Downstate Republicans got a lesson in the perils of personal politics when they used a live call-in show to confront Democratic Del. Barnie K. Day (Patrick) on reports that he has Parkinson's disease.
He does, as Day quickly acknowledged on the show, but the backlash against outing his medical condition on live television may have won him more votes than the news cost him. Republicans up in Richmond, who pride themselves on slick campaign strategy, collectively winced.
Day, 46, has emerged as one of the more colorful and influential Democrats in the legislature over the past couple of years. He is best known for folksy speeches delivered on the House floor about a semi-fictional downstate character named "Cornbread Marshall" who acts as a stand-in for common sense and the working-class values Democrats purport to represent.
Parkinson's is a neurological disorder that can eventually lead to paralysis and even premature death, but Day says his case is mild. Medication has kept the symptoms under control, and his doctors have assured him he has a long life ahead of him, Day says.
The news of his condition became public earlier this month when the GOP chairman in Henry Country, which is in Day's district, called the live cable show and said he was concerned about Day's health.
Day then told the cable television audience about his case of Parkinson's and said that it was diagnosed three years ago. He assured voters that it would not affect his ability to carry out his duties as a state delegate.
Since the show, Day has enjoyed favorable press about his handling of the episode. Several Republicans, outraged that one of their own broke the news on the television show, have volunteered to help Day raise money, he says. The incident may well have doomed the candidacy of Day's GOP challenger, Jonathan Large.
Now Day chides Republicans for their concern about his health. "They're afraid I'm going to live," he says.
Democrats were not as agile when they mailed out a fund-raising letter just a couple weeks back but neglected to mention their hottest issue of the moment: the "transportation crisis."
They christened the term and dubbed Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) "Governor Gridlock." But in the four-page letter, they don't mention either. An attached questionnaire asks for top issues, but transportation isn't one of the choices.
The gaffe shows how quickly some issues catch fire. In the six weeks it took party staffers to draft and circulate the letter, transportation catapulted from a mid-size issue to a dominant one. It was the Democrats who led that push, but its resonance apparently caught even them by surprise.
Party Executive Director Craig Bieber said the purpose of the letter is to generate donations by outraging party faithful. There is talk of "do-nothing Republican majorities" and "right-wing witch-hunts" in Washington and "extremists," but of the transportation crisis there's nary a word.
"I'm sure that as you see the fall heat up, you will see fund-raising letters on transportation," Bieber says.
A Different Political Ticket
Northern Virginia bigwigs may be pushing to bring a National League baseball team to the area, but Fairfax County Republican Michael N. Pocalyko is betting that there are a lot of Orioles fans in his district.
Pocalyko is challenging Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax), the chairman of the state Democratic Party, in the 36th House district. And to generate publicity, he's giving away Orioles tickets to voters who agree to get on a campaign e-mail list.
Pocalyko, an investment banker, says he's too busy campaigning to use the four club-level seats each Sunday anyway. And giving them away, he says, is a perfectly legal way to reach voters. Several hundred people have signed up for the electronic newsletters. He only wishes the Orioles were playing better.
"If they were doing better, there'd be more people signing up," Pocalyko says.
Several sets of tickets have already been given away through his Web site, www.mike99.com. There are three more drawings left, for games against the Indians, Mariners and Red Sox.
An Out-of-District Experience
Not everyone is on vacation this month. Three Republicans who endorsed Democratic challenger Gordon Meriwether for the 40th District House seat held by four-term Republican James K. "Jay" O'Brien Jr., of Clifton, are merely out of the district.
O'Brien said he was surprised to see a headline, "Republicans to support Democrat, Local coalition calls O'Brien out of touch, backs Meriwether," in the weekly Centreville Times earlier this summer.
Meriwether's spokesman, Brevy Cannon, was quoted in the paper as saying that the Republicans were backing Meriwether because O'Brien is "out of touch . . . not representative of the typical Republican in the 40th District."
Well, it turns out that the three Republicans named as supporting O'Brien's challenger may be the ones out of touch with the district because none of them lives there.
O'Brien said he made that discovery with the help of Fairfax County Republican Chairman Joe Underwood, who searched voter rolls and found that none of the three was registered in O'Brien's district, which is in the southwestern part of Fairfax, bordering Prince William County.
Confronted with that geographic evidence, Meriwether replied, "I don't think it makes a difference."
"These are people who are concerned about the way the county is going and are concerned enough that they are giving me financial resources and support and talking to other Republicans about helping. . . . You can't win an election without Republican votes."