The phantom candidate

Published 10:10 am Saturday, October 29, 2011

Rick Morris actually exists somewhere other than on television and in my mailbox, I suppose, but I’ve begun to wonder.

The Republican nominee for the 64th District in the Virginia House of Delegates has mastered the technique of dodging voters in recent weeks.

Of some 25 candidates seeking elected office in Southampton County and Isle of Wight, or in General Assembly districts that include the two counties, only Morris failed to complete a simple questionnaire from our newspaper.

The other candidates’ responses appear in a special Voters Guide in today’s edition.

Of the four House of Delegates candidates running in WLQM-FM’s listening area, only Morris failed to make time to be a guest on “Our Town,” the weekly public-affairs program co-sponsored by the radio station and The Tidewater News.

Morris, a Virginia Beach lawyer and Carrollton resident, failed to show at a candidate forum in Walters on Wednesday night.

His hometown newspaper, The Smithfield Times, tried repeatedly to track him down for an interview but was never successful.

Makes one wonder if Morris is scared of tough questions — or any questions, for that matter.

Meantime, slick images of Morris with Gov. Bob McDonnell fill the airwaves and mailboxes — part of a massively expensive advertising campaign paid for by the Republican Party and political action committees closely aligned with the GOP.

The direct-mail pieces, which have come to my Franklin home three or four times a week for the past month, started off very warm and fuzzy, portraying Morris as a family man and friend of McDonnell.

Morris must not like what he’s hearing from his pollsters, because his advertising message has gone decidedly negative in the past 10 days.

His favorite jab is to run a photograph of his Democratic opponent, longtime state Delegate Bill Barlow, D-Smithfield, beside a photograph of President Barack Obama.

Morris might be the best thing since sliced bread for Richmond lawmaking, but I won’t conclude so simply because of what an advertising agency has created to influence me.

That has long been a problem in national elections, where few voters have the opportunity to meet and size up a candidate. The beauty of local politics is its intimacy: a voter’s opportunity to look a candidate in the eye, shake his hand and ask him a question.

At least in Barlow, I know what I’m getting: an honest, experienced, sincere public servant who has represented Western Tidewater honorably and put the interests of our region above partisan politics.

The Smithfield attorney is accountable and accessible. He has never declined an invitation or failed to return a phone call. To the contrary, he responds quickly and enthusiastically.

It’s what I expect of those who represent me in local and state governments.

Steve Stewart is publisher of The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is