Armstrong moved to a nearby district and has mounted a surprisingly formidable challenge against a Republican incumbent: Charles Poindexter,
a four-year House veteran who rarely speaks on the floor.
The race is now one of the most expensive and closely watched contests in next month’s elections — with $1 million spent so far. While Republicans aim to grow their solid majority in the House by setting their sights on one of their most vocal critics, Democrats are flanking to protect their leader.
“This race has never been about electing Charles Poindexter. It’s been about getting rid of Ward Armstrong,’’ said Armstrong, who has served in the House for 20 years. “They want to get rid of me because not only do I raise alternative viewpoints, I tend to argue fairly vociferously for those alternative viewpoints.”
Republicans, who have largely focused on seizing control of the state Senate, deny Armstrong’s claims. They say a House seat in Southside Virginia had to be eliminated because of a population loss outlined in the 2010 Census.
Republican leaders, including Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, virtually all of the 59 GOP delegates and the party have contributed a stunning $615,000 to Poindexter’s campaign, paid for TV ads and mailers, and headlined fundraisers. By comparison, less than $200,000 is being spent on average for similar House races, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics.
“It’s about me supporting Charles because I think he’s a fine legislator,’’ McDonnell said in an interview. “That’s a race that we anticipate being the most competitive race in the state held by a Republican challenger.”
But Richard C. Cranwell, a former longtime delegate from Roanoke who served as Democratic leader and chairman of the state party, said he doesn’t understand why the GOP continues to deny the “obvious truth.”
“Ward is a bright, articulate legislator — one who can express his point of view well,’’ Cranwell said. “I know that makes him a thorn in their side.’’
Race has turned nasty
Even if he wins, Armstrong — who is considering a run for state office in 2013 — may have trouble securing the minority leader post again or running statewide. The views he has uttered on the campaign trail to win voters in the new district, including distancing himself from President Obama last week, have angered some fellow Democrats.
With less than three weeks until the Nov. 8 election, the race between two legislators who are opposites in substance and style has turned nasty. “I’m not as flamboyant or flashy as some people,’’ Poindexter said. “I do my homework and think things through.’’
The new Ninth House District includes parts of the economically distressed Southside — Patrick County, most of Franklin County and a sliver of western Henry County.