David Ashe, a Democrat running for Congress in a heavily Republican district in Virginia, knows the difference between action and lip service.
After the September 11 attacks, Ashe, then a Marine lawyer, served in Kuwait and then Iraq, where he worked to reform the country’s corrupt legal system. But on the campaign trail back home, he hardly expected to be called into action.
At a campaign stop in Hampton, Va., October 9, Ashe, a 35-year-old Jewish lawyer from Virginia Beach, spotted 65-year-old Army Master Sgt. Carroll L. Young in the crowd after a Veterans of Foreign Wars parade. Young had collapsed and hit his head against the pavement.
Springing from his handshaking pose, Ashe began performing CPR, which he learned while working as a beach lifeguard during breaks from college. Despite efforts that left blood on Ashe’s shirt and face, help from another VFW member and a quick response by paramedics, the man died of a heart attack.
The tragic turn of events could be seen as a metaphor for Ashe’s campaign: Despite ardent effort and a huge break — the startling decision of the Republican incumbent to drop out over lurid sexual rumors — Ashe seems a long-shot to overcome the hard reality of Virginia politics.
When Ashe declared his candidacy back in June for Virginia’s sprawling Second District — comprising Virginia Beach, Eastern Shore counties of Northampton and Accomack, and parts of Norfolk and Hampton — his opponent was popular two-term incumbent Republican Ed Schrock. In 2002, 98% of House incumbents were re-elected, not counting those confronting other incumbents. Ashe faced a daunting battle, to say the least.
In late August, however, Schrock, who is married, withdrew from the race after a Web site accused him of soliciting gay sex on a phone service. The site posted audio recordings of what it claimed was Schrock’s voice.
GOP leadership scrambled to replace Schrock, quickly settling on Thelma Drake, a real estate agent and a member of the state House of Delegates since 1995. She needed to mount a campaign in two months against an opponent who has been spreading his name since June. If elected, Ashe could be the only veteran of the Iraq war in Congress, representing a district that contains Langley Air Force Base, Oceana Naval Air Station, Naval Station Norfolk and Fort Monroe.
According to state political analysts, because Republican ties support for President Bush is so strong in the region, all Drake needs to do is play conservative and run the clock out until Election Day.
The Republican party attempted to undercut the political benefits of Ashe’s military service in a mailing that linked him with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s attacks on the president, accusing both Democrats of “weakening the War on Terror.”
In addition, Drake has raised $384,000 to date, compared to Ashe’s total of $201,000, according to Federal Election Commission reports released October 15.
Ashe, a Conservative Jew whose mother was president of the Sunday School at Temple Israel, Norfolk, for 10 years, remains optimistic. “We’re going to win this thing,” he told the Forward.
As expected, Ashe has focused his campaign on military issues that might resonate with the district’s unusually high concentration of active-duty residents. He has been critical of the Bush administration’s postwar efforts, having seen them up-front as he worked to replace crooked Baathist judges, draft local government charters and help train police officers with an infantry battalion in the Al Muthanna region.
“We need more boots on the ground,” Ashe said. He also called for increased efforts on the home front. “We need to make sure we’re ready for the next 9/11.”