth Monday, according to AAA.

Feder’s campaign has held press conferences at gas stations all over the district, and isn’t shy to pull out the “Big Oil” card when the issue shifts to fundraising.

In particular, she points to $70,000 donated to the Wolf campaign by employees and PACs of oil companies over his career.

While $70,000 isn’t chump change, it’s just a drop in the bucket of $5.6 million raised over a 26-year career, according to the Wolf campaign.

In fact, Wolf has taken less oil money in his career than seven other members of Congress have taken during this election cycle alone, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Voters deserve to know whether their leaders are on their side or on the side of the oil companies,” Feder wrote to Wolf, “so I am inviting you to a public debate on gas prices and energy policy.”

Feder has criticized Wolf repeatedly for supporting last year’s energy bill and its tax breaks for oil companies. At the time, backers said the tax breaks were needed to spur new exploration for oil.

But Wolf is no mouthpiece for energy, his campaign says.

Wolf took to the floor of the House earlier this year and called on President Bush to exercise the “bully pulpit” of the White House, and summon oil company executives to the Oval Office to account for higher fuel prices.

He also backed the “H-Prize” bill, which would establish millions of dollars in awards for inventors who help move the country away from gasoline toward hydrogen.

For her part, Feder says she’d work to roll back $48 billion in tax breaks given to oil companies in the energy bill Wolf supported and try to impose a windfall profits tax to “discourage profiteering” by oil companies when prices are high.

Election Day is Nov. 7.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Fundraiser job should give Potts fiscal boost; A1

Senator will work to raise money for Handley project

By Garren Shipley (Daily Staff Writer)

WINCHESTER — Adding state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. to Winchester Public Schools' payroll as a fundraiser might give the Handley High School renovation project a much-needed fiscal boost.

See the full story at the official site.

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Potts Passes the Hat

This chart appeared in Thursday's issue of the Daily, but wasn't posted on our official web site. So head over there and take a look, then read this.

Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr.’s gubernatorial campaign has retired almost $200,000 in debt since the close of the gubernatorial race. But “Operation Upset” still has some pretty big markers out, including:

• $98,000 owed to Lloyd Ross, the founder of Tuesday Morning. The Middleburg multimillionaire gave the campaign a total of $550,000 during the 2005 race, including large sums to cover media buys. Since then, Potts has returned $130,000.

• $85,000 owed to the consulting firm of Tom D’Amore, Potts’ primary political consultant during the campaign.

A third major debt, to North Woods Advertising of Minnesota, the brains behind the campaign’s “We Want Potts!” television ad, was retired when the agency wrote off the last $5,775 of its bill.

Maybe Not Running, But Definitely Raising

Potts hasn’t said whether he’ll run for another four-year term, but his Senate campaign is still raising money.

• Raised since January: $96,200, including a $20,000 check from MVM, a private firm based in Vienna that provides overseas security services.
• Donated to gubernatorial campaign: $13,100
• Cash on hand: $42,927

Pension Power-Up

As a member of the Senate, Potts has been a state employee for 16 years and is eligible for a pension from the Virginia Retirement System when he decides to call it a career. But his stint with the school system has the potential to double or even quintuple that amount.

• Before: $408 per month
• After one year with Winchester Public Schools: $995 per month
• After three years with Winchester Public Schools : $2,018 per month

— Sources: Virginia State Board of Elections, Virginia Retirement System

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Hopefuls tending six-digit war chests; A1

Two challengers preparing for 2007 state Senate fight

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

WINCHESTER — Election Day 2006 is months away, but candidates are already marshaling their forces for the 2007 fight for the 27th District Virginia Senate seat.

And they’re raising money. Lots of money.

The seat is held by Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, who roused Republican ire — and was nearly excommunicated from the party — for entering the 2005 gubernatorial race as an “independent Republican” in opposition to GOP nominee Jerry Kilgore, a former Virginia attorney general.

More than a year away from a Republican primary, two challengers are already tending six-digit war chests and gunning for the architect of “Operation Upset.”

Jill Holtzman-Vogel, a Warrenton attorney, ran against Potts in the 2003 primary, as did then-Middleburg Vice Mayor Mark Tate. Holtzman-Vogel later withdrew to give Tate a better chance of beating Potts.

The challenger lost by 106 votes.

Now, Holtzman-Vogel is running again and she’s already got $200,711 in donations ready to go, according to a midyear report filed Monday with the State Board of Elections.

The bottom line is impressive, but not quite as impressive as the report would suggest, she said. All of her funds were raised over a 16-month period and don’t reflect a six-figure groundswell of support in the past six months.

When Potts announced his campaign for governor, speculation abounded that he wouldn’t be headed back to the Senate — either because he would be the new governor, a member of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s cabinet or would move on to other things.

“There was a lot of outside interest in having a campaign that was up and ready to go,” Holtzman-Vogel said. “We got ready, and we were prepared.”

Tate isn’t going into the fight unarmed.

He reported more than $100,000 in donations and a matching six-figure war chest to the State Board of Elections on Monday.

“I was 106 votes away [in the 2003 primary], and a lot of supporters encouraged me to run again,” Tate said.

For Tate, the 2007 campaign is about keeping promises on issues like abortion and school choice. Both men staked out conservative ground during the campaign.

“My opponent made the same promises, and my opponent broke those,” Tate said. That’s one reason Tate kept the framework of his campaign intact and ready.

But Republicans all over the district had best be focused on 2006 going into November, according to both challengers.

“It’s so important that we be very mindful and not lose sight of what it would mean to us to lose a house of Congress,” Holtzman-Vogel said.

In particular, Republicans need to be mindful of the race between incumbent Republican Rep. Frank Wolf and Democratic challenger Judy Feder.

The 27th Senate District shares some significant turf with the 10th Congressional District — all of Frederick and Clarke counties, the city of Winchester, western Loudoun County and northern Fauquier County.

There have been some Democratic gains in the eastern half of the 10th District. Loudoun County voted for Kaine, a Democratic, and Democrats took some special elections as well.
Wolf vs. Feder will be a good marker of where the 27th Senate District is headed, the candidates said.

“That’s where I’m putting most of my energies — in campaigning for Frank Wolf, [U.S. Sen.] George Allen and the marriage amendment,” Tate said.

But the GOP is hardly in retreat.

“What we’re concerned about in those regions is traffic and growth,” Tate said. “We had some candidates, the message[s] they gave to the voters weren’t acceptable. Two or three elections in the same year does not a trend make.”

Will Potts run again? He wouldn’t say on Monday.

“I’m not ready to make an announcement,” he said. “I’m going to make a decision when I want to make a decision, and that’s going to be on my timetable.”

Regardless, Potts said he wasn’t impressed by the early opposition or their fundraising totals.

“That isn’t anything new,” he said. “I won six elections, and they were all opposed.” Potts also said he’s always out-raised his opponents, with the exception of his gubernatorial run.

Potts’ organization didn’t make its finance report available on Monday, but any re-election campaign would have a lot of ground to make up, based on a January report.

Potts ended 2005 with less than $7,000.

Still, any suggestion that Potts might have a hard time winning again are just hot air, he said.

“I hear about those 106 votes, but I never read about those 12 points I beat Mark Herring [by],” Potts said, and “[Herring] is the toughest opponent I ever faced in six elections.”

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Candidates find gaps remain in fundraising; B1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

The money race for the 10th District House of Representatives election is getting closer, but the cash gap between Virginia’s two U.S. Senate candidates is still wide.

Candidates for federal office in the Nov. 7 election were required to file reports on Friday detailing how much money their campaigns have received, where it’s coming from and where it’s going.

The 10th District race between Republican incumbent Rep. Frank Wolf and Democratic challenger Judy Feder is getting closer, based on fundraising totals from May 25 to June 30.

As of June 30, 13-term incumbent Wolf had raised some $872,000 during the election cycle, while Feder reported $605,000.

But Feder actually out-raised Wolf by more than $35,000 in the five weeks covered by the latest report — a sign of growing strength, according to the Feder camp, even though Wolf maintains the fiscal upper hand.

“Americans have a powerful desire for change, and I have the resources to let Virginians know that they have a choice in November,” Feder says in a statement announcing her fundraising totals.

One major factor in Feder’s fundraising has been ActBlue, a Web site focused on helping Democratic candidates raise money via the Internet. The site allows Web users all over the country to donate to candidates online, either at the main site or through links on other pages.

Feder’s team has made solid use of the new technology, raking more than $205,000 from just over 700 donations, according to the site.

But Wolf’s campaign is quick to point out that most of Feder’s donations — including those from the Internet — have come from outside the 10th District, while Wolf’s support is homegrown.

While a detailed breakdown of donors to each campaign wasn’t immediately available Friday, some 83 percent of Feder’s cash was coming from out of state as of the last report, while 81 percent of Wolf’s donors live in Virginia.

Feder’s out-of-state donors may want her to win, but only people who live in the 10th District can actually vote for her, said Wolf campaign spokesman Woody Patrick.

Wolf’s own efforts are well ahead of where they were two years ago, when Wolf was challenged by James Socas, “a wealth self-funder,” Patrick said. Wolf still has a cash lead of $175,000 over his challenger — and the campaign isn’t concerned by Feder’s May-June fundraising.

But “our campaign takes every challenger seriously,” he added.

Neither campaign has started spending serious money yet. Feder’s team spent $39,000 during the reporting period, while Wolf’s campaign laid out just under $68,000.

Feder is the dean of Georgetown University’s public policy institute. The 10th District takes in much of Northern Virginia, stretching from Frederick County eastward to Loudoun County and on to Fairfax County, where it takes in key cities like Manassas and McLean.

On the Senate side, the money race remains a race in name only.

U.S. Sen. George Allen, the Republican incumbent, retains a commanding lead over Democratic challenger James Webb.

Webb, a former GOP secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, raked in more than a half-million dollars this reporting period and cracked the $1 million mark for this election cycle campaign.

But Allen raised $40,000 more than Webb and already was sitting on a multimillion-dollar lead.

As of June 30, Allen’s campaign had a $6.6 million war chest — after a $1.5 million television advertising buy — compared to Webb’s $424,000.

Webb’s campaign spent $373,000, primarily before the June 13 Democratic primary.

Full Story...

The Money Race; B5

There may be four months to go until Election Day, but congressional candidates are raking in donations as fast as they can over the summer in preparation for the home stretch this fall.

In the 10th District, which stretches from Manassas and McLean all the way to Winchester and Frederick County, Democrat Judy Feder has made up significant ground against incumbent Republican Rep. Frank Wolf.

In the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Republican George Allen remains light years ahead of Democratic challenger James Webb.

10th House District
Judy Feder, Democrat
• Contributions this period: $220,163
• Contributions to date: $605,765
• Spent this period: $39,472
• Spent to date: $144,517
• Cash on hand: $461,247

Rep. Frank Wolf, Republican
• Contributions this period: $184,982
• Contributions to date: $872,342
• Spent this period: $67,771
• Spent to date: $406,972
• Cash on hand: $636,089

U.S. Senate
Sen. George Allen, Republican
• Contributions this period: $602,855
• Contributions to date: $11,256,083
• Spent this period: $1,721,969
• Spent to date: $5,956,031
• Cash on hand: $6,617,620

James Webb, Democrat
• Contributions this period: $580,163
• Contributions to date: $1,027,084
• Spent this period: $373,414
• Spent to date: $698,510
• Cash on hand: $424,245

* Contributions don’t include interest, candidate loans, transfers and other funds.
— Source: Federal Election Commission reports provided by campaigns, FEC.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Times, they are a changin'...

... at least they are at the Northern Virginia Daily.

This site has been dark for quite a while, as the iBook of Mild Peril and I have been detained this past week with the habeas corpus petition of Edward N. Bell. The astute reader will recall the name and case from the tipping point of the 2005 gubernatorial campaign.

Why haven't those stories been on the site? They're not political anymore. But stayed tuned, because they likely will be political again in the coming months.

In the meantime, we've started to post a few complete stories on the paper's official site. In keeping with the original premise of this bloggish depot thing, stories that appear on the official site will not appear in their entirety here. They may or may not be linked, depending on the time available to the reporter. Unlike this site, however, the official site updates on a regular basis and doesn't get shifted to the back burner when a certain two-year-old has bad dreams.

Stories that aren't published on the full site will be posted here, at least until we see that the majority of hits are coming from places where the Daily is immediately available (translation: when it's mostly cheapskates, the free ride will end. This ain't a charity, after all).

In the meantime, head over to our official site early Tuesday at some point Tuesday for a look at Gov. Kaine's visit to Boyce on Monday to talk about the fish kill in the Shenandoah River. And patronize our advertisers and subscribe to the paper.

But you already do that, right?

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Goodlatte has doubts about I-81 truck tolls; B1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

STRASBURG — One local congressman has serious doubts about financing Interstate 81 expansion with tolls on trucks.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, told a meeting of business and community leaders on Monday that the plans on the table right now for the project might do more harm than good.

How to improve the roadway is “primarily a state decision,” he said, but one that will be made “with the federal government, and certainly your representatives in the federal government, wanting to help make sure it works.”

Like it or not, something will have to be done to help the four-lane highway carry more cars and trucks in the not-too-distant future, he said.

Rail improvements for the valley are being considered by Norfolk Southern, but it would take two new rail lines to make a serious impact on the way freight moves up the valley.

And that’s not in the fiscal cards.

“They’ve estimated it would be many billions of dollars” to lay the needed new track or sufficiently upgrade existing facilities, Goodlatte said. That means the highway will likely be carrying the bulk of freight through western Virginia.

State officials have recognized that fact, but the initial tolling proposal from STAR Solutions, a consortium of construction companies, doesn’t look very good.

“The plan the state is right now considering is one that is very concerning,” Goodlatte said.

“That’s because it relies on enormous tolls on trucks to pay for it. That is, in my opinion, way too expensive and way too risky for the economy of this region.”

Goodlatte said expansions are planned at the massive Wal-Mart distribution center south of Harrisonburg that will eventually put about 1,000 trucks per day on the road.

If each truck is required to pay an $80 toll to make it to its destination and back, it would cost the company an extra $80,000 a day, or as much as $29 million per year.

“Imagine what that does not just to distribution business, but the agriculture industry and all kinds of manufacturing facilities along that highway,” he said.

It could force business and industry out of the Shenandoah Valley and reverse a number of positive economic trends, he said.

“What I have said repeatedly to the last governor and the current governor is, ‘You can’t do this with just tolls. It’s not fair to the people of western Virginia,’” he said. “You’ve got to share those state highway funds.”

VDOT officials have said repeatedly they don’t yet have a funding mechanism in mind for the project. Planners have to decide just how much road to build, and where, before they can figure out how much it will cost and how to pay for it.

However, the agency’s 2003 application to the federal government for permission to collect tolls on the highway states that the project cannot be completed in a timely fashion without tolls.

Goodlatte acknowledged that the project’s final shape is far from set in stone.

“I think things are evolving, although they haven’t made any decision,” he said.
Congress has kicked in some serious cash to help pay for the project, but not as much as state and STAR Solutions officials were hoping for.

“We did get $141 million earmarked [in the last transportation spending bill], probably the largest earmark for western Virginia ever,” Goodlatte said “But they were hoping to get $800 [million] or $900 million.”

In the end, the eight- or 10-lane highway in some areas may have to be abandoned in favor of smaller proposals, like the one from Del. Todd Gil-bert, R-Woodstock, to build an additional lane in each direction and be done with it.

“I think those kinds of things have to be taken into account,” Goodlatte said.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy 4th of July!

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.” -- President John F. Kennedy

"After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home." -- President Ronald W. Reagan.

**Fireworks from Tuesday's Fourth of July celebration in Strasburg, Va.

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