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Edd Houck has represented Virginia's 17th Senate District for 19 years.
But a lot of the people in the district have never seen his name on a ballot before.
The 2001 post-census redistricting gave a whole new look to the state Senate's 17th District. Gone are the counties of Buckingham, Fluvanna, Goochland and Cumberland. In their place are Culpeper, Madison and Orange counties.
The new territory alone includes about 30,000 voters who are new to Houck, who is running for the first time this year for re-election within the district's new lines.
And that number doesn't count how many voters have moved to the district since Houck's last election in 1999. Spotsylvania County, for example, by far the most populous locality in the district, gained more than 7,700 voters between 1999 and 2001, although Houck's district no longer includes the entire county.
The amount of new territory, and the number of new-to-Houck voters, in the 17th District are encouraging to Houck's opponent, Republican Robert Stuber.
Stuber's campaign calculates that at least 40 percent of the voters in the district have never seen Houck's name on a ballot; Houck's campaign puts that percentage around 30 percent.
"We're excited to have all these new counties and have people we can introduce Robert to at the same time Edd Houck does," said Stuber campaign manager Mark Johnson.
The Stuber campaign is also happy that the new 17th District is more Republican than the old one--although the change is slight.
The district consistently elects Republicans at the statewide and national levels, but not by an enormous margin.
Percentages for Republican candidates hover in the mid- to upper 50s; percentages for Democratic candidates are in the low 40s. Republicans get about 2 percent more votes in the new 17th District than in the old.
For example, in the 2000 presidential race, 56 percent of the voters in the old 17th District voted Republican, while 58 percent of voters in the new district voted Republican.
Houck notes that he has won Republican-leaning districts before, a fact reiterated by Mary Washington College political analyst Stephen Farnsworth.
"Houck was given a largely Republican district previously and he won in that district, and he's given a Republican-leaning district again with new people," Farnsworth said.
"[Gubernatorial candidate Mark] Earley carried Spotsylvania, he carried Orange, he carried everything out there. You're looking at a district that has consistently voted both Republican and for Edd Houck.Both [old and new] districts have large numbers of conservative Republicans in them. It's certainly not the district that Edd Houck would have drawn for himself, but it's not a lot different than the districts that he's won in the past."
The old and new versions of the 17th District also have some demographics in common. Both have rural, farming areas as well as high-growth suburban regions.
"In Culpeper, you've got a similar mix of voters as you do in Spotsylvania County" said Houck campaign manager Craig Bieber. "[It's] very similar to the old areas of his district. The issues that these voters care about are pretty much the same: education, growth, transportation, health care, taxes."
The mix includes commuters to jobs in Northern Virginia and Washington, as well as longtime, established residents.
"These are the same kinds of voters that Edd Houck has appealed to and won elections in the old areas of his district," Bieber said. "You look at the profile of these voters--yes, they're Republican, but there are a lot of rural voters, particularly in Madison County. Edd relates very well to rural voters; he comes from a rural background."
Both Houck and Stuber--a first-time political candidate--are concentrating especially hard on the new areas of the district.
"The strategy is clearly to become known in the new areas of the district. What we're doing is working very hard with various networks that have been supportive of Edd in the old areas of his district--educators, farmers, the business community, other folks who he's gotten to know through his service in the state Senate," Bieber said. "A lot of those networks are very similar in these new parts of the district."
Bieber said Houck is in Culpeper, Madison and Orange counties at least once a week, usually more.
"It does alter, certainly, resource-allocation decisions for the campaign, how much time the candidate spends in various parts of the district," Bieber said. "We are very well aware that it is a key battleground."
Johnson said Stuber, who is relatively unknown all over the district, is making a more general push to introduce himself to voters.
Farnsworth said the amount of new territory in the district does reduce Houck's advantage as an incumbent. But, he said, Houck is the sort of centrist Democrat who will play better in a Republican-leaning district than more liberal Democrats would.
"He can present himself as a more conservative Democrat than many," Farnsworth said, noting that Houck has in the past been endorsed by the National Rifle Association. "In many ways, Edd Houck was running a Mark Warner-style campaign before any of us heard of Mark Warner."
To reach CHELYEN DAVIS: 804/782-9362 email@example.com