Virginia Governor's Candidate Deeds Backs Out of Shad Planking Tradition

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 16, 2009


R.Creigh Deeds planned to do something this week that no other statewide candidate in Virginia has done in the past decade.

Deeds, a state senator and one of three Democrats running for governor, was expected to skip the Shad Planking, a decades-old Virginia tradition to which politicians go to see and be seen.

Instead, Deeds planned to spend Wednesday on a seven-stop tour of southwest Virginia with the region's popular congressman, Rep. Rick Boucher (D), in an attempt to woo undecided voters.

"I'm sorry I'm going to miss it," Deeds said this week. "But you have to make choices."

Deeds's decision puzzled political insiders in Richmond and across the state because attending the Shad Planking is considered a must-do for statewide candidates of both parties.

Each year, political consultants debate whether the event merits the better part of a precious campaign day for their candidates. But each year, candidates attend.

About 2,000 people gather each April in a field in tiny Wakefield, about an hour southeast of Richmond, to chew on oily, bony fish smoked on wood planks over an open flame, listen to candidates' lighthearted speeches and trade political gossip. Candidates set up booths and dole out free beer, cigars and hot dogs.

The event began as a tribute to the start of fishing season but evolved into the state's premier political function. In recent years, the Shad Planking has come to symbolize a campaign's organizational strength and resources with candidates competing to put up thousands of signs in the surrounding area.

Deeds, who has been planning a run for governor for years, faces Terry McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and former state delegate Brian Moran in the June 9 primary.

McAuliffe and Moran both planned to attended the Shad Planking, as did Republican gubernatorial nominee Robert F. McDonnell.

Robert W. Bain, chairman of the Wakefield Ruritan Club, which has organized the event for 61 years, said Deeds is the first statewide candidate to decline an invitation to the Shad Planking since candidates were given speaking roles a decade ago. Bain said he is "extremely disappointed" with Deeds's last-minute cancellation because he had initially agreed to attend and allowed the Ruritan Club to promote his attendance.

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