WashPost Devotes 24 Paragraphs to Defending Va. Democrats Writing Off Rural Vote, Skipping Nonpartisan Shad Planking Fundraiser

April 17th, 2013 3:40 PM

The liberal media love to chastise Republicans for  writing off minorities and urban voters, insisting that the GOP is becoming a regional and largely rural party. But that concern trolling doesn't cut both ways. The liberal media never seem to care that Democrats are losing rural, blue collar workers or that the party's failure to be competitive in the rural heartland is an indictment of their ability to bring the country together.

This double standard was well illustrated in today's Metro section front page in the Washington Post headlined "McAuliffe to pass up Shad Planking: Democrat won't angle for votes at this year's ritual on the James River." Post reporter Ben Pershing devoted 24 paragraphs to explain and allow Democrats to defend their lack of resources devoted to a decades-long bipartisan tradition in the Old Dominion (emphasis mine):

Since at least 1965, every Virginia governor has attended the Shad Planking the year he won election. With candidates, political operatives, activists and much of the state’s media all gathered on the same patch of ground, the event, held on the third Wednesday of April, was a fixture of the electoral calendar. Everyone went because everyone went.

So what’s changed? Mo Elleithee, a consultant who worked for Kaine in 2012 and McAuliffe in 2009, offered a blunt explanation.

“Shad Planking is a Virginia tradition that has totally and completely and utterly outlived its usefulness,” Elleithee said. “There are much better ways and much more productive ways to campaign in rural Virginia than going to an event where there are more Confederate flags than there are undecided voters.”

Shad Planking began in the 1930s as a small gathering to mark the migratory running of the shad — an oily, bony type of herring — in the James River. The Wakefield Ruritan Club has been organizing the event since 1949, using it as a fundraiser for community groups.

The gathering takes its name from its marquee dish: Shad that are nailed to oak planks and cooked slowly over an open fire. Last year’s gathering featured about 1,200 pounds of shad, 800 pounds of coleslaw and untold gallons of cold beer and iced tea, offered up by candidates and interest groups hoping to curry favor with the crowd.

Mirroring a broader shift in Virginia politics, the Shad Planking used to be dominated by conservative Democrats — particularly the “machine” of legendary Sen. Harry Byrd — before its more recent lurch toward Republicans. The crowd now clearly leans to the right, with a strong showing of tea party activists in the last couple of years.

The program traditionally includes speeches from big-name guests, who make jokes about the fish and gently rib each other. In 2009, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell(R) teased McAuliffe for “doing his part to stimulate the Virginia economy” with his profligate campaign spending.


The problem, some Democrats say, is that the event attracts folks who have long since decided how they’ll cast their votes. And the location — 50 miles southeast of Richmond and 160 from Washington — is not the most convenient. As Elleithee put it, it’s “in the middle of the day in the middle of the week in the backwoods of Virginia, where not a lot of people can get to it.”

Brian Moran, the former Virginia Democratic Party chairman, called Shad Planking “a cliche for old-time Virginia politics” that just “doesn’t hold the same importance as it used to.”

Moran did attend the event in 2009 when he was battling McAuliffe and state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) for the Democratic gubernatorial nod. Deeds skipped the Shad Planking and won the primary, though he lost the general election to McDonnell.

“I think it’s a definite pattern,” lamented Robert Bain, the chairman of the Wakefield Ruritan Club, adding that he did not know of any Democrats planning to set up hospitality booths this year.

Bain said the event has evolved over time: “Originally when my grandfather was going to this thing, it was all white males and everybody wore a coat and tie. Obviously that’s changed.”

But the loss of Democrats is an unwelcome development, especially because it means fewer tickets sold and less money raised for the local fire department and youth baseball, among other groups. And he’s not sure how to lure them back.

“I can’t think that they don’t like bony fish. . . . We’re scratching our heads — are we not displaying good manners or what?” he asked. “We’re just setting the table and inviting them to it.”

Imagine that instead of shad planking to raise money for a rural fire department that it was Republicans who were skipping out on a nonpartisan barbeque fundraiser in an urban, predominantly African-American part of Virginia, say Richmond or the Newport News area. It's unthinkable that the Post would find it acceptable for Republicans to write off black votes and dismiss the importance of showing up in a gubernatorial election year.

On more thing. While Pershing failed to note this, in 2009, McAuliffe pledged to come back in 2013 to the shad planking fundraiser "as governor of the commonwealth of Virginia." McAuliffe obviously could not appear this year as the Old Dominion's chief executive, but otherwise his pledge to return should be considered binding, seeing as he's running for governor again. You can watch his 2009 shad planking speech here. The promise to return in 2013 is at the 1:23 mark.