111 Berryville voters tested political jujitsu of major parties to fend off Tea Party inroads
By George Archibald
BERRYVILLE, Va. –– At Tuesday’s statewide GOP presidential primary balloting, area Republican and Democratic activists swooped in to garner political advantage and neutralize Tea Party viability as a growing alternative third party.
A struggle emerged at the Berryville voting precinct between signature gatherers with qualifying petitions for three Republican contenders for the open U.S. Senate seat up for grabs in November. Incumbent one-term Democrat Jim Webb is not seeking re-election.
As voters exited polling in the watered-down Virginia GOP presidential primary between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas congressman Ron Paul, signature gatherers asked voters to choose among qualifying petitions for three GOP contenders for Webb’s seat.
Tension emerged over the bid of Richmond Tea Party founder Jamie Radtke for a place on the U.S. Senate primary ballot in Virginia’s next statewide election on June 20.
Radtke is challenging former U.S. Sen. George Allen’s attempted comeback bid five years after he lost his 2006 re-election to Democrat Webb, the former U.S. Navy secretary for President Ronald Reagan who had switched from Republican to Democrat to oust Allen in a bitter contest.
Radtke founded both the Richmond Tea Party and the Virginia Tea Party Federation as a political alternative for conservatives who she says are frustrated by the “big-government, wasteful spending” mind-set of the two other parties.
She says she is running as a Republican against Allen because “he helped grow federal spending by 46 percent as a GOP leader in Senate and voted for $3.2-trillion in new federal debt.”
Radtke received signatures from more than half of 111 GOP primary voters in Berryville precinct Tuesday –– more than Allen received –– and helping put her over the top with 10,000 needed statewide in order to get on the June 20 ballot.
Local political leaders are worried that Radtke and like-minded conservatives in the Republican party might allow the national Tea Party to gain more traction as the dynamics of the national GOP race for the presidency keeps shifting.
Anti-Romney frontrunners Newt Gingrich, former U.S. House Speaker, and Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a Winchester native, both were not on the Virginiaballot this week.
Both Gingrich and Santorum were excluded from the ballot because of insufficient petition signatures of qualified voters in each voting district throughout the state. The minimum was 400 signatures in each congressional district.
Gingrich and Santorum’s “ground game was weak,” political observers said. The conservative-oriented internet website Red State has already predicted that Radtke will win the U.S. Senate primary because her campaign is catching fire and becoming stronger relative to Allen’s.
But as Tuesday’s primary approached, Democratic founders of the Apple Valley Tea Party in Winchester, Dody and Mike Stottlemyer, and Clarke County’s Republican committee chairwoman, Kay Gunter of Boyce, ironically worked separately to steer a teenage petition circulator in Berryville against Radtke.
The petition circulator was Josiah Alway, 17, founder of the Apple Valley Teenage Tea Party, who told this reporter that Gunter sent him to the Berryville precinct with only signature petitions for Allen and State Del. Robert B. Marshall of Manassas, a pro-life leader also vying for the GOP’s Senate nomination.
Despite his Tea Party connection, home-schooled Alway, who lives with parents the Rev. Gerald and Hannah Alway on Summit Point Road, had declined a request to help Radke’s effort to gather petition signatures in Winchester neighborhoods off Amherst Street last weekend before Tuesday’s primary.
At the Berryville precinct, he said county Republican leader Gunter had been unable to obtain any Radtke petitions.
Gunter declined to return a telephone call for comment after her husband, Samuel, was told the Clarke Daily News wanted to learn the facts of the petition discrepancy that excluded Radtke.
Samuel Gunter told this reporter that his wife did not receive copies of Radke’s petitions from her campaign office in Richmond. But Radke campaign field director Cole Muzio said the campaign received no request from the Clarke County GOP.
Muzio said an Adobe PDF file of Radke’s two-sided petition blank was immediately available to Gunter by email if she had requested.
Alway is not yet legally qualified to vote, although he has registered in advance for when he becomes 18. Only duly qualified voters are permitted to circulate candidate petitions to qualify for state and federal election ballots, so Gunter’s refusal to comment leaves unanswered the question of her use of the 17-year-old as a candidate petition circulator at the Berryville voting precinct during Tuesday’s voting.
No adult political leader who received signed petitions from a teenage circulator under 18 could lawfully certify the petitions before a notary public as required. To do so is a felony punishable by a $2,500 fine and jail sentence.
Dody and Michael Stottlemyer, leaders of the Apple Valley Tea Party (AVTP) in Winchester that voted to sponsor Alway’s teenage Tea Party group, both declined appeals to provide help for Radtke’s petition drive in Winchester. The have said they were Democrats before starting the AVTP.
The Stottlemyers have given the Apple Valley Teenage Tea Party its own web page and email addresses on their AVTP website operated by their son, Josh Stottlemyer.
Ken Rion of Berryville, a founding vice president of the AVTP, left over differences with the Stottlemyers to start a Northern Virginia Tea Party group that also meets inWinchester and Berryville.
Rion said the Stottlemyers have made Always’s teenage group “a subcommittee” of their own adult Tea Party and prevented the teenagers any independence.
Alway conferred with the Stottlemyers by cell phone from Berryville on Tuesday afternoon before pulling out of the ongoing petition-gathering effort for the GOP U.S. Senate candidates because of the discrepancy over Radtke’s petitions.
Berryville/Clarke County interest in the U.S. Senate race has important historic roots.
The open Senate seat now occupied by Webb was held for generations by two venerated Berryville icons, the late Sen. Harry Flood Byrd, former Virginia governor in the 1920s and senator until his death in 1965, and then his son, Sen. Harry F. Byrd, Jr., who held the seat for another 20 years until his retirement in 1985.
Now 97, Senator Byrd lives in Winchester, where he still advises son Thomas T. Byrd, publisher of The Winchester Star, Daily News Record in Harrisonburg, and their many weekly community newspapers throughout western and south central Virginia.