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Will 5th district Republicans unite behind Robert Hurt?

Ben Pershing

Updated 4:11 p.m.
With the dust still clearing from a bruising primary contest, Republicans in the 5th congressional district have begun the process of uniting to take on freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D) in the fall. But that task may be complicated by the uncertain plans of two candidates -- one independent and one GOP also-ran.

State Sen. Robert Hurt secured the Republican nomination to face Perriello Tuesday, earning 48 percent of the vote against six opponents in the district that stretches from Charlottesville to the North Carolina border.

Hurt won despite a fusillade of attacks on his record and ideological bona fides, as several of his challengers ganged up to allege that his 2004 vote for then-Gov. Mark Warner's (D) budget made him unfit for the Republican nod. As in Virginia's 2nd district and some other contests around the country this cycle, conservative activists and "tea party" groups were too divided to focus their energy behind one candidate.

At his victory celebration Tuesday, Hurt reached out to his six vanquished foes. Not all of them reached back.

Hurt said he had received "gracious phone calls" from opponents Laurence Verga, Ken Boyd and Ron Ferrin but didn't mention the other three, according to the Danville Register & Bee. (Another candidate, Feda Morton, Tweeted: "Congratulations to Senator Hurt. I look forward to working with him to beat Perriello this November!") Butthere is one loser in particular that everyone in the district is watching -- property developer Jim McKelvey.

McKelvey, a wealthy political novice, came in second Tuesday with 26 percent of the vote after pouring more than $250,000 of his own money into the race. Much of that money was spent on attacking Hurt, including a radio ad featuring a fake endorsement of Hurt by former President Bill Clinton. McKelvey said repeatedly during the race that he would not back Hurt if Hurt was the nominee, and his intentions now are unclear.

In a statement issued Tuesday night, McKelvey said "I congratulate [Hurt] on his victory" but did not say he would support the nominee in the general election.

"I will not abandon all those who shared their hopes and ideals with me during the campaign," McKelvey continued. "In the coming days, I will be forming a political action committee to bring together all those who share the same ideals as me of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and who will fight for a return to the essential foundations of our Republic as established by our Founding Fathers."

McKelvey did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Further complicating the 5th district picture is Jeffrey Clark, a political novice and owner of a Danville water-testing lab who has said repeatedly he would run for the seat as an Independent if Hurt won the GOP nomination. In an interview Wednesday, Clark affirmed that he was going ahead with that plan.

"We're going to stay in it as long as we practically can," Clark said, admitting that the length of his run would depend on whether "we can generate any funding."

Clark said he had raised less than $5,000 for his bid so far, a paltry sum compared to the more than $500,000 raised so far by Hurt (and $1.9 million raked in by Perriello). "I'm not a wealthy guy," Clark said.

But McKelvey is wealthy, and the possibility of some sort of Clark/McKelvey alliance was causing buzz in the 5th district for weeks before Tuesday's primary. So does Clark think McKelvey will back him?

"I was at McKelvey's headquarters last night and he's under a lot of pressure from the Republican party leadership," Clark said, adding that he was "not sure how it's going to shake out."

Clark said he had submitted the necessary documentation Tuesday to get on the November ballot, including 2,500 signatures. That's more than double the 1,000 that are necessary, though Clark has said he expects some of the signatures to be challenged by the party leadership.

Given his lack of money and name identification, it's unclear whether Clark can actually make any real dent in Hurt's support. Clark is a member of the Danville Tea Party but has said he doesn't consider himself "the tea party candidate." The head of the Danville group told the Register & Bee that he expected members to unite behind Hurt because "We really feel it's not good to split the vote and let Perriello have another two years."

Clark has heard that argument before but doesn't buy it, contending that Republicans would be better off trying again in 2012 rather than handing the job to Hurt.

"I would rather have Congressman Perriello for two more years than Robert Hurt entrenched in office for 20 more years," he said.

By Ben Pershing  |  June 9, 2010; 1:39 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Virginia Congressional Races , Ben Pershing , Election 2010 , Jim McKelvey , Robert Hurt  
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