Va. state Sen. Hurt bolsters position in GOP race to oust Rep. Perriello

By Ben Pershing
Saturday, May 22, 2010

The field of Virginia Republicans angling to take on Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello in November is coming into clearer focus, as state Sen. Robert Hurt appears to be cementing his front-runner status.

Hurt (Pittsylvania) is one of seven GOP hopefuls running in the 5th Congressional District, which sprawls from north of Charlottesville to the North Carolina border and is seen by both parties as one of the nation's most competitive House battlegrounds.

Hurt's opponents are united in arguing that he isn't conservative enough to deserve the Republican nomination, largely because of his vote in favor of the tax-raising budget of then-Gov. Mark Warner (D) in 2004. But none of those hopefuls seems to have consolidated enough of the anti-Hurt vote to emerge as the clear alternative.

Hurt has parlayed advantages in fundraising and name identification into a strong position ahead of the June 8 primary, according to Republican operatives in the 5th District and in Washington, although he has yet to lock down full support from some key conservatives and the party establishment.

A poll conducted for Hurt's campaign this month showed him leading the primary field with 35 percent of the vote. Albemarle County Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd was second with 10 percent, followed by former airline pilot Michael McPadden with 7 percent. Businessman Jim McKelvey and schoolteacher Feda Morton both drew 5 percent, and businessman Laurence Verga had 4 percent.

The survey also found that Hurt's name identification was at 70 percent, while the other candidates were all under 50 percent, a key advantage in a district that's bigger than New Jersey and includes multiple media markets.

"While the other candidates have had limited success in improving their image and almost no success improving their standing on the ballot, Robert Hurt has significantly increased his name ID and favorables across the district," wrote Glenn Bolger, Hurt's pollster.

Aides to other GOP campaigns suggested that the race was closer than Hurt's poll indicated, but none cited any recent surveys to back up that assertion, and all acknowledged that Hurt was probably in the lead.

"We had a poll earlier in the year that showed us a little higher than that," said Boyd campaign manager Paul Wright, referring to Boyd's 10 percent showing in Hurt's poll.

As an elected official, Boyd has a base of people who have voted for him that Hurt's other opponents lack.

But there is little indication that Boyd has the financial means to win June 8. As of March 31, Boyd's campaign had raised $67,000 for the cycle and had $19,000 in the bank. By the same date, Hurt had raised $395,000 and had $211,000 on hand.

From a financial perspective, McKelvey, a property developer from Franklin County, might be Hurt's toughest opponent. He took out a $500,000 loan for his campaign in January, using his real estate as collateral, and was the first contestant to air television ads.

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