NEWS- Race is on: Two Dems vie to beat Goode

Since his first winning campaign in 1996, Rep. Virgil Goode (R) has proven to be an unbeatable incumbent, easily winning re-election in each of the last five campaigns. Now, two men have come forward saying they want to be the Democrat who keeps it from becoming six.

Former UVA history professor David Shreve and Chatham businessman Brydon Jackson have both declared their interest in being the Virginia's Fifth District Democratic nominee for Congress. 

Shreve says he's in the race because of what he sees as a class disparity along geographic lines. "In the southern regions they have some serious economic problems," he says, "and I think I'm the man to tackle them."

Shreve has made a career out of studying such issues. The native Louisianan earned his Ph.D. from Lousiana State University in 1995 economics, specializing in fiscal and monetary policy, and has taught classes on the subject at UVA since 1999. In his time in Charlottesville, Shreve has also lent some time to the Virginia Organizing Project, an activist group for the poor and working class.

His opponent agrees in principle. "I'm an average middle class guy," says Jackson, "and I've been feeling the economic pressures in the region. I'm talking about our tax situation and our education situation. Healthcare is another big issue– it's all really good for the wealthier part of the country. But the poor seem to get poorer, and the middle class just seems to get squeezed."

But that's not the only personal experience informing this Army reservist's candidacy. During a five-month tour of duty in Iraq (that ended with a non-combat-related back injury), Jackson was embedded with an Iraqi Army battalion as a "military transition leader," a post that gave him a first-hand perspective on issues debated in Washington. 

"The problem I saw is that if the Americans are there to do the job for Iraqis, then Iraqis will continue to let Americans do that job," says Jackson. "But if you somehow force the Iraqis to take the lead on something, they'll do it. It may not be the exact way you want, it won't be a Western solution. It'll be an Iraqi solution, but that's the way we need to go with it. Get the Western world out of their affairs until they can stabilize their government."

Fifth District Democratic Chair Fred Hudson is bullish about both candidates. "Dave is very articulate, with a lot of time to devote to this type of process, and he is a very, very good Democrat," he says. "Brydon is forthright, very open, clear spoken, with a good sense of the people who live in the Fifth Congressional District, and he can deal with the problems in Iraq from an educated point of view."

Regardless of who gets the nomination, unseating Goode is a daunting task. In the three times Goode has run as a Republican (he was elected the first two times as a Democrat and ran as an Independent in 2000) he soundly defeated former Charlottesville city counselor Meredith Richards in 2002 with 64 percent of the vote, won by the same margin in 2004 against Nelson businessman Al Weed, and again defeated Weed in 2006, this time with 59 percent.

Asked if he's concerned about nominating another Charlottesville-area Democrat to the mostly rural district that stretches south to the North Carolina border, Hudson says, "The answer to that is yes, but at the same time we're looking for the strongest candidate. We're not in some geographical straightjacket."

Should he win the nomination, Jackson would be the first Southside Democrat to run against Goode. "I believe I'm a fair representative of the type of people living in this district," says Jackson. "The Democratic candidate will have to connect with the people in Southside in order to defeat the incumbent."

Currently, Jackson is Director of Operations for the new Danville branch of NSR Solutions, an IT services company, but he has a local connection in a past career: he was a Virginia State Trooper from 1996 through 2002, including a stint based in Charlottesville.

While some might say the native Southsider has geography on his side, Shreve has something else: time. Currently, he is in the process of leaving UVA to edit a book for the National Governors Association to celebrate that organization's centennial. Shreve says working from home has allowed him to travel the district and speak with Democrats in every area.

"I'm actively shooting for the nomination," he says, "and I hope in the next few months to cultivate a broad base of support."

Although Election Day 2008 is over 20 months away, laying this early groundwork could prove key. For before pulling off a grand slam like defeating a six-term congressman, one much first touch the base.

David Shreve came to UVA as a history professor and editor for the Miller Center's Presidential Recordings Project.

Before entering the private sector, Brydon Jackson had a 14-year career in law enforcement, including a stint as a Virginia State Trooper based in Charlottesville.