Schrock Shock Opens Virginia Race

The resignation last month of Republican Rep. Ed Schrock (search) in Virginia exploded with unexpected, awkward controversy in the conservative 2nd Congressional District he represented.

But the candidates in what has become an open congressional seat say they will run on their own records, and little of the details surrounding Schrock's departure will impact the outcome of the new race in November.

“It is an open seat now, but in a lot of ways this race has not changed for me,” said Democrat David Ashe (search), who said Schrock should be remembered for his honorable military service and record as a public servant.

Ashe insists he has the advantage by virtue of being on the campaign trail longer. He also knows the national Democratic Party is watching this race more closely now that it has become competitive.

"We've raised a heck of a lot of money. I've shaken thousands of hands and made tens of thousands of phone calls. That's not going to change," Ashe said. "This campaign is in a strong position ... We will win in November."

Bo Harmon, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman, acknowledged that “it was a non-campaign until Schrock decided to leave the ballot,” but said Republicans are confident they have chosen a replacement that can win despite the late start.

Ashe faces Thelma Drake (search), Republican delegate in the Virginia General Assembly (search), who was nominated by the party almost immediately after Schrock’s surprise announcement Aug. 30.

“It’s a solid Republican district and she has proven electability,” Harmon said.

Schrock, 63, a married retired Navy captain and popular two-term congressman, resigned after citing unspecified “allegations” that he had engaged in homosexual solicitations.

A Web log published by a gay activist known for “outing” politicians and staffers who disagree with pro-gay issues like allowing gays in the military or permitting gay marriages — issues Schrock opposed — since Aug. 19 had been publishing claims that Schrock solicited sex through a gay dating service.

Several people in the district claim Schrock had been targeted for his views and was a victim of questionable tactics. They lamented the circumstances of his exit.

“People loved Ed Schrock and the last thing they want to see for Ed is to have to suffer through a lot of non-issue-related accusations, and I think he made a decision that was best for him and for his family,” said Terrie Suit, a Republican delegate who represents Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.

Whatever awkwardness his leaving has placed on the process, Democrats are saying that Ashe, who had been campaigning in earnest, albeit as the underdog, is in a better position as a result.

“The entire landscape looks completely different than it did before Ed Schrock decided to retire,” said Laura Bland, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia.

“I wouldn’t say it’s made life easier for [Ashe] because it’s always tough running in a district that encompasses some real conservative elements of the state — Virginia Beach is a fairly conservative area,” she said. “But David is from Virginia Beach, and what we would look for in a candidate, he fits the bill.”

Bland pointed to Ashe's background in the Marine Corps — he just returned from active duty in Iraq — and his driven campaign style as key selling points for the Democratic candidate.

But Drake and her supporters say her nine years in the Virginia General Assembly, representing Norfolk and the surrounding areas in this predominantly military district, surpasses Ashe’s record. For one, she has legislative experience, and he does not, she said.

“I’ve been in office for nine years and I’ve been extremely involved in this community," Drake told "If you were sending one of us off to war, I would say David is better qualified — but you are sending someone off to Congress, and I am the one with the legislative experience.”

Aside from the experience, Drake has an “R” after her name, which means a lot in this predominantly Republican-voting district, say elections experts. In 2000, George W. Bush won this district over former Vice President Al Gore 55 to 43 percent.

“[Ashe] is a war veteran, which helps in that district,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics (search) at the University of Virginia. “But again, party comes into this. [Voters] would have to consciously decide to split the ticket and put a Democrat in the House seat and that would really take some doing.”

The 2nd District is anchored by two major cities — Norfolk and Virginia Beach — the latter of which is the state’s largest. Norfolk Naval Station (search), Oceana Naval Air Station (search), Langley Air Force Base (search), the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock (search), and the many Navy families connected to those installations drive the military culture there.

Ashe, who wants to improve the area’s transportation system and bring jobs back to the region, said his experience as a defense counsel in the Marine Corps (search), as a member of an infantry battalion and as a legal expert in Iraq, has fleshed out his perspectives on the war and how things could have been done differently in the field.

He also says he has a particular interest in veterans' issues. “[They] are really at the top of the chart for me,” said Ashe. “There are a lot of broken promises I intend to mend.”

Charlene Christopher, head of the Norfolk City Democratic Party, told that Ashe "was the better candidate to begin with.

“He has everything he needs to be a successful candidate,” she said.

Drake reportedly gained the edge over her GOP counterparts in the race to replace Schrock by being a member of the Assembly's finance committee. She is known for her allegiance to the fiscal conservative wing of her party in the state House.

A former real estate agent, Drake unsuccessfully opposed Gov. Mark Warner’s controversial tax package this year, a measure that raised sales taxes a half a cent in an effort to raise more than $1 billion in annual revenues. The state ended up having a surplus before the tax increase was accounted into its budget.

“She is a very, very reasonable and very grounded person. She’s the kind of person that you want to talk to,” said her colleague Suit. “She’s also really smart, she is a good communicator and has great mediation skills.”