The Hampton Roads Daily Press had an interesting article on the race in the 91st district, which includes parts of York County, Hampton, and Poquoson, on Tuesday.
Incumbent Republican Del. Thomas Gear is being challenged by independent candidate Randy Gilliland, a city council member from Hampton. Though there is no Democrat on the ballot, some of the controversy in this race seems related to which candidate is more closely tied to the Democratic party:
Gilliland's largest contribution is $5,000 from Gov. Mark R. Warner's political arm, the One Virginia political action committee. Gear said that got the attention of Republican leaders in Richmond who assured him that the party will help him try to match Gilliland's spending.
And lastly, there promises to be a good scuffle about who really is a Democrat. The district is solidly Republican. So much so, that since this district was created in 2001, the General Assembly redrew all 100 districts to account for new census numbers, Democrats have not run a candidate in any of the three elections.
Gilliland has always associated himself with the Democratic Party, although city council races are technically nonpartisan. Gear also considered himself to be a Democrat before switching parties when he ran for the House in 2001 and beat an incumbent Republican.
So nobody in this race wants to affiliate with the Democratic party. But what about the issues?
The contrast between the candidates is not only rooted in personal differences, but also represents the divide that stifled action in Richmond in recent years.
Gilliland believes the state has a responsibility to properly finance core services like educating children and building roads.
Gear opposes new taxes and tax hikes at every turn and portrays himself as a friend of ordinary people and watchdog against special interests. [...]
Gilliland fashions himself as a champion for business owners and public schools. He talks about his role in fostering economic development in Hampton while on City Council, as well as spearheading the effort to pay for new schools for the first time in decades.
Gear touts himself as a social and fiscal conservative who defends ordinary taxpayers.
Given Gilliland's responsible support for funding core government services such as public schools and transportation, it's no big surprise that Governor Warner's One Virginia PAC is supporting him. It's harder to see the "taxpayer defense" free-luncher Gear running as a Democrat in the past. The article points out other significant differences in the candidates' personal criticisms of each other.
At this point, Gilliland is winning the money race against the incumbent, with slightly more raised and significantly more cash on hand. In 2003, though, even with no opponent, Gear managed to raise over $90,000. (For someone who purports to be a "watchdog against special interests", Gear sure does take a lot of money from them...but maybe taking money from industry associations is one way to watchdog them? Hmmm. Perhaps I am unclear on the concept.)
The Daily Press says the race in the 91st "appears to be shaping up as one of the most costly and contentious races in Virginia."