- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

WAKEFIELD, Va. — Republicans and Democrats yesterday gathered here in a field for Virginia’s 57th annual Shad Planking, where they ate fire-grilled shad and cheered on their favorite gubernatorial candidates.

The two main candidates — former state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore and Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine — mingled with the crowd of nearly 3,000 that flocked to the area known as Peanut Country to mark the state’s long-standing tradition.

“Today isn’t so much about politics, it’s about honoring a Virginia tradition,” said Mr. Kaine, a Democrat who is running unopposed for his party’s nomination.

Much of the day, however, was devoted to political sparring that included battles over campaign signs, jabs at each other and swarms of campaign volunteers chanting either “Jerry” or “Tim.”

The candidates took gentle jabs at each other when they spoke to the crowd.

Mr. Kilgore, a Republican who grew up in Gate City, Va., used the bony fish for which the event is named to attack Mr. Kaine, who spent his childhood in Kansas.

“The shad has disappeared from Virginia’s waters, and we have had to bring them in from out of state, just like we do some of our politicians,” said Mr. Kilgore, who wore a light-orange button-up shirt and khaki pants.

Mr. Kaine pressed Mr. Kilgore to join him in debates statewide.

Along the four-lane Route 460 leading to Wakefield, orange and black signs accused Mr. Kilgore of trying to “duck” debates. One large orange sign read: “Jerry Didn’t Catch the Shad,” while another read: “He’s Afraid of ‘Da bait.’”

For two hours, an airplane circled the event trailing a banner that read, “Jerry, real leaders don’t duck debates.” Also, a Kaine volunteer led around a duck mascot and told the crowd, “I’m Jerry, I duck debates.”

The Kilgore campaign immediately said the duck jokes and the airplane were negative campaigning. Mr. Kaine called the airplane breaking new ground. “Somebody will have to top that,” next year, said Mr. Kaine, who came to the event dressed in a dark-blue polo shirt and jeans.

Kaine campaign spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said Mr. Kilgore went negative first and that they didn’t want to be Mr. Kilgore’s “punching bag.”

Mr. Kilgore recently agreed to debate Mr. Kaine at an event this summer.

Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, thought the “duck” signs were funny. Mr. Fitch said he also wants to debate Mr. Kilgore, who has not agreed to one.

“You can dismiss me and ignore me as a candidate, but you’re ignoring voters,” without a debate, Mr. Fitch said.

The Shad Planking traces its origin to the early 1930s when a group of friends gathered at Wrenn’s Mill in Isle of Wight County during the spring running of the shad in the James River. They planked the shad after the tradition of native Virginia Indians and talked politics after the tradition of their fathers before them. The Wakefield Ruritan Club assumed sponsorship of the event in 1949.

Anti-tax advocate James T. Parmelee of Fairfax has been going to the shad planking since 1986, before women were allowed to attend. He said it’s one of the few events where both parties can “lose the edge.” “There is a lot of camaraderie,” he said. “It’s a chance to kick back and have a cigar.”

Most of the estimated 3,000 people who turned out for the event did exactly that.

Throughout the afternoon, they feasted on grilled shad, corn muffins, baked beans and pickles. Live music kept the campground-type setting vibrant. The putrid smell of shad wafted through the field.

Delegate J. Chapman Petersen, Fairfax City Democrat who is running for the party’s lieutenant governor nomination, said much of the crowd’s attention is focused on the gubernatorial election.

“This is almost a break,” he said yesterday of the shad planking. “It’s a like a vacation day, a chance to have fun.”

Chris Simms, a volunteer with the Wakefield Ruritan Club, said the proceeds help communities and support rescue squads, fire departments and youth sports leagues. “The event has always been political,” he said.

The politics could be seen on the roadside for about 30 miles, leading up to Wakefield.

Campaign volunteers put up nearly 20,000 signs for Mr. Kilgore and 25,000 to 30,000 for Mr. Kaine, then guarded them against raids by opponents. There also were some signs touting Mr. Petersen and Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., Winchester Republican who is running for governor as an independent.

As the attendees arrived to the event, they were greeted by dozens of campaign volunteers who collected petition signatures and passed out colorful campaign stickers touting nearly every statewide candidate.

The Potts campaign volunteers handed out stickers that read: “Let Russ Speak.” Organizers said Mr. Potts and Mr. Fitch could not address the crowd because both announced their candidacy after the event was scheduled.

Mr. Potts said he didn’t mind. “It doesn’t make a bit of difference,” he said. “This plays to our strength. We love to press the flesh.”

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