Close’s Corner: Serious screentime

The voltage is humming and sparking in some circles this month.

Although for most of us the fall elections are in the distant future, a mere shadow on the horizon, for the potential candidates territory is being staked, volunteers courted, and operatives identified.
We sleep and think of spring while they strategize and organize for the coming political contest.

There will be surprises along the way — of that we can be sure.

In fact the first surprise of the year was Nick Freitasâ?? announcement that he wanted to take on Del. Ed Scott for the seat in the House of Delegates representing Culpeper, Orange, and Madison.

Before most had even digested this news, Scott decided he needed to move on to greener pastures, and so he announced in February that 10 years in public office was enough for him.

Freitas, who has a full time job and a family with young children, wasted no time in lining up support among the powers that be in the Republican Party. Quickly Sen. Bryce Reeves, Sen. Mark Obenshain, Sen. Jill Vogel and Culpeper County Supervisor Alexa Fritz endorsed him for the nomination: all a testament to his ability to pivot and gather support.

An impressive lineup so early in the nomination process gives credence to the opinion of many political observers that Freitas will get the GOP nomination without opposition. Given that the 30th District has voted Republican more often than not in any election during the last 10 years it is all but a given that Nick Freitas will be our next delegate to Richmond. Just like that.

The Sheriffâ??s race is always the main event in a county election and it wonâ??t be so neatly wrapped. Although he has not announced, Sheriff Scott Jenkins is holding neighborhood coffees, a sure sign that he intends to run again. Pat Coffey, a former Culpeper Town Policeman and Fauquier County Sheriffâ??s Investigator, has announced his intention to run for the seat. C.J. Johnson, who has worked as a Sheriffâ??s Deputy in Culpeper and Madison signaled his intentions to run with a Facebook page in February.

If the past is any indication this will be a contentious and acrimonious contest between the three. Vague references to unexplained events will probably pop up as the race continues. There are deep currents under the surface here and I expect they will eventually break upon the rocks for all to see before November comes along.

Not to be forgotten is the Commonwealthâ??s Attorneyâ??s position. The crowded field of candidates portends another hot button contest.

Although she has not announced it is expected that incumbent Megan Revis Frederick will seek reelection.

Last week Monica Chernin, with a campaign slogan of â??End the Chaos. Choose Chernin,â? was the first out of the gate to signal her intentions to take on the incumbent. Shortly afterwards former Commonwealthâ??s Attorney Paul Walther announced his own plans to try for the position with a no holds barred website and Facebook page aimed squarely at Frederickâ??s performance. Kevin Smith, who ran once before, announced his own candidacy with a Facebook page this month. And, in the wings is Chris Martin, who is expected to announce his own intentions for the prosecutorâ??s position in the near future.

The interesting thing to watch, for me, will be the influence of social media in this election cycle. Before, candidates were stymied by the established press to get their messages out to the voter. It was expensive to buy advertisements. Reporters sometimes unconsciously allowed their own bias to flavor the candidateâ??s message. And party nominations were tricky — trying for one could hurt as much as help.

Now social media allows candidates to speak directly to the electorate at little to no cost and without the limitations of page space or airtime or party label — or sometimes decorum.

This shift became clear to me during last Mayâ??s Town Council elections. The mayoral race was decided in large part by a social media campaign against the incumbent. The traditional media played no part in the emails flying about or the Facebook postings and shares. We now have a Mayor Olinger rather than a Mayor Coleman as a result.

While newspapers and other media outlets will play a role in the November elections I think the real battles between candidates will be waged over Facebook posts and email blasts. Itâ??s a new era in Culpeper politics.

Gary Close is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at g57close@aol.com