Augusta County Republicans today will select a candidate to replace Del. Chris Saxman (R-Staunton), who announced Friday that he’s pulling out of his re-election campaign.
Saxman made the announcement at his home, surrounded by family and friends. The 20th District delegate said he wanted to focus more time on promoting school choice, fiscal conservatism and issues important to his Catholic faith. Saxman said he will also launch two bi-partisan, non-profit ventures during the coming weeks.
The decision to withdraw from the race shocked political observers, who viewed Saxman as a talented, well-respected lawmaker and a rising star in his party.
“You rarely have an incumbent who is sure of being re-elected withdrawing in the middle of July,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “The timing’s very unusual.”
Democrats — including Saxman’s opponent — were also shocked.
“This has all the sudden become a very different race,” said challenger Erik Curren.
House Democrats hope to take control of the chamber this fall by overcoming the six-seat advantage the GOP currently holds. Party leaders said Saxman’s decision presents a new opportunity.
On the one hand, it opens up the seat and an open seat is always something that’s up for grabs and we’ll go for it,” said Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “On the other hand, it suggests that even senior members of the majority party are also fed up with the process as it works now.”
Despite the new dynamics, Sabato believes a win for Democrats in the largely-conservative Shenandoah Valley will be an uphill climb.
“[Republicans] lose a senior delegate but they don’t lose a seat. That’s a heavily Republican seat, so whoever the Republicans nominate will almost certainly be elected.”
Sources close to Saxman, including some on Capitol Square, said the GOP delegate was frustrated and burned out with state politics. Serving in the legislature, the sources said, puts tough restrictions on a lawmaker’s ability to freely focus on external projects.
General Assembly service also requires a significant time commitment, which took Saxman away from his family and his small business. Saxman has young children and legislative work can mean missing sporting events and family dinners.
“I believe his reasons. He’s a straight shooter,” Sabato said.
A Future Run?
Saxman’s announcement raised questions among some analysts and constituents that the four-term lawmaker might be positioning himself to succeed Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-6th), should the longtime Congressman decide to step down.
“It’s never crossed my mind,” Saxman told NBC29 Friday.
One GOP source suggested Saxman might be a good candidate to challenge Sen. Jim Webb (D) in 2012.
A run for federal office would make sense, analysts said, because Saxman was the Virginia chairman of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. Saxman has been a vocal critic of President Barack Obama’s spending.
Sabato said he fully expects Saxman to run for Congress or for state-wide office one day, though perhaps not immediately.
A Democratic source close to party leadership wondered whether Saxman’s decision might actually hurt him in the end.
“You wonder if it’s going to be a Sarah Palin situation,” the source said, referring to the Alaska governor who abruptly resigned earlier this month, reportedly to focus on a presidential bid.