Politics in the woods

Published 11:01 pm Thursday, April 16, 2009

A fine Virginia tradition continued on Wednesday, as hundreds of politicians and political junkies gathered near a Ruritan clubhouse in a wooded area near Wakefield to participate in the 61st annual Shad Planking.

There was, of course, plenty of bony, oily smoked shad — along with fried trout, fixin’s, iced tea and various adult beverages — on hand. But the Shad Planking has never really been about the fish.

Far more central to the event’s popularity is the opportunity to rub elbows and talk personally with candidates for Virginia’s top political offices. On Wednesday, three out of four of the men who hope to be elected governor in November were in attendance, along with candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general. Even George Allen, a former governor and author of an aborted campaign for president, was on hand, along with a sign endorsing him for president in 2012.

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The three gubernatorial candidates spent a few minutes each in front of a microphone roasting each other and stirring up their supporters — many of whom had spent hours ahead of the event lining the road leading to the club with thousands and thousands of political signs.

Republican candidate Bob McDonnell may have gotten in the best shot of the day, when he said, “Republicans know that Independence Day is the 4th of July; Democrats think it’s April 15.” Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a recent transplant into the commonwealth, easily won the battle of signs, with his powder-blue placards in some cases climbing high into the trees and covering what seemed every square inch of state right-of-way.

The real winners, though, were those who attended and got a chance to meet the candidates face to face. It’s likely that somewhere on that stage was Virginia’s next governor. An opportunity to meet that man and bend his ear regarding one’s pet political issue is worth picking a few bones out of dinner.