Local Va. House race puts balance of power on the line

Joe McNamara, Carter Turner run for seat with statewide implications


In one week, local voters will elect someone who will affect the balance of power in Richmond.

Republican Joe McNamara and Democrat Carter Turner are running in a special election to replace Republican Greg Habeeb, who announced in July that he was going to step down.

The winner could have the deciding vote on bills in Virginia’s next legislative session.

If McNamara wins, Republicans would keep a one-delegate advantage in the House.

“The support in the Valley and almost the way across Virginia has been fabulous,” McNamara said.

If Turner wins, Democrats would split the House.

“I think that a 50-50 split will actually breed some bipartisanship,” Turner said. “If you want anything passed, you're going to have to work together, so I think that's a pretty cool opportunity in Virginia.”

The district covers Salem and Craig County and parts of Roanoke and Montgomery counties.

The two men spent Tuesday in Salem going about their business.

McNamara -- a longtime Roanoke County supervisor -- managed his ice cream shop.

“If someone wants to characterize me, I'm a budget geek,” he said. “I just love playing with numbers. I think it's pretty important to bring that kind of experience and background to Richmond.”

He’s running as a small government conservative.

“Critically important -- is the government going to get out of your way and not tax and fee and regulate you?” he said. “I think this entire 8th District has been doing very well and I think it's because of the conservative, collaborative leadership of the various governments in the area.” 

Turner met with voters near where he lives in Roanoke County. He works at Radford University and has previously served as the chair of the Roanoke County Democratic committee.

“I'm not running on a million issues. I'm running on a handful but I think they're all important and people seem to agree with me,” he said.

He wants to increase access to community college and job training and wants to expand broadband.

“I think we've got to find a different way to do politics in this country and that old way of just talking about those same hot-button issues that most of us are frozen in our positions on is not really going to do anything,” he said.

Turner, who’s run for elected positions twice and lost, said focusing on local issues can help Democrats appeal to people in rural areas.

“People seem to think that that's refreshing. I've had a lot of people say, 'You know, I'm Republican but I'm going to support you because you're talking about real things and you've got passion for these things,’” he said.

Both candidates feel strongly about getting improvements to Interstate 81. Adding a third lane in the district tops their lists. Both have concerns over car tolls.

The election will be Nov. 6 along with the U.S. Senate and congressional races. It’s the only House of Delegates race this November.

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