“The reason why Democrats don’t go is because it’s in a rural area of Virginia, and they are very uncomfortable attending any event in a rural area because there’s a political disconnect,” he said.
The problem, some Democrats say, is that the event attracts folks who have long since decided how they’ll cast their votes. And the location — 50 miles southeast of Richmond and 160 from Washington — is not the most convenient. As Elleithee put it, it’s “in the middle of the day in the middle of the week in the backwoods of Virginia, where not a lot of people can get to it.”
Brian Moran, the former Virginia Democratic Party chairman, called Shad Planking “a cliche for old-time Virginia politics” that just “doesn’t hold the same importance as it used to.”
Moran did attend the event in 2009 when he was battling McAuliffe and state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) for the Democratic gubernatorial nod. Deeds skipped the Shad Planking and won the primary, though he lost the general election to McDonnell.
Even Republicans are stepping away from one Shad Planking feature — the costly “sign wars.” Like McAuliffe did in 2009, campaigns have used the event to show off their organizational strength. But last year Allen decided to leave the signs at home and make a donation to the Ruritan Club instead. Cuccinelli will do something similar this year, though he’ll still be offering beer.
“I think it’s a definite pattern,” lamented Robert Bain, the chairman of the Wakefield Ruritan Club, adding that he did not know of any Democrats planning to set up hospitality booths this year.
Bain said the event has evolved over time: “Originally when my grandfather was going to this thing, it was all white males and everybody wore a coat and tie. Obviously that’s changed.”
But the loss of Democrats is an unwelcome development, especially because it means fewer tickets sold and less money raised for the local fire department and youth baseball, among other groups. And he’s not sure how to lure them back.
“I can’t think that they don’t like bony fish. . . . We’re scratching our heads — are we not displaying good manners or what?” he asked. “We’re just setting the table and inviting them to it.”