NEWS- Caucused: Weed predicts delegate win

Fifth District Democrats have taken the arduous caucus route to determine who will run against Republican incumbent Virgil Goode in November. Nelson county farmer Al Weed says he's four votes from securing the nomination– but consultant Bern Ewert's camp scoffs at the idea that Weed's candidacy is in the bag.

At a convention in Buckingham County, 196 Democratic delegates will cast their ballots May 20 to decide who runs for Congress against Goode.

After caucuses April 22 and April 24, Weed laid claim to 95 delegates. "If you take away Charlottesville-Albemarle, where we've won overwhelmingly, we've won everywhere else 2-1," says Weed. He gathered 12 of Charlottesville's 17 delegates April 24, and pulled in 31 of Albemarle's 37 delegates.

"It's reasonable to expect at least four more delegates from the 39 that will be elected Saturday, April 29," says Weed. That would give him 99 delegates out of the 196– enough to win the nomination– if his numbers are right. The day after the April 24 Mega-Monday, Fifth District Democratic Chair Fred Hudson puts Weed at 92 delegates and Ewert at 42, with 14 or 15 uncommitted.

But Marlin Adams, Ewert's campaign manager, says, "It's not looking grim at all. It's going to be decided at the convention– and the first ballot is a secret ballot."

Weed says his delegates are "morally obligated to vote for us."

"There's a moral obligation to win," retorts Adams, who points out that Weed was "whupped" by Goode 3 to 1 in the 2004 election. "No Democrat I've talked to thinks Al can win the general election," says Adams.

He attributes Weed's delegate gathering to an "emotional" attachment Dems have to the candidate who ran two years ago, but he says, "Bern Ewert has a long résumé of accomplishment. He's a stronger candidate to run in this conservative 5th District."

Ewert supporter Mitch Van Yahres is less optimistic about Ewert's chances to secure the Democratic nomination. "It's a real long shot at this stage," says Van Yahres après Mega-Monday. He, too, calls the delegates "morally committed," and thinks they will be hard to lure away from Weed.

Van Yahres, former delegate to the 57th District, believes Ewert has a better chance to win in the more conservative, more economically depressed Southside. "That's where the election will be won or lost," he predicts.

Former Roanoke city manager Ewert bested Weed in caucuses in Danville, and Bedford, Charlotte, and Buckingham counties, according to Hudson.

"He says he can win Southside," says Weed. "Southside is not just Danville."

But Ewert sees his 9-6 win over Weed in Danville another way. "What it says is he's been campaigning there three years, and I have for three months, and I beat him." Southside has the highest unemployment in the country after Hurricane Katrina-ravaged areas, and Ewert supporters say his track record of creating jobs will resonate there.

But first he has to get the nomination. At the convention, Ewert is counting on the undecideds and that secret ballot. "People will vote their conscience," he says.

Party chair Hudson compares the caucus process to water torture: "It's like election night spread over two weeks." The advantage to the caucus over a primary? "It's an extraordinarily good method for party building," says Hudson.

Even with Weed's substantial lead, Hudson doesn't see the nomination as a done deal. "It's a secret ballot," he notes. "They do change, they flop around a little bit.

"Anybody who got to 99 and said, 'Yay, yay, I win'– that would be a mistake," he adds.

Bern Ewert says he's the Democrat who can beat Virgil Goode in Southside Virginia.


Al Weed leads the Dem caucus race 2-1 over Bern Ewert, but says he's not taking anything for granted.