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Delegate hopefuls raking in the funds

By Garren Shipley -- gshipley@nvdaily.com

Election Day is three months away, but cash is starting to trickle in to the war chests of the Northern Shenandoah Valley's General Assembly candidates.

All 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for grabs this year, and for the first time in recent memory, all but one of the region's four incumbents will face a challenger in November.

By far, the most expensive race to date is in the usually sedate 15th District, which includes all of Shenandoah and Page counties.

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, the two-term incumbent, is being challenged by Democrat John Lesinski, of Rappahannock County, a retired Marine Corps colonel turned real estate developer.

Gilbert had collected just under $54,000 by June 30, the end of the summer reporting period. His totals include $2,000 donations from both the Virginia Association of Realtors and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association.

Lesinski has been no fundraising slouch himself, especially for a first-time candidate, taking in more than $25,000 in funds, including a $3,000 loan from the candidate and a $3,000 donation from the Rappahannock County Democratic Committee.

Other legislative races are more one-sided financially.

Del. Beverley Sherwood, R-Winchester, faces only her second challenger since 1997.

Aaron Tweedie, a contractor from Star Tannery running as independent, is seeking to unseat the eight-term incumbent.

Sherwood has raised more than $18,000 so far this year and is sitting on more than $31,000 headed into November. Tweedie reported total receipts of $168.

Just up the road in the 18th House District, another long-time incumbent is facing a challenger. But the race is even more lopsided financially.

Del. Clifford L. "Clay" Athey, R-Front Royal, the four-term incumbent, has raised nearly $21,000 in 2009 for combined cash on hand of some $36,000.

His opponent -- Athey's first since winning his seat in 2001 -- is Todd Jack, a Winchester-based contractor, one of three hopefuls in Virginia running on the Constitution Party ticket. Jack reported no contributions as of the end of the reporting period.

For all the thousands of dollars flowing in, the valley's races are still small potatoes compared to the picture statewide. Del. David Albo, R-Springfield, has raised more than $128,000 so far this year.

Almost any race can turn into a high-dollar affair if hotly contested. In 2007, now-state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Upperville, and Democrat Karen Schultz spent more than $2 million between them in their fight to succeed retiring state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester.

Election Day is Nov. 3.

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