BUENA VISTA, Va. – Hundreds of people came out Monday for the annual Labor Day parade in Buena Vista, but the decades-old tradition for Virginia political candidates had a major change.
Many of Virginia's top Democrats came for an early breakfast with supporters but did not take part in the parade or the speeches afterward. The absence of Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie's Democratic challenger, Ralph Northam, broke from the history, going back to the 1970s, of both major parties spreading their messages.
“It should be bipartisan, frankly, and it’s a shame that he chose to make it a more partisan event,” Gillespie said. “I don’t think that’s in the long-term interest of Buena Vista.”
Gillespie emphasized the importance of the rural areas of the commonwealth to his campaign.
“If you’re going to be a governor for all Virginians, you need to campaign that way and so I’m proud to be here today,” he said.
Signs at the post-parade speeches said "no show Northam." Republican Delegate Ben Cline says a lack of support could hurt the event.
“We’re a little worried that the Democrats are giving up on rural Virginia. This is just the latest sign of it,” he said.
Before taking a helicopter to an event in Hampton, top Virginia Democrats like U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine spoke at an energetic breakfast with supporters. Northam says he wished he could have stayed in town.
“Our schedule is so tight and we have events all over the commonwealth so we’re happy to be in Buena Vista this morning,” he said.
Justin Fairfax, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, is traveling with Kaine and Northam.
“It’s a big state. It’s a great commonwealth and there are a lot of events going on everywhere so we’re trying to get to as many of them as we can,” Fairfax said.
Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Cliff Hyra wanted to speak with both other parties present.
“It’s unfortunate because that’s something I’m really pushing is the opportunity for voters to see all the different issues, all the different candidates that are out there,” he said.
Next year will be the 40th Labor Day parade in the town.
An August poll from Roanoke College showed that Northam holds a 7-percentage point lead over Gillespie in the race for governor.