Gov. Bob McDonnell joined fellow Republican and state Senate candidate Patrick Forrest at an Arlington fundraiser Wednesday and said winning seats in Northern Virginia was key to turning the entire General Assembly over to the GOP.
Forrest, a former Homeland Security official, is seeking to oust incumbent Democratic state Sen. Janet Howell in the left-leaning 32nd Senate District.
“We’ve been making traction on her,” Forrest said. “And I know we’ve been making traction, because she’s been freaking out. She’s started to engage in some pretty unsavory, underhanded, old school political tactics. And we’re just not going to let her do it.”
Forrest’s campaign manager, Buck Cram, said it more plainly.
Cram accused Howell of spearheading a whisper campaign to discredit Forrest, telling people Forrest would push “the homosexual agenda.” Forrest is openly gay.
Cram said Howell was trying to tap into what she thought was Republican bigotry and it backfired.
The accusations have been flying for at least two weeks.
Earlier this month, Howell told the Washington Blade, “The only one who seems to be making (Forrest’s sexual orientation) an issue is Mr. Forrest himself.”
Howell Campaign Manager Nick Kowalski said in a phone interview that he wasn’t surprised the accusations were still being made.
“As far as what they are saying, we are not doing that. The 100 percent truth is we’re not talking about Patrick Forrest – period – whether it’s his sexual orientation or anything else. We’re talking about the issues we’ve heard people care about,” Kowalski said.
“Janet’s got a sterling record of supporting GLBT issues throughout her career, and that’s just not the kind of campaign that I run, and that’s not the kind of campaign that she runs.”
With low voter turnout expected, both camps will have to rely heavily on get-out-the-vote efforts. Forrest said Wednesday his team had knocked on 45,000 doors.
Forrest, in interviews and in front of crowds, paints himself as part of a wave of new energy that’s necessary to wipe out the old guard that engages in “politics as usual.”
“I’ve been incredibly open about my sexuality,” Forrest told Patch. “I’m running because we don’t have to be defined by that one issue. People try to define us by that one issue all the time. And that’s not the reason I decided to run in this race.”
He added: “The reason I decided to run is because I saw a politician in office in my opponent who has been a divisive member, who has not stood up for Northern Virginia. That’s why I got in. That’s what I’m still talking about. Is it the most politically beneficial strategy for me? Maybe it’s not. But that’s what it’s about for me. So if I make it about something else, then I’m becoming an opportunist.”
When asked, McDonnell – a potential running mate for the GOP’s eventual presidential nominee – said he didn’t think supporting an openly gay Republican would hurt him among social conservatives. The two .
“Patrick Forrest is all about creating jobs, controlling government spending, he’s a fiscal conservative. He has his finger, I think, on the pulse of what’s going on in the Fairfax and Arlington communities. And he’s, to me, a great messenger for the fiscal conservative message. And that’s what people care about right now,” McDonnell said. “So, I’m glad to be here supporting Patrick. He’s clearly energized the base up here. And in an election like this, grassroots means more than money and media.”
But the symbolism wasn’t lost on everyone.
“For the governor to make an appearance for a gay Senate candidate, that tells me the party is heading in the right direction,” said Larry Yontz, a former State Department employee and officer in the Virginia chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans.
“In Arlington, I feel like I have to be more of a closeted Republican than a closeted gay. I just really find that unacceptable. My basic political philosophy has two prongs: Stay out of my pocket, and stay out of my bedroom.”
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the national group of gay and lesbian Republicans, also attended the fundraiser.
Organizers estimated the event at the home of Ward and Debbie LeHardy in Arlington’s Woodmont community brought in between $20,000 and $30,000.
Republicans are hoping to build the momentum that began with McDonnell’s win two years ago in the state and local races that will be decided Nov. 8. Such momentum could help the GOP heading into next year’s presidential contest.
During his remarks, McDonnell looked out across a crowd just shy of 100 people and said he was glad to be a part of the “Occupy Arlington” movement.
“Boy, you guys look a lot better than you do on TV,” he said.
Afterward, Forrest said he appreciated the governor’s support but pointed out the two don’t see eye-to-eye on everything.
“I’m a Northern Virginian. I’d like to see a lot more revenue staying up here for our schools, for our transportation systems. His priority is an entire state,” he said.
“If I’m elected, and go to Richmond, we’ll probably butt heads, and I’ll butt heads with the Republican Party a little bit, because I’m going to be a tireless fighter for Northern Virginia. And that may not go well with some of the party bosses. But I’ve always been open about that fact. And I’m looking forward to going down there and being a strong voice and stirring it up with them.”