UPDATE 06/30/14 11:49 AM: This article has been updated to reflect Marshall Pattie’s current status as a Republican and member of his local GOP committee.Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta) will be challenged in next year’s Republican primary by Marshall Pattie, member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors from the North River District. Pattie, who is an Assistant Professor of Management at the James Madison University College of Business, made his decision public on Sunday.
For years, Hanger has drawn the ire of conservatives disaffected by his penchant for voting with Democrats in Virginia’s Senate on a variety of marquee issues, including the largest tax increase in Virginia’s history last year. More recently, Hanger had been among the Senate’s “Gang of Three” Republicans who had joined with Governor McAuliffe and Senate Democrats in supporting Medicaid expansion. Hanger, along with Sens. Walter Stosch (R-Henrico) and John Watkins (R-Powhatan), eventually caved on the issue at the peak of the #BLACKorBUST movement on June 12, when their House and Senate colleagues convinced them of the political reality that no budget would be passed without language blocking the Governor’s ability to expand Medicaid unilaterally. Hanger’s last primary contest came in 2007, when he bested conservative challenger Scott Sayre.
Pattie is a somewhat unconventional alternative to the uber-moderate Hanger. Prior to his run as an independent for the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, Pattie served as Chairman of the Augusta County Democrats. Pattie left the Democrat Party when he said felt like he no longer fit. He won his supervisor race handily, garnering nearly two-thirds of the vote and besting another independent and a Republican candidate in a highly Republican district (Cuccinelli 70%, McAulife 23%). Pattie’s success among this conservative electorate is credited to a steadfast opposition to tax increases, and a mastery of local issues and personalities. Although elected as an independent, Pattie now identifies as a Republican and is a member of the Augusta County Republican Committee.
Notably, Sen. Hanger is a constituent of Pattie’s North River district.
Recognizing that GOP primary voters who might be looking for a reliably conservative alternative to Hanger will naturally be wary of someone who was a Democrat party leader just three years ago, Pattie is working to burnish his conservative bona fides. Republican operative Cole Trower, an official with the Pattie campaign, told The Bull Elephant that the campaign will soon be releasing a list of endorsements from trusted conservative leaders who believe Pattie is the right man to replace Hanger.
Pattie is the first challenger to announce, but he may not be the last. Republicans in the district report that Augusta County GOP Chairman Dan Moxley is also set to throw his hat in the ring. Some supporters of Moxley speculate that Pattie’s candidacy is the product of yet another deal between Democrats and Sen. Hanger, where Pattie could secure Hanger’s support if Hanger decides to retire in exchange for Pattie crowding the field (and splitting the anti-Hanger vote) in the meantime. Clearly this kind of thing is hard to prove or disprove, but we report it as something suggestive of a narrative likely to emerge as the campaign unfolds over the coming months.
In other words, politics in the Valley is always interesting, but this race promises to be barn burner, whether or not a challenger succeeds in unseating Sen. Hanger. Stay tuned.