Va. Democrats portray Dick Black as extreme for new GOP-leaning Senate district

November 1, 2011

Dick Black once questioned whether a husband commits rape if he forces his wife to have sex. The former member of the House of Delegates introduced a bill to ban gays from adopting children. He voted to limit access to birth control.

But the Republican who opposes abortion rights is probably best known on Capitol Square for sending plastic pink models of fetuses to lawmakers as they prepared to vote on an abortion bill.

Shawn Mitchell, a Democrat opposing Black in next week’s election for state Senate, is using Black’s record to show he’s extreme for even a new Republican-leaning district in Loudoun and Prince William counties.

Democrats have spent months employing a similar strategy across the state, hoping the conservative crop of Republicans running in this election gives them the edge they need to hold their thin majority in the Senate.

“Having served . . . with Dick Black, I saw up close how zealously out of touch he is with what middle-class families need,’’ said Brian Moran, a former legislator who is chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia. “His obsession with divisive social issues won’t create a single job, won’t get a single commuter out of traffic and won’t put a single teacher back in our classrooms.”

But Black, like most Republicans running for the Senate this year, has not focused on social issues during his campaign, choosing instead to talk about how to create jobs and ease traffic congestion.

“People in Loudoun understand that you gotta have fiscal responsibility, you gotta keep taxes low and you gotta create jobs,’’ Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said in an interview. “Dick Black represents those kind of ideas.”

Black and his campaign manager, Chris Lore, declined to comment for this article. Black has countered Mitchell’s attacks in TV ads and campaign mailers by accusing him of dishonesty after a former employee sued him for allegedly stealing clients and by tying him to an increasingly unpopular President Obama.

“Shawn Mitchell appears to be of questionable character,’’ one mailer says. “We can’t trust him in the state Senate.’’

Mitchell said that he and his former employer settled the lawsuit with no judgment against him but that a confidentiality clause bars him from talking about it. He has written to Comcast to demand it stops airing the ads that include “false and defamatory content.”

‘Swing district’

The 13th Senate District, which includes part of Black’s former House district, was drawn this year to accommodate a half-million residents who have moved into Northern Virginia in the last decade.

Senate leaders carved the district this summer as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process in which they moved political boundaries for all 40 seats, creating an area that has been carried by Republicans: George Allen in the 2006 U.S. Senate race, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election and McDonnell in the 2009 gubernatorial contest, according to an analysis by the state.

Voters in the inner suburbs of Northern Virginia, including Alexandria and Arlington and eastern Fairfax counties, are generally reliable Democrats, but residents in the outer suburbs represent more of a swing vote.

Democrats view the new seat as a possible pickup this year, although they know it’s an uphill battle. That’s why Mitchell, an Iraq War veteran and small-business owner, touts Republican support, including former state senators John Chichester (Northumberland), the once powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Russ Potts (Winchester), and the independence of the region.

“It is a swing district,’’ Mitchell said. “We have a fantastic opportunity to get a new voice, someone that best represents the voters of the new district.”

A string of new developments have cropped up for residents who moved farther from the District as jobs became more plentiful, families looked for more space and homeowners searched for the more affordable.

Bruce Roemmelt, chairman of the Prince William County Democratic Committee, said the party’s four candidates in the western county, including Mitchell, have created an active coordinated campaign. The state has voted Republican the past few years, but he hopes for a Democratic win.

“I understand what the voting history has been,’’ he said. “I understand they have won a lot of elections before.”

‘Failed social experiments’

Black, a lawyer who served in the House for eight years until he was defeated in 2005, moved to Fredericksburg to run for Congress in 2007. After he lost, he returned to Loudoun.

Black decided early on, even before the lines were drawn, to run for the Senate seat. He beat a pair of Republicans — John T. Stirrup Jr., a member of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, and Prince William chief deputy clerk Bob FitzSimmonds — in the August primary.

He said in August that he worries about Democratic policies in Richmond and Washington — “failed social experiments’’ — that have led to lost jobs and home foreclosures.

He talks about creating jobs by repealing the federal health-care law, reducing bureaucratic red tape and supporting the state’s right-to-work law.

“With the right common sense, conservative leadership, we can revive the economy, promote new jobs, and establish a safe and prosperous environment for our children and families,’’ he says in a campaign mailer.

Mark Sell, chairman of the Loudoun County Republican Committee, said Republicans are benefitting from the environment — unhappiness with Washington and support for the direction of the state.

Black is taking advantage of that by featuring McDonnell — one of the most popular governors in the nation — in nearly every mailer and ad. He has held events with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) and accepted campaign cash from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R).

“Our principles and ideas are working with voters,’’ Sell said. “They want prudent fiscal management.”

But Mike Turner, chairman of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee, said when volunteers go door to door, people frequently ask for more information on who is running against Black. “He is infamous in the county,’’ he said.

Mitchell said when he talks to voters they want practical solutions to problems — finding new money for transportation, commercializing research at state universities to keep tuition low and boosting the number of grants and tax credits to businesses. “At the door, it’s kitchen table issues,’’ he said.

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