Gubernatorial hopefuls trade jabs at Shad Planking

Published 8:01 am Friday, April 17, 2009

WAKEFIELD—The fish wasn’t the only thing getting roasted at the 61st annual Shad Planking on Wednesday.

One by one, the gubernatorial candidates came to the podium outside the Wakefield Sportsmen’s Club and took turns taking — mostly — polite jabs at each other. They also served up a few zingers for their supporters amidst a crowd of about 3,000 people.

“It’s a great event, I always enjoy it,” said Delegate Bill Barlow (D-Smithfield). “Most people who are elected officials don’t miss it unless something very important comes up. It has grown into not only a regional event, but also a statewide event. It’s pretty unique, really.”

According to the Wakefield Ruritan Club, Shad Planking was originally a tribute to the beginning of the fishing season and dates back to the 1930s. It especially celebrated the James River running of shad, an oily, bony fish that is smoked on wood planks and was being served Wednesday with sides of pork and beans, a mini corn muffin and a cup of sweet tea.

Over the years Shad Planking evolved into a political event. The Wakefield Ruritan Club took it over in 1949 and has been hosting it ever since on the grounds of the Wakefield Sportsmen’s Club.

Republican Bob McDonnell took the stage first after winning a coin toss, and gibed two of his Democratic opponents sitting just a few feet away: Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran.

“I do have to hand it to Mr. McAuliffe,” McDonnell said. “He has done a really great job on these signs. What that tells me is that every member of his staff put up one sign. I’m particularly pleased that he put the map of Virginia on there so it reminds him what state he’s in when he’s campaigning.”

McDonnell added, “It’s been kind of a tough campaign for Brian (Moran). Polls came out the other day it showed Democrat ‘Undecided’ getting 41 percent of the vote. So Brian immediately starts a new Web site called ‘Stop Undecided.’”

McAuliffe addressed the crowd next and immediately ribbed McDonnell for speaking for 13 minutes, instead of the traditional five.

“Talk about wind energy, I never thought Bob would stop talking,” McAuliffe joked. “I don’t need any windmills off the coast of Virginia Beach, I’ve got Bob McDonnell talking.”

McAuliffe also joked about the issue of campaign signs, telling the crowd, “Folks, it’s not about the size of the signs. It’s about keeping (them) up all night.”

Moran, the third and final speaker, said, “I’m glad to be going last so that I can clean up the mess after these two.”

On campaign signs, Moran said, “I don’t think there was a ‘sign war.’ I didn’t engage in it. It clearly shows the policy positions and the differences between the candidates, when my environmental plan actually calls for planting trees, and Bob’s and Terry’s call for cutting them down to put up signs.”

Moran teased McDonnell, telling the crowd that, “on the way here we were very concerned; I had heard there was an accident on the way and a pedestrian had been struck. But not to worry, it was actually Bob McDonnell throwing Jeff Frederick under the bus.”

Frederick was ousted as Virginia Republican Party chairman on April 4.

Creigh Deeds, a third Democratic candidate for governor, was not at the event but his presence was still known: the Deeds campaign sent a beer truck.

“Typically it’s a nonpartisan event, which I think is very good,” Barlow said. “Sometimes some of the speakers get carried away and get a little partisan. But that’s usually frowned on by the crowd. You’ll see some partisans here, and some try to make it partisan. But most of the people are regulars who come here year in and year out, and want an event where they just come and see friends and enjoy themselves. They want to meet the candidates but not be berated by the candidates in a partisan way.”

Delegate Roslyn Tyler (D-Jarratt) was busy shaking hands at the foot of the stage after the speakers had finished.

“We have very crucial times coming up in the Commonwealth,” she said. “Definitely the next governor of Virginia is going to have a very challenging job, regardless of which party is elected.”

As if on cue, the swirling gray skies that had been threatening rain all afternoon finally relented after the speakers had finished. Deputies with the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office directed a long column of traffic through a steady drizzle. Meanwhile, dozens of volunteers from the various campaigns began the unenviable task of negotiating through thorny weeds and mud to remove thousands of campaign signs from along both sides of Brittles Mill Road.

“We were out here at 7 a.m. today,” said a McAuliffe volunteer who did not wish to be identified. “We’ll get them down quicker than it took to put them up.”