Virginia to Host First Election of '06

It’s hard to believe this all happened a quarter-century ago:  a sudden special election occurs, a very handsome 30-something conservative stalwart named Staton declares for the Republican nomination.  Opposed by the more moderate GOP “establishment,” Staton nonetheless rallies grassroots conservatives and wins the nomination.

Yes, that was back in 1980 — when Ronald Reagan was headed toward the Republican nomination for president, "Dallas" was the top-rated television series, ABC’s Nightline was titled "America Held Hostage" (as it was always about U.S. citizens held hostage in Iran), “Gizzi on Politics” was “Politics ’80,” and, as a young reporter, I was covering my first special election.  It was a race for Congress in West Virginia; the veteran Democratic incumbent had died unexpectedly and banker Mick Staton, who had done unexpectedly well as the GOP nominee two years before, wanted the nomination to fill the seat.  Many of the GOP powers-that-be felt that Staton’s unabashed pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment views were too much in a state that had not sent a Republican to Congress in a dozen years.  But Staton’s charisma and principled stands prevailed and he won the nomination with ease.  

(The young conservative swashbuckler lost the special but in November, as Jimmy Carter was carrying his district over Reagan, Staton won the general election over the Democrat who had beaten him; he went on to vote a near-perfect conservative line in 1981-82, lost re-election, and went on to a successful business career while remaining active in politics).

All of this came back to me last night following the news from Virginia that Republican Bob McDonnell had won the recounted race for attorney general by a microscopic 323 votes and would name fellow GOPer and State Sen. Bill Mims as his deputy.  Accordingly, the first special election anywhere in the ’06 election year will be for Mims’ Loudon County district.  With nomination and election expected to decided by the end of January, the leading Republican is named Staton — Mick Staton, Jr., that is, 35-year-old son of the former congressman.

Friends and readers, of course, joshed me that this was “déjà vu” all over again.   There are striking similarities between the first and latest special election I covered for HUMAN EVENTS:  Staton, like Staton Sr., is strongly pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, and anti-tax increase.  In addition, he has inherited his father’s good looks and resonant speaking voice.  

Loudon County conservative activists have rallied to the younger Staton, who has long been active in area GOP politics.  Just as Staton Sr. was opposed for nomination by "more" moderate GOPers, Staton Jr. will face a challenge for nomination from the more moderate Randy Minchew, lawyer and Loudon County GOP chairman.

But there are also subtle differences.  Where Mick Staton, Sr. was an outsider who had never held office, the younger Staton is an elected official, having won a position on the County Board of Supervisors on a strong conservative platform in 2003.  Where the elder Staton often pointed out to me that he and wife Lynn pretty much won the race through their own efforts and were written off by state and national GOP leaders, Staton Jr. already has more than $140,000 in his campaign account and has the early backing of the Republican Victory PAC, the political action committee of conservative state senators in the Old Dominion. (One of those senators, Ken Cuchinelli, has already sent out a mailing urging donations and volunteers for Staton.)

At a luncheon today, one Virginia GOP activist predicted that the party would opt for a “mass meeting” type of nomination rather than a direct primary — meaning that voters in the Senate district (80% of Mims’ district is in Loudon County and 20% in Fairfax County) would have to show up at a designated meeting place to vote for a GOP nominee (Virginia has no party registration) for the special election.  Such a system usually favors the more conservative candidate; Cuchinelli, known for his own no-holds-barred conservatism, first won nomination for his senate district over a better-funded candidate under the “mass meeting” means.  

The same source predicted a “snap” election, with the mass meetings possibly held as early as next Friday (December 30) and a special election sometime in January.  Having carried Loudon County for all three of its statewide nominees last November and unseated Republican State Delegate Dick Black (who is Staton’s father-in-law), Virginia Democrats are expected to wage a strong campaign to pick up Mims’ seat.

So what does Mick Staton, Sr. think of the parallels between his son’s campaign and his own of 25 years ago?  “Sounds like the kind of stuff you love to write about,” the 65-year-old former congressman told me, noting that he and his wife had just taken advantage of a special offer and extended their subscription to HUMAN EVENTS for 10 years.