Shad and the Senate race

Published 11:28 pm Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Eddie Atkins, of Wakefield, listens to speeches at the shad planking with Danny Epperly, of Yorktown.

More than 2,000 people turned out Wednesday for what many regard as Virginia’s premier political event.

Now a 64-year tradition, the Wakefield Ruritan Club’s annual Shad Planking was started by a group of friends in the early 1930s, and the collegial atmosphere remains central to it.

Folks came for the shad, the stump speeches and the fellowship — and in most cases for a combination of all three.

After delivering his speech, Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Allen is accosted by reporters.

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The main speaker at this year’s planking, held as every year in a clearing of trees outside Wakefield, was Republican U.S. Senate hopeful George Allen.

His speech focused on the rising cost of living, Washington’s “spending habit” and the need to get the U.S. economy moving again.

“I envision a better future than what we’re having to endure these days,” Allen said. “I believe it’s time for America’s comeback!”

Allen said he wants to bring his own frugal habits to Washington, saying, “The people who know me know I’m frugal. I watch every penny; I don’t like to spend money fruitlessly. Whether it’s your money or my money, I hate wasting it.”

Allen also talked up Virginia’s ability to play a role in increasing America’s energy independence, although he devoted a certain amount of his speech to humorously critiquing the event itself.

“It’s the only place you can have food that has toothpicks embedded in it,” he said, referring to the bony nature of the shad, which is nailed to planks and smoked over a fire.

“I have noticed that the longer the afternoon progresses, the better it tastes. Every year it seems to get better and better.”

Katharine Pollard, 69, of Virginia Beach, was there Wednesday with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel.

Going every year is her “duty as a Virginian” now that her gender is welcome, she said.

“Here we are in 2012, and they’re telling women that they shouldn’t be taking birth control,” the confessed Ron Paul supporter said. “I think it’s outrageous.”

Mark Mauger, 61, of Prince George County, described the event as “good fellowship. I love to listen to the politicians and get their views on things.”

Harvey Tomlin, 61, of Zuni, said he wanted to hear Allen’s speech to “make sure he’s got his ducks in a row, so he doesn’t make a mistake like he did last time.”

While some at this year’s Shad Planking were first-timers, like 66-year-old Ken Mowitzky, of Norfolk, G.P Jackson, 85, said it was about his 45th year.

“It hasn’t changed much,” Jackson said. Mowitzky said he finally decided to attend after hearing about the event his whole life. The shad was “not as bad as everybody had told me,” Mowitzky said.

Lots of folks at the Shad Planking belonged to politically active groups — mostly on the conservative side of the ledger — like the Virginia Citizens Defense League, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance — according to David Irvin, 63, of Enon.

“I always meet the same type of people here every year,” said Shawn Ingram, 40, who accompanied Irvin in exploring the assortment of political candidates’ tents. “That would be good, working people who know how to survive.”

One notable absentee was Allen’s Senate rival, former Virginia governor and Democrat Tim Kaine.