BUENA VISTA, Va. — All seven candidates on Virginia’s November statewide election ballot turned out Monday for the annual political parade and speeches in Buena Vista, but they encountered the leanest turnout and lowest rate of participation in decades — perhaps reflecting voter weariness with the choices before them.
Labor Day starts the final sprint to election day, and Virginia tradition dictates that candidates turn out to shake hands, hand out brochures and solicit votes. Covington, about 50 miles to the west, also hosted a political parade Monday. And U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott was holding his annual Democratic Party Labor Day picnic at his Newport News home.
In close succession, Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe half-jogged, half-walked the mile-long parade route, but the gubernatorial candidates but found less than half as many spectators as attended last year in this picturesque village of 6,700 at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
So did Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian Party candidate running his little-known campaign with little exposure and less money than major parties spend on most legislative races.
The fatigue and distaste for this year’s election — fast on the heels of last year’s withering partisan presidential and senatorial battles in this swing state — was palpable, and none of those who stood in the muggy, sunny morning illustrated it better than 44-year-old Tammy Floyd.
Asked about her choice in the gubernatorial election 64 days away, she rolled her eyes and said replied, “Oh, Lord. I tell you, it’s just awful.”
“I just don’t know if I’m going to even vote. I really don’t,” she said without a hint of a smile as she kept an eye on her 9-year-old granddaughter, Chloe Goff. “If I did vote, it would be Republican, but I probably won’t vote.”
Tim Blevins, 53, a Buena Vista factory maintenance worker, also remains undecided and says he’s likely to stay that way thanks to the nonstop diet of attack advertising he and other voters are being force-fed.
“Right now, with all the negative press you’re seeing on TV, it’s who can you trust?” Blevins said.
He said he usually votes a party ticket, but refused to say which party he usually backs. The ill odor of this year’s race, he said, could prompt him to consider Sarvis as an alternative.
It’s been a nasty campaign with two major party candidates handicapped by scandals that are still unfolding.
Cuccinelli, the attorney general, is not only dogged by questions about how his office interacted in a gas royalties lawsuit with subsidiaries of a company that contributed $100,000 to his campaign, he’s also haunted by gifts from a nutritional supplements company and its big-spending chief executive whose gratuities to Gov. Bob McDonnell have subjected the GOP governor to federal and state criminal investigations.
McAuliffe, a wheeler-dealer former master fundraiser for the presidential campaigns of Bill and Hillary Clinton, was chairman of an electric-car company with ties to China that’s now the subject of a federal investigation into how the company, GreenTech Automotive, used a federal program that grants permanent visas to foreigners who invest $500,000 or more into ventures that create jobs in economically struggling areas of the United States.
After each year’s parade, the sweaty candidates deliver short speeches to hundreds of people who jam into an open-air pavilion at Glen Maury Park at the terminus of the parade route. Monday, the pavilion was only about one-fourth full.
It’s the poorest turnout that the longest-serving state legislator in Virginia history can recall. Lacey Putney had been in the House of Delegates for a decade before the first Buena Vista Labor Day parade stepped off 43 years ago. Putney, who is retiring from elective office, used his remarks after the parade to appeal to Buena Vista in an effort to restore the event to its past glory.
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