This race is part of the Crystal Ball’s “Ferocious FIFTY” list of the 50 most competitive House races in the nation.
November 8, 2006 Update:
Republican Thelma Drake won re-election over Democrat Phil Kellam.
June 29, 2006 Update:
Let there be no mistake about it: this race right here in the Crystal Ball’s backyard is emerging as one of the top priorities for both parties in the 2006 congressional elections. Democrat Phil Kellam’s geographical base and well-respected last name give him advantages previous Democratic contenders here haven’t had, and his fundraising to date has been respectable.
Still, freshman GOP Rep. Thelma Drake isn’t taking anything for granted, and she was the beneficiary of a recent fundraising visit from Vice President Dick Cheney. Her campaign contends Kellam’s stands on a variety of issues mirror her’s and seeks to tie him to the liberal group MoveOn.org, which recently sponsored ads in the district attacking Drake. The national attention being given this race earns it a place in the Dirty Thirty, and we at the Crystal Ball are glad to have a front row seat to a truly competitive House race for the first time in six years!
Word on our street is that while team Democrat Phil Kellam’s is running the better candidate, team freshman GOP Rep. Thelma Drake is running the better campaign. Kellam’s name recognition is phenomenal, yet two months out from the election, his critics are correct to point out that he has been slow to outline his views on most issues of national import. Still, Sen. George Allen’s new-found vulnerability following remarks that were perceived to be racially insensitive can’t help his party’s down-ballot candidates. We now rate this race a tossup, though we would give an ever so slight edge to Drake if a gun were at our head.
February 2006 Outlook:
A last-minute replacement candidate for a scandal-tarred Republican incumbent in 2004, freshman GOP Rep. Thelma Drake won this district with 55 percent against Democratic Iraq veteran and political neophyte David Ashe. But her political position in this military-heavy Tidewater district is still not considered particularly strong for a first-term incumbent. For one, Drake’s geographic base is the city of Norfolk, which accounts for only a small fraction of the district when compared to Virginia Beach, where about two thirds of the district’s voters reside. Drake may also have to spend time and money on turning back a primary challenge if Virginia Beach sheriff Paul Lanteigne enters the race for the GOP nomination.
Democrats are excited about their 2006 recruit here, popular Virginia Beach Commissioner of Revenue Phil Kellam, whose chief advantages are name recognition and geography. His family has a long history of involvement in city politics dating back to the mid-20th century, and the Kellam name is still very valuable in the area. Kellam has won overwhelming victories in several technically nonpartisan city-wide Virginia Beach elections, meaning his is already a household name among two thirds of the district’s electorate. By contrast, Drake has only run once district-wide and has successfully run many times in a Norfolk House of Delegates district about a sixth the population of Virginia Beach.
Of special significance to this race were the local results of the 2005 Virginia gubernatorial election; Democratic candidate Tim Kaine‘s narrow win of the city of Virginia Beach was a stunning result. While Drake will most likely be better funded this time around and can point to a seat on the Armed Services Committee, this race has all the makings of a decently competitive contest, and certainly will be the closest congressional race held in Virginia this year. Drake retains an early advantage, but don’t be surprised to see this race move into the “Dirty Thirty” at a later point.
Outlook: Leans Republican
This race is part of the Crystal Ball’s “Watch List” of the next 25 House races worth keeping an eye on.